Iran invited to regional security conference

March 6th, 2009 - 7:16 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, March 6 (IANS) Iran is to be invited to join a South Asian regional security conference centred on Afghanistan, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Friday.

Miliband said the meeting was a follow-up to the international conference on Afghanistan held in Paris June 2008 and co-chaired by the European Union presidency, United Nations secretary general and the Afghan government.

“The Iranian interest in Afghanistan is very direct - they have got a massive drugs problem coming out of Afghanistan.

“The Iranian border with Herat in the west of Afghanistan is the critical point for them and it’s the access point for much of their drugs problem,” Miliband told BBC.

Although Iran was among the participating countries at the June 12 conference that pledged $20 billion in aid to Afghanistan, Tehran later boycotted another international conference on Afghanistan in Paris in December 2008 amid a worsening of ties between Iran and France.

The British minister said he had had discussions with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Brussels Thursday at a meeting of foreign ministers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and welcomed changes in the US strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I think it is important that America is changing its strategy. First, they want to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan together - that’s vital.

“Secondly, they want to change their relationship with Pakistan from being a predominantly military relationship, where there is massive military aid but very little educational support, to being in a relationship that has a far better balance between the civilian and the military.

“Thirdly, in Afghanistan itself, they are coming around to a strategy of what I would call Afghanisation - you have to put the Afghan up front because we are not trying to create a new colony in Afghanistan,” he added.

The proposal for the conference was presented by Clinton at Brussels, where she described it as a “big tent” meeting of “all parties who have a stake and interest in Afghanistan”.

Clinton said it will include NATO members, countries that are members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, donors, countries that have regional or strategic interests in Afghanistan and international organisations.

The US has reportedly proposed March 31 as the date of the conference, but its venue remains undisclosed.

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