Iran General NewsIran expected to block steps towards regional deal on...

Iran expected to block steps towards regional deal on Afghanistan


The Guardian: The Iranians will attend Wednesday’s conference in Istanbul but sharply worsening relations with Turkey mean they will come to play the spoiler.

The Iranians will attend Wednesday’s conference in Istanbul but sharply worsening relations with Turkey mean they will come to play the spoiler


An Iranian delegation is expected to turn up in Istanbul over the next 24 hours for an international conference on Afghanistan despite the dramatic downturn in Turkish-Iranian relations of recent weeks. The warm relationship between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of a couple of years ago, which culminated in an ill-fated proposal over an uranium exchange last year, is now distinctly frosty.

The split is particularly apparent over Syria where the two countries’ interests are directly opposed. Turkish officials tell me they are certain that Iranian revolutionary guards have played an active role in suppressing the Syrian unrest, while Turkey has decisively taken the side of the revolt, holding formal talks with the Syrian opposition and reportedly providing haven for the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Nonetheless, the Iranian press agency ISNA is reporting that the deputy foreign minister for Asia, Mohammad Ali Fathollahi, is on the way to Istanbul, and Turkish officials say he is still on the list of attendees. That should make for some interesting body language with Hillary Clinton, who will also be at the meeting, but who will be anxious to avoid any joint photo opps in the wake of the Washington bomb plot.

More importantly, Iran is expected to try to sabotage any outcome in Istanbul that could further the US goal of stabilising Afghanistan prior to the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014. Turkish officials also believe the Iranian delegation will do its utmost to block Ankara’s emergence as a centre of gravity for regional diplomacy.

In the run-up to the Istanbul conference, I am told, Iran asked to take part in today’s preliminary trilateral summit meeting between Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but that bid was rejected by Ankara. As for tomorrow’s international conference, Turkish officials say that Tehran is focused exclusively on the complete and immediate withdrawal of foreign troops and has indicated it would not endorse any regional agreement on Afghanistan’s future if that undertaking is not forthcoming.

Consequently, the final statement tomorrow, if there is one, is likely to be so diluted it has no practical meaning. That, in turn, is yet more bad news for the German organisers of the Bonn conference of Afghanistan on December 5, which was supposed to benefit from the ‘momentum’ generated in Istanbul. The Turkish meeting is more likely to have the opposite effect. Little wonder that expectations of political progress in Afghanistan are being ratcheting down with every passing day.

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