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Iran to Attend UN Conference on Afghanistan

Iran has said it will attend a UN conference on Afghanistan. The decision comes after moves by the US administration toward a more friendly relationship with the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian, American and Afghanistan flags

Iran's participation may signal a warmer relationship with the West

An Iranian official said Thursday, March 26, that Tehran will take part in a United Nations conference on the future of Afghanistan to be held in The Hague next week. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, one of the main instigators behind the meeting, is also expected to attend.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi confirmed Tehran would send a representative to the meeting but added that "the level of participation is not clear."

The US State Department said there were no plans for a "substantive" meeting between Clinton and the Iranian representative at the conference.

"This conference is about reaching a regional consensus about Afghanistan," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said."It is not a conference about US-Iranian relations."

The talks will be hosted by Afghanistan, the Netherlands and the United Nations and opened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The 80 countries and 20 international organizations attending are expected to focus on security and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan where NATO and US troops face the growing threat of a Taliban insurgency. The United States is also set to present a review of its policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A two-way approach

Montage of the Iranian and EU flags with the radiation symbol

The West is concerned Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said Iran's involvement showed that efforts by Europe and the US to improve relations have had an effect. Iran sat out a similar meeting in France last December.

She said the EU and United States have promoted a two-track policy toward Tehran.

"One track is sanctions to ensure a more cooperative behavior," Verhagen said. "(The other) way is to offer a positive package if they cooperate. I think this participation of Iran in an international conference fits also within this two-way approach."

News of Iran's participation comes one week after US President Barack Obama offered a "new beginning" in the diplomatic relationship between Iran and the US in a televised address released to broadcasters in the Middle East. In another overture to Iran, Clinton called earlier this month for it to be invited to attend the meeting

Diplomatic ties between Tehran and Washington have been frosty for three decades. The US, along with the EU, has accused Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Iran has consistently maintained its nuclear program serves only civilian purposes.

But analysts have said the two countries share an interest in a stable Afghanistan.

"We believe that a regional solution should be found for the Afghanistan crisis," the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying. "Iran's goal in the region is to help peace, stability and calm, which is necessary for the region’s progress."

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