- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009


Visiting Iranian Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei said Thursday that his government welcomes multilateral talks with the United States and its allies on Afghanistan.

But, he added, Tehran has yet to receive an official invitation from the Obama administration or Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“We have received some news about Mrs. Clinton’s overtures, but we have not received an official invitation to any summit,” he said through an interpreter during an unofficial visit to Canada.

“I would like to add that any talks related to Afghanistan are important and we welcome them,” he said. “This is positive - any talks on Afghanistan, especially bilateral or multilateral talks on this issue.”

Mrs. Clinton said last week that Iran would be invited to a high-level conference on Afghanistan next month, should the event proceed.

Before agreeing to attend, however, Mr. Mashaei said Tehran would like to know more about the summit agenda.

Meanwhile, a think tank said the Obama administration must exert caution when considering talks with insurgents in Afghanistan and should focus on establishing law and an accountable government.

Building the Afghan army and police into a professional security force must be the primary role of any new U.S. troop deployment, providing foreign forces with their exit strategy, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said, according to Reuters news agency.

Mr. Obama told the New York Times in an interview published Saturday that he was open to the idea of reaching out to moderate elements of the Taliban.

While talks with militants willing to lay down their arms and accept Afghanistan’s constitution and rule of law should not be ruled out, the ICG said, “great caution” is needed.

Previous peace agreements in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan collapsed within months and strengthened the insurgents, it said.

Mr. Mashaei said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force’s results in trying to secure Afghanistan “have not been very favorable,” adding that its security is of concern to its neighbors, especially to Iran.

He also said Tehran would like to cooperate with Canada “to ease the security crisis in Afghanistan and plan for the aftermath of the departure of its troops” in 2011.

Canada has about 2,750 troops deployed in southern Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led mission to rout insurgents.

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