Saturday, January 2, 2010

Gordon Brown to Ask I.R. Iran to Stop Taliban Support

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The Daily Telegraph

The Prime Minister is also planning to ask China to take a larger role in rebuilding Afghanistan’s shattered economy. The new approach to Iran’s neighbours is part of a new diplomatic strategy that British officials hope will accelerate the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan. British sources have told the Daily Telegraph that Iran has been invited to the London conference on Afghanistan in January and will be asked to play a more “constructive” role in the country. Tehran has not yet replied to the invitation. Mr Brown has invited the Iranians to London despite growing international concern over their nuclear programmes, and public accusations from Britain and the US that hardline elements in Tehran are supporting the Taliban. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, told MPs in December that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is “training, equipping and supplying” groups including the Taliban. UK intelligence agencies say that since 2006, the Guards have been supplying some Taliban commanders with small arms, explosives and other weapons. Tehran denies supporting the Taliban and publicly supports the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. British diplomats believe the conference could be used to put international pressure on Iran to cut of military support for the Taliban. Diplomats believe that the Iranian regime is “sensitive” over the issue and could be shamed into ending its backing for the Afghan insurgents. British officials also think that parts of the Iranian elite are deeply uncomfortable about helping the Taliban, who are Sunni Muslims. One source said the “The Iranians have to be very careful – they can’t be seen to be supporting the Taliban and they can’t hand the Taliban any major victories. They’re in a difficult situation, and that’s a point that could be made in London.” The Revolutionary Guards have links to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, but also have considerable autonomy from the Iranian regime. Twice in the last two years, Guard units have captured British sailors in the Persian Gulf.

Mr Miliband said the Guards’ interference in Afghanistan “further undermines international confidence in the Iranian regime's intentions, and is at odds with the regime's claims to the international community and its own people to want to work for stability, security and prosperity.” Douglas Henderson, a former Labour defence minister who has visited Afghanistan for talks with Nato commanders, said that any attempt to bring long-term stability to Afghanistan will require an “understanding” with Tehran. He said: “There are issues in western Afghanistan that can only be resolved by having an understanding with Iran. It is clear to me that in Western Afghanistan there needs to be some co-operation with Iranian intelligence and the Iranian military.” Before Parliament rose for Christmas, Mr Brown told MPs the London meeting would attempt to draw Afghanistan’s neighbours into the international process there. The summit “must encourage a new set of relationships between Afghanistan and its neighbours,” the Prime Minister said. Dennis Blair, the US Director of National Intelligence told a US Senate committee earlier this year that Iran is covertly supplying arms to Afghan insurgents while publicly posing as supportive of the Afghan government. He said: “Shipments typically include small arms, mines, rocket propelled grenades, rockets, mortars, and plastic explosives.” According to US intelligence agencies’ monitoring of Afghanistan, Taliban commanders have publicly thanked their Iranian supporter for successful operations against Nato forces. Despite strained relations over the Copenhagen climate deal, China has also been invited to send a foreign minister to the London talks. The London conference, on January 28, will bring together more than 60 countries in all. China has investments in Afghanistan including a $3 billion copper mine in Logar province near Kabul. Some diplomats think China should be doing more to support the Nato mission in Afghanistan.