Addressing the conference, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both said that opening a dialogue with moderate, non-violent members of the Taliban movement may prove the best way to battle the violence and drug trade plaguing the country.
Improving Afghan stability is a central component of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy — a priority reinforced Monday when Clinton announced the United States will donate $ 40 million dollars for August elections in Afghanistan.
At the conference, President Karzai reiterated the need to hold reconciliation talks with members of the Taliban who reject violence.
“We must spare no effort to bring back to Afghanistan and to normal life all those from the ranks of the Taliban who have no association with al-Qaeda and are willing to embrace peace and accept the constitution,” Karzai said.
Clinton echoed Karzai’s call in her remarks: “We must … support efforts by the government of Afghanistan to separate the extremists of al Qaeda and the Taliban from those who have joined their ranks not out of conviction, but out of desperation.
“They should be offered an honorable form of reconciliation and reintegration into a peaceful society, if they are willing to abandon violence, break with al Qaeda, and support the constitution,” the top U.S. diplomat said, according to Reuters.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi voiced support for a regional approach to Afghanistan’s security, while also warning against interfering in his country.
Efforts toward Afghanistan must include “respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and noninterference,” he said. Last week, President Obama outlined a broad plan for a stronger U.S. approach to the Afghan-Pakistan region.
In a rare showing of cooperation with Western powers, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoondzadeh expressed his support of programs aimed at rebuilding Afghanistan.
“Iran is fully prepared to participate in the projects aimed at combating drug trafficking and the plans in line with developing and reconstructing Afghanistan,” Akhoondzadeh said, addressing diplomats at the conference.
But he voiced opposition to deploying more foreign troops into the country.
“The people of Afghanistan know their country better than anybody else does,” Akhoondzadeh said.
“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.”
There are more than 70,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and more than half are American. President Obama last week ordered the deployment of 4,000 additional troops to help train the country’s army, in addition to 17,000 extra troops already committed to help support Afghanistan’s August elections.
There were no official plans for Secretary Clinton and Akhoondzadeh to meet privately during the conference but later Tuesday Clinton told reporters that Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. diplomatic envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had a cordial exchange with the Iranian deputy foreign minister at the meeting.
“In the course of the conference today our special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke had a brief and cordial exchange with the head of the Iranian delegation,” Clinton told a news conference. “It did not focus on anything substantive. It was cordial it was unplanned and they agreed to stay in touch.”
Ahead of the reported exchange, Holbrooke had commended Iran’s participation in the meeting.
“How can you talk about Afghanistan and exclude one of the countries that’s a bordering, neighboring state? … The presence of Iran here is obvious,” Holbrooke said, according to Reuters.
Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic relations since 1979, but President Obama has made moves to repair the relationship, sending a video message that included talk of a “new beginning” to the people of Iran on March 20.