March 28, 2009 / 3:07 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. hopes to engage with Iran on Afghanistan Tuesday

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States hopes to engage with Iran on issues related to Afghanistan at an international conference in The Hague on Tuesday, a senior White House official said on Saturday.

Iran said on Thursday it would attend the U.N. conference, proposed by Washington, which will have delegates from more than 80 countries.

“It’s our assessment and we believe it’s theirs that there are issues as it relates to, for example, narcotics that present an opportunity for Iran to engage Afghanistan in a way that can address ... a concern that we also have about Afghanistan,” said Denis McDonough, White House deputy national security adviser.

“Our hope is that they see it as an opportunity to constructively engage this issue,” McDonough told reporters in a conference call, referring to Iran.

The problem of heroin abuse in Iran could create an opportunity for cooperation on the issue, McDonough said.

“Obviously we all know that revenue from the poppy trade and the heroin trafficking funds extremists in the south, in particular,” McDonough said. “And we’d like to see, given the not-insubstantial heroin abuse problem in Iran, some opportunity to cooperate with Iran on that issue.”

McDonough also said President Barack Obama would discuss Iran during meetings with European leaders next week.

“We’ll look forward to having a discussion in Europe and with our allies not just about cooperation with Iran in Afghanistan, but obviously underscoring the president’s view that Iran has a right to be a member of the international community,” McDonough said.

“But with that right comes responsibilities — principally as it relates, in this instance, to its nuclear program, and the president looks forward to talking to our allies about his concerns on that illicit nuclear program as we go forward.”

The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment. The United States and some other countries accuse Iran of seeking to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program aims to generate electricity.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to join Iran at the table of the Hague conference, following through on a promise by Obama to deal with Tehran on issues of mutual concern.

No substantive talks are planned between Clinton and the Iranian envoy at the meeting.

Editing by Peter Cooney

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