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The Road To Tehran Runs Through Kabul

Hmm, so it appears that Richard Holbrooke, the administration’s special envoy to Af-Pak, is going to be the first administration figure to explore the ever-controversial negotiation with Iran. At a NATO meeting today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed convening an international conclave about stabilizing Afghanistan, under United Nations auspices. The hand is outstretched:

At a news conference later, Clinton said: “It is expected that Iran would be invited as a neighbor of Afghanistan.”

She described the conference as “a way to bring all the stakeholders and interested parties together” while stressing that it so far is only a proposal.

What this tells us: the Obama administration wants to start possible dialogues with the Iranians on an issue where U.S. and Iranian interests would appear to converge. At a meet-the-press breakfast last week in Washington, a host of Afghan officials said they wanted good relations with both Tehran and Washington, a point that the Iraqis have made as well; called Iran a benign influence in their country; and urged the two nations to work their difference out. Holbrooke is the obvious diplomat to send here, given his portfolio; Dennis Ross was never going to participate, since his new brief doesn’t include negotiations, but he’ll surely advise Holbrooke and Clinton from Washington.

Now to see how the Iranians respond. We’ve apparently entered a period where Washington and Tehran are basically talking through the press. We make a statement (Obama’s inaugural address), they reply (Apologize to us!), and so forth. If international momentum lines up for this conference — and it’s really hard to see how Clinton would have made a public statement if she didn’t have this conference worked out, to some degree, behind the scenes — Iran will be hard-pressed to refuse. Nor is it clear why they would.

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