- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

UPDATED:

BRUSSELS — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Thursday proposed a high-level international conference on Afghanistan this month that would also include Iran, in the Obama administration’s first specific overture to Tehran since taking office.

“The United States proposes a ministerial-level conference on Afghanistan and the border regional challenge on March 31,” Mrs. Clinton told NATO foreign ministers at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.

“We are in the process of discussing with the U.N. the possibility that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon could open the conference, and that his special representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, could chair the meeting,” she said.

She suggested inviting Afghanistan, Pakistan, NATO allies and other countries with troops in Afghanistan, major financial contributors and “key regional and strategic countries.”

“If we move forward with such a meeting, it is expected that Iran will be invited as a neighbor of Afghanistan,” she said.

The inclusion of Iran in such a conference would be a return to the most productive talks the U.S. has had with Tehran in recent years: a series of meetings beginning in 1997 about what to do with the Taliban that culminated in the creation of a new government for Afghanistan in 2001.

James Dobbins, a former U.S. diplomat who took part in those talks, called Mrs. Clinton’s announcement “a good place to start” in outreach toward Iran but noted that there are “many more hurdles” now to U.S.-Iran relations, including Iran’s escalating nuclear program.

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