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Iran, U.S. set to clash over troops at Afghan talks
Tue Mar 31, 2009 3:04am EDT
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By Aaron Gray-Block and Sue Pleming
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Iran rejected the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, putting it at odds with the United States before Tuesday's first major conference on the war since President Barack Obama unveiled his strategy.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is hoping to win support at the 90-nation conference for greater military involvement along with increased economic development and army and police training to defeat al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents.
In a reversal of the policy of the former Bush administration, Obama's team views Iran as vital to any lasting solution in its neighbor, and has sought engagement despite the continuing stand-off over Tehran's nuclear programme.
"The presence of foreign troops cannot bring peace and stability for Afghanistan," Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzade was quoted as saying in The Hague on Monday by Iran's official IRNA news agency.
"It encourages radicalism," he said, adding that a regional solution was needed.
"This policy (the Western countries) decide for the Afghan nation and for the Afghan officials does not work out any more."
Before the conference, Clinton said the Obama administration had stopped using the phrase "war on terror," rhetoric used by the Bush administration after September 11 attacks in 2001 to justify counter-terrorist methods criticised by rights groups.
"The (Obama) administration has stopped using the phrase and I think that speaks for itself," Clinton said.
More than 70,000 U.S. and NATO troops are in Afghanistan battling a growing insurgency by the Sunni Islamist Taliban movement, which is also spreading its influence in Pakistan through the porous mountain border between the two countries.
Since taking office in January, Obama has ordered 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to tackle violence ahead of elections, and a further 4,000 to help train the army.
Clinton, who says she has no plans for direct talks with Iranian officials at the conference, said she wanted Iran's help on border security and fighting drugs in Afghanistan.
Iran had been cooperative after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the then Taliban government, she said.
Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Iran's presence at the conference was a logical part of efforts to produce peace for Afghans.
"How can you talk about Afghanistan and exclude one of the countries that's a bordering, neighbouring state?" he told reporters in The Hague. "The presence of Iran here is obvious." Continued...
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Iran, US set to clash over troops at Afghan talks
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