THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Taliban fighters in Afghanistan who abandon extremism must be granted an “honorable form of reconciliation,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.
Clinton was speaking at talks attended by Iran and Pakistan, days after President Barack Obama unveiled a new plan to end Afghanistan’s nearly 8-year-old insurgency.
“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,” Clinton told the conference the Dutch city of The Hague.
“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,” she said.
Earlier, Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed the new push by the Obama administration for a regional solution to his country’s chronic instability.
“I welcome the growing recognition that without the true cooperation of Afghanistan’s neighbors, the victory over terrorism cannot be assured,” Karzai said, hailing what he called Obama’s “fresh, strong and judicious leadership.”
Iran, which sent Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh to the one day conference, reaffirmed its rejection of foreign troops in Afghanistan but promised it would help fight trafficking from the country’s huge opium trade.
“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,” Akhoundzadeh said.
“Iran is fully prepared to participate in the projects aimed at combating drug trafficking and the plans in line with developing and reconstructing Afghanistan,” he said, according to prepared remarks made available to journalists.
IRAN PRESENCE LOGICAL
Clinton and Akhoundzadeh were not due to hold substantive talks in the Hague, but not expected to avoid contact either.
In a reversal of the policy of the former Bush administration, Obama’s team has sought engagement with Iran despite a years-long stand-off over Tehran’s nuclear program, which the West suspects is a cover for the atom bomb.
Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Iran’s presence at the conference was a logical part of efforts to produce peace for Afghans.
“How can you talk about Afghanistan and exclude one of the countries that’s a bordering, neighboring state?” he told reporters in The Hague. “The presence of Iran here is obvious.”
More than 70,000 U.S. and NATO troops are in Afghanistan battling a growing insurgency by the Taliban, which is also spreading its influence in Pakistan.
Since taking office in January, Obama has ordered 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to tackle violence ahead of elections, and a further 4,000 to help train the army.