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Clinton To Attend Afghan Meeting, No Word On Iran

Richard Holbrooke and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The State Department has announced that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would attend a conference on Afghanistan next week, but did not say whether she would meet Iranian officials there.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Clinton would be accompanied by U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke at the conference, which is set to be held on March 31 in the The Hague.

"The Hague ministerial should reaffirm the solid and long-term commitment of the international community to supporting the government of Afghanistan in shaping a better future for Afghanistan and its people," Wood said.

Clinton and Holbrooke are expected to provide details of a review of U.S. strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is set to be released by the Obama administration before the conference.

Earlier this month, Clinton said Iran's foreign minister also would be invited to attend The Hague conference, setting up her first chance to meet a senior official from Tehran in her new role as top U.S. diplomat.

Last week U.S. President Barack Obama sent a video message to Iran's government and people in which he said Washington wanted to have "constructive ties" with Tehran.

In an about-face from President George W. Bush's isolation policy of Tehran, the Obama administration has said it would like to engage Iran on a range of issues, from its nuclear program to assistance in stabilizing Afghanistan.

Wood said he knew of no meetings planned between Clinton and the Iranians, but also did not rule it out.

Iran has said it would be interested in attending the meeting in the Netherlands, but has not yet said who could be there.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended several conferences aimed at stabilizing Iraq where Iran was also invited.

Rice spoke with Iran's Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaqi at those events, but never had substantive talks with him.