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US, Iran share interests in Afghanistan: Petraeus

January 10, 2009

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WASHINGTON, Jan 9: Iran could become involved in a regional strategy to the conflict in Afghanistan, as Tehran shares common interests with the United States there, suggested General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command.

A resolution to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan requires “a regional approach ... that includes Pakistan, India the Central Asian states and even China and Russia, along with perhaps, at some point Iran,” Petraeus said at a conference organised by the Institute of Peace think tank on Thursday.

“There is a common interest between Afghanistan, the coalition (of foreign forces in Afghanistan) and Iran, but there are also major conflicting interests, needless to say,” said Petraeus, who is in charge of US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.“I am happy to leave that element of the regional approach to the diplomats and policymakers,” he said.

Remnants of the Taliban regime, which was ousted from power in the US-led invasion in late 2001, are now waging a resistance campaign against the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

There are about 70,000 international troops in the country fighting alongside Afghan security forces to quell the Taliban.

Petraeus emphasised that Iran was “conflicted” over the situation in Afghanistan.

“Clearly they don’t want to see Afghanistan in the grip of ultra-fundamentalist extremist Sunni forces, as is the case with the Taliban, but nor do they want to see the narcotics problem get worse,” he said.

Petraeus noted that the country “would also like to see the development of trade, commerce” with its neighbour.

There are parts of Iran’s government, Petraeus admitted, that he was sure “is determining how they can make life miserable for the coalition and Afghan forces as well, citing examples of Iranian weapons being intercepted in the conflict.

And Petraeus stressed the need for a cohesive strategy involving Afghanistan and Pakistan.

For the United States, he said, the two countries “have, in many ways, merged into a single problem ... the way forward in Afghanistan is incomplete without a strategy that includes and assists Pakistan.”—AFP