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Afghan Meeting: Iran Accepts US Invitation

ARTHUR MAX   03/25/09 03:30 PM ET   AP

Clinton Mid East

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Iran has accepted an invitation to a conference on Afghanistan next week that also will be attended by the U.S., the conference's Dutch host said Wednesday.

The invitation to Iran, which was first announced by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, was seen as part of Washington's policy toward greater engagement with the Islamic republic.

Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, who confirmed Iran's acceptance, said the identity of the Iranian representative was not yet known. Verhagen said the invitation fit Europe's two-track approach of offering inducements to Iran to cooperate with the international community while maintaining sanctions for pursuing its nuclear program.

"It is of utmost importance that Iran is participating," Verhagen said.

President Barack Obama is preparing a sweeping U.S. policy review toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Taliban insurgents have taken refuge.

Verhagen said the U.S. review must "take into account that there is not a single solution for Afghanistan." The policy must be "a comprehensive approach of development, good governance and security."

Although the Hague conference was scheduled to last just seven hours, officials said key diplomats, led by top U.N. envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide, were working on a joint declaration that would commit participants to supporting Afghanistan's stability and development. The meeting will be opened by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Last year, a similar conference in Paris raised pledges of $20 billion for Kabul, but the Hague meeting was not intended to raise funds or discuss military aid to the government.

Those issues were more likely to come up at other multinational meetings scheduled in the next week on Afghanistan. They include a NATO summit, Obama's conference in the Czech Republic with European leaders and a meeting in Moscow hosted by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia, China and several central Asian states.

The Hague meeting includes all the countries that have contributed to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, which has about 55,000 troops from 26 NATO countries and 15 non-NATO countries. Russia, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and humanitarian groups were also invited were among the meeting of nearly 80 countries and 20 international organizations.

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Filed by Stuart Whatley  |