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Iran, in gesture to U.S., promises help on drugs
Tue Mar 31, 2009 4:11pm EDT
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By Sue Pleming and David Brunnstrom
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Iran offered help in combating the Afghan drugs trade on Tuesday, in a gesture to a U.S. call for regional support in Afghanistan that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described as promising.
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh told an international meeting on Afghanistan in The Hague that Tehran was ready to help both in fighting the country's opium trade and in reconstruction.
Clinton, seeking support for a revamped strategy unveiled by President Barack Obama to tackle Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, welcomed his comments.
"I did think that the Iranian intervention this morning was promising," she told reporters.
While Clinton herself had not expected any substantive discussions with the Iranian delegation, she said U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke had a cordial and unplanned meeting with Akhoundzadeh.
"It did not focus on anything substantive. It was cordial; it was unplanned and they agreed to stay in touch."
She also told the meeting the United States was ready to offer an "honorable form of reconciliation" to Afghan insurgents who renounced violence.
"We must ... support efforts by the government of Afghanistan to separate the extremists of al Qaeda and the Taliban from those who have joined their ranks not out of conviction, but out of desperation," she said.
"They should be offered an honorable form of reconciliation and reintegration into a peaceful society, if they are willing to abandon violence, break with al Qaeda, and support the constitution," Clinton said.
HELP FROM NEIGHBOURS
She also called for all of Afghanistan's neighbors to play a constructive role in stabilizing the country.
"Just as these problems cannot be solved without the Afghan people, they cannot be solved without the help of Afghanistan's neighbors," she said.
Clinton had played down any major overtures with Iran at the meeting in The Hague meeting and said beforehand she had no plans for a separate meeting with its deputy foreign minister.
But the joint presence of the U.S. and Iranian delegations was an easing the policy of the former Bush administration which stuck to a years-long stand-off over Tehran's nuclear program.
Akhoundzadeh reaffirmed Iran's long-standing opposition to the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, which has left it facing an American military presence both there and in neighboring Iraq. Continued...
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