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Iran sending B team to Afghanistan powwow?

Iran sending B team to Afghanistan powwow?

High level delegations from over 70 nations are arriving here in the Hague, Netherlands for a one day conference tomorrow on Afghanistan, sponsored by the Dutch government, the United Nations, and the Afghanistan government. Security is heavy in the low-key government city. Much anticipated about the forum has been the fact that the U.S. and Iran are both sending delegations to the conference.

But while the U.S. is sending its top diplomat, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and U.S. special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, reports today sourced to Dutch diplomats indicate that Tehran plans to send its deputy foreign minister, Medhi Akhundzadeh, a former Iranian ambassador to the IAEA.

"They are talking, and they will be there at the table, but they are sending lesser representation that is not on the par" with the other delegations, notes Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a Washington group that advocates for engagement between Washington and Tehran. "It does send a signal," that Iran is holding back somewhat on regional cooperation talks until "they have practical indications of America’s [larger] strategic objective with Iran," he says. Tehran’s response is "predictable," if unfortunate, he says, adding that Tehran’s "emulating Bush’s insistence on preconditions would be a mistake."

About the prospects for international commitments on Afghanistan resulting from the conference, a Washington South Asia hand says, the main thing is what other countries are willing to actually do and how the civilian effort can be better resourced and better coordinated. "I expect a lot of good words and little concrete," he says. 

More on the hoopla tomorrow.