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Holbrooke Meets The Iranians, However Briefly

No surprises here. Despite a denial last week that there would be any U.S.-Iranian meeting of any significance during today’s U.N.-sponsored conference at The Hague on Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed during a press conference that Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke had a “brief and cordial exchange” with the deputy Iranian foreign minister. (Another sign of Holbrooke’s influence!) Laura Rozen reports from The Hague:

Clinton said that she did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation herself. But she said that at her request, a letter was passed to the Iranian government here today asking for assistance finding or gaining the release of three Americans held or believed missing in Iran, including former FBI officer Robert Levinson and U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi.

“During the course of the conference, representative Holbrooke held a brief and cordial exchange with the head of the Iranian delegation,” Clinton said in answer to a question. She said the meeting was not “substantive.”

OK, so not “substantive” — that’s what State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said last week, too. But it’s a start! A letter has been exchanged!

Iran can’t help but now view the release (or acknowledgment of the whereabouts) of Levinson and Saberi as tied to improved relations. And that’s … no guarantee of anything. But still, this is the sort of mundane stuff that diplomacy is based on. Sometimes it starts with a ping-pong team.

More “substantively,” perhaps, the Iranians said they want to help Afghanistan curb the drug trade, though they also sort-of-told the Europeans not to bother sending more troops to Afghanistan, despite the Obama administration’s entreaties.

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