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Iran To Attend Afghan Meeting, Seeks Regional Approach

Hassan Qashqavi
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran has said it will attend a UN conference on the future of Afghanistan, which was proposed by Tehran's old foe the United States, while calling for a regional solution to the "crisis."

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said Iran had yet to decide who to send to the international meeting in The Hague on March 31, which will be attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and delegates from more than 80 countries.

News of Iran's participation is likely to be welcomed by the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama, who has offered a "new beginning" of diplomatic engagement with the Islamic Republic on a range of issues.

In an overture to Tehran, Clinton said earlier this month Iran would be invited to the meeting to discuss the future of Afghanistan as it battles a growing Islamist Taliban insurgency.

Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic ties for three decades and are now at odds over Tehran's nuclear work.

But analysts say they share an interest in ensuring a stable Afghanistan, where violence is at its highest level since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

“Iran will participate," Qashqavi said. "The level of participation is not clear."

Clinton is expected to provide details of a review of U.S. strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is set to be released before the conference in the Dutch city.

Afghanistan 'Crisis'

Iran has said it was ready to help stabilize Afghanistan and Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying a regional solution was needed.

Obama last month ordered the deployment of 17,000 extra U.S. troops to the country. Iran has often called for U.S. forces to leave the region, saying they are making the situation worse.

"We believe that a regional solution should be found for the Afghanistan crisis," the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Mottaki as saying during a visit to Brazil.

"Iran's goal in the region is to help peace, stability, and calm, which is necessary for the region's progress," he said.

Mottaki said earlier in March the United States was failing in Afghanistan and should recognize a new approach was needed.

Qashqavi said Iran would also attend a separate meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow this week.

In a major shift from the policies of his predecessor George W. Bush, who sought to isolate Tehran over nuclear work the West suspects is aimed at making bombs, Obama has offered to extend a hand of peace to Iran, if "it unclenches its fist."

Last week, in a televised address released to Middle East broadcasters, Obama made his warmest offer yet of a fresh start in relations with Iran.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on March 21 he had so far seen no change in U.S. behavior, but Tehran would respond to any real policy shift by Washington. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful power purposes.