Iran says invited by Italy to Afghanistan meeting

Mon Feb 23, 2009 10:07am EST

TEHRAN Feb 23 (Reuters) - Iran said on Monday it had been invited by Group of Eight president Italy to an international meeting on Afghanistan, which is also expected to be attended by Tehran's old foe the United States.

In Rome, an Italian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the question of Iran being invited to the June meeting was a "working hypothesis that Italy is exploring in agreement with the other principal allies in Afghanistan".

Italy wants to hold a conference bringing together the world's richest countries and Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, India, China and Turkey among others to find ways of bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It also seeks to involve Iran, which shares borders with both those countries. Iran is embroiled in a row with the West over its disputed nuclear programme, but new U.S. President Barack Obama has expressed readiness to talk to its leaders.

Obama earlier in February spoke of possible diplomatic openings with the Islamic Republic, marking a break with his predecessor George W. Bush. Iran in turn said it is ready for talks as long as they are "fair".

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini discussed the planned meeting on Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency is growing in strength, with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki.

"In view of the constructive role of Iran in Afghanistan, they have invited Mr Mottaki to take part in this meeting. We are now examining this invitation with a positive outlook," spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told a news conference.

He said Frattini and Mottaki had spoken over the phone.

"In international meetings Iran has always welcomed whatever helps the stability of Afghanistan and we have always actively attended those meetings," Qashqavi said.

The talks hosted by Italy will be held in Trieste on June 27, a day after G8 foreign ministers from the United States, Russia, Britain, Italy, Germany, France, Canada and Japan meet there, a senior Italian diplomat has told Reuters.

He said the conference would discuss securing the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight the "spillover" of terrorism, drugs and organised crime.

While Iran and the United States sat at the same table to discuss Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, the Bush administration made sure the new pro-Western Afghan government kept Tehran at arm's length.

But the head of NATO, which leads some 55,000 troops in Afghanistan, has said dialogue with Iran was crucial to fighting the insurgency there.

The United States and Iran, which have not had diplomatic ties for three decades, held three rounds of talks in Baghdad in 2007 on ways of reducing violence in Iraq. (Reporting by Hossein Jaseb in Tehran and Phil Stewart in Rome; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Angus MacSwan)






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