Afghanistan As Catalyst For U.S.-Iran Cooperation
March 13, 2009
By Abbas Djavadi
In a ground-breaking counternarcotics operation, Iranian, Afghan, and Pakistani forces have cooperated in arrests and the seizure of illicit drugs. The UN's chief antidrug official, Antonio Mario Costa, described the operation as "a very important political message" to drug traffickers across the region.
As so often, many problems of the region need to be solved at the regional level -- through cooperation, and not confrontation. Iran seriously suffers from the narcotics being shipped via its territory to the West. Don't say it has nothing to do with U.S.-Iranian relations.
Most of those drugs are produced in Afghanistan's Pashtun regions, where the Taliban presence is strong, with proceeds feeding the Taliban and insurgency. Both Tehran and Washington have direct interests in a stable Afghan government, and thus in fighting the Taliban.
Late March will see an international "big-tent meeting with all the parties who have a stake and an interest in Afghanistan," as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described it. The date and venue of the conference have yet to be determined, but Clinton recently acknowledged that Iran will be invited to the meeting. Iranian leaders have not committed themselves yet, but there are good indications that they will participate.
The meeting will provide a venue for each side to evaluate the other's candidness in negotiations based on mutual respect, and their approach to resolving problems that go well beyond Afghanistan: Not just Iraq, the Middle East, and the nuclear issue, but also sanctions against Iran and Tehran's security concerns.
The Afghanistan meeting could mark the beginning of a new era in U.S.-Iranian relations; previous attempts under the Bush administration did not go anywhere.
A "tentative Iranian offer to make a deal on all that divided us was rejected in the we-don't-talk-to-evil days," as H. D. S. Greenway writes in the "International Herald Tribune." And the two sides used the few public meetings on Iraq of the last few years to embarrass one another publicly.
Both Washington and Tehran need to acknowledge past mistakes, pledge sincerely not to repeat them, and start anew. If they are successful in that effort -- which requires time and patience -- the outcome will benefit both sides: for the United States, which is still fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; and for Iran, which while internally stable, in contrast to its two neighbors, is suffering from sanctions and isolation.
Abbas Djavadi is associate director of broadcasting with RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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