US to Attend Shanghai Group Meeting on Afghanistan
VOA, State Department
State Department confirmed Thursday it is sending a senior diplomat to a Moscow
conference on Afghanistan next week of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Iran will also attend the meeting and U.S. officials do not rule out interaction
with Iranian officials.
At a news briefing, State Department Acting
Spokesman Robert Wood said the United States will be represented at the March 27
meeting by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian
Affairs Patrick Moon.
The Shanghai group, made up of Russia, China and four Central Asian states, was
founded in 2001 and has been widely viewed as a vehicle aimed at countering U.S.
influence in the region.
Thus the invitation for the United States to attend the Moscow gathering next
week, among several other non-member countries, is being seen as a conciliatory
gesture toward the new U.S. administration.
Wood said the United States welcomes the opportunity to join Shanghai group
members in a conversation about how to stabilize the Afghan situation.
"The reason why we think it is important to go to this conference is because it
is about Afghanistan and how the international community can try to better the
situation on the ground, to better coordinate our activities, see what types of
things we can do together to make things better for the people of Afghanistan,"
said Robert Wood. "So we view it as important, even though we are not a member,
we are not an observer, we were invited and look forward to attending and
hopefully we can get something constructive out of this."
In addition to Russia and China, the Shanghai group includes Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran has permanent observer status along
with India, Pakistan and Mongolia. Afghanistan will attend as part of a contact
group with the organization.
In 2005, the United States sought, but was denied observer status in the
Shanghai group, which has been critical of U.S. military operations in Central
The Wall Street Journal, which reported on U.S. plans to take part in the Moscow
meeting, said it would set the stage for the first direct encounter between U.S.
and Iranian officials under the Obama administration, which says it wants
dialogue with Tehran.
Spokesman Wood said there were no plans for a specific meeting but said
U.S.-Iranian interaction could nonetheless occur:
"There are no plans for any substantive meetings with Iran," he said. "It is not
unusual for U.S. and Iranian officials to cross paths during a multi-lateral
meeting. So I am not going to rule anything in, or anything out. It is a
conference about Afghanistan and its neighbors. Iran is certainly a neighbor of
Afghanistan. And so we will see. But as I said there are no planned
substantive meetings with the Iranians."
The Moscow meeting is a prelude to a U.N.-organized international conference on
Afghanistan, co-hosted by the Afghan government and the Netherlands, at the
Hague March 31. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend that meeting and
there is also expected to be high-level Iranian participation.
US Preparing Possible 'Surge' in Afghanistan
By Barry Newhouse, VOA, Islamabad
U.S. officials are considering several new
strategies to try to reduce violence in Afghanistan and strengthen the country's
government. plans include more diplomatic outreach as well as proposals for
further expanding military strikes into Pakistan.
While Iran regularly holds talks with Pakistani and Afghan leaders, it has not
participated in discussions with the United States on the war in Afghanistan.
That could change on March 31, if Tehran accepts an invitation to join an
international summit at The Hague.
Iran's Ambassador to Pakistan, Mashallah Shakiri, told reporters in Islamabad
that his country is committed to being part of the solution in Afghanistan.
"So far, at this date and time, I have no information if we have received any
formal invitation from the organizers of that Hague summit," he said. "But if we
receive that formal invitation, we would consider that positively."
Afghan officials have welcomed the idea of including Iran in the talks as well
as U.S. proposals to speak with willing Taliban factions. But there is also
strong interest in attacking Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.
"As we always have said Afghanistan is a victim of terrorism, but the sources of
the terrorists and their sanctuaries are on the other side of the border," said
Sultan Ahmad Bahen, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry.
For more than eight
years, U.S. drone aircraft have fired missiles at scores of suspected Taliban
and al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan's volatile tribal region.
All of the strikes have
occurred in areas where Pakistan's military exerts little, if any control. And
while the attacks have sparked public outrage and denunciations from officials,
they are widely believed to have the consent of the Pakistani government.
There is also evidence they have grown more accurate in recent years. The New
reports U.S. officials say they have killed nine of al-Qaida's 20 top
sends a very strong message to the local population that if you have dangerous
guests, be prepared for very bad consequences," said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a
political analyst and professor at Lahore University. "That is also the reason
that some of these al-Qaida functionaries may have been kicked out of that
region to other areas of Pakistan."
The New York Times
reports some Taliban and al-Qaida leaders have fled south from the tribal
regions to Baluchistan - Pakistan's largest and least populated province.
Some of them are believed
to have moved to the provincial capital Quetta, where Afghan Taliban leader
Mullah Omar and his top deputies are thought to have lived since fleeing
Pakistani officials have reacted cautiously to suggestions the United States may
expand drone attacks to Baluchistan.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters he continues to believe the
disadvantages of the strikes outweigh the advantages.
"We have to convince them on the disadvantages. How it can be
counterproductive," he said. "And at the same time improve our capacity for
dealing with the insurgency and militancy."
Professor Rais says if Taliban and al-Qaida militants have relocated to
Baluchistan, it could be a sign of desperation. He says the region's Baluch
people have important ethnic and cultural differences from Pashtuns in the
tribal belt that make them less willing to harbor militants.
Professor Rais says expanding missile strikes also holds great risks for the
already shaky Pakistani government, further weakened by this week's political
battle over the judiciary.
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