Clinton says US met with Iran delegate
Iran denies any encounter at Tuesday's Afghanistan Conference in the Hague. The US and Iran have had no diplomatic ties for 30 years.
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The US made diplomatic overtures to Iran at a one-day conference on Afghanistan in The Hague Tuesday, where the Islamic Republic said it would help rebuild Afghanistan but criticized the Obama administration's proposed troop increases. The US and Iran have not had diplomatic relations in almost three decades.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there was rare high-level contact between Richard Holbrooke, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Mohamed Mehdi Akhundzadeh. But Iran's foreign ministry denied that any meeting took place.
Western officials say Tuesday's overtures, made against the backdrop of the Obama administration's new push for Afghan security, are an encouraging sign that efforts to reach out to Iran may bear fruit. But differences between the two old adversaries remain, and Iran appears resistant to admitting to a warming of ties.
Clinton said the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, met briefly with Iranian deputy foreign minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh on the sidelines of the Hague conference.
"It did not focus on anything substantive. It was cordial, it was unplanned and they agreed to stay in touch," Clinton said.
While Western officials were treating Tuesday's diplomatic breakthrough as a sign of a new beginning with an old foe, the Iranian government appeared to have a very different interpretation. Agence France-Presse reports that the Iranian foreign ministry denied that any meeting had taken place or that a letter had been delivered.
"No meeting or talks... be it formal or informal, official or unofficial between Iran and US officials took place on the sidelines of this conference," [Foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi] told Mehr [news agency].
"We categorically deny the reports published in this regard. As no meeting or talks took place, naturally no letter was handed to Iran from the American side."
On the issue of Afghanistan's reconstruction, Time reports that Mr. Akhundzadeh said "Iran is fully prepared to participate in the projects aimed at combating drug trafficking and plans in line with developing and reconstructing Afghanistan."
But using careful diplomatic language, Akhundzadeh also denounced Obama's plans to supplement America's 70,000 troops in Afghanistan with 17,000 more, in addition to 4,000 soldiers assigned to train the Afghan army, says the San Francisco Chronicle.
"The people of Afghanistan know their country better than anybody else does," Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh said, speaking in English Tuesday before a group of diplomats that included Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. "The presence of foreign forces has not improved things in the country, and it seems that an increase in the number of foreign forces will prove ineffective, too."