The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Holbrooke had brief and cordial exchange with Iranian deputy foreign minister, Clinton says

U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke held a "brief and cordial exchange" with the head of the Iranian delegation attending an international conference here at The Hague, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a press conference. Clinton said that she did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation herself. ...

U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke held a "brief and cordial exchange" with the head of the Iranian delegation attending an international conference here at The Hague, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a press conference.

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."

At her direction, "A letter was delivered to Iran," Clinton added, saying it was one of two exchanges between the United States and Iran that had occurred here today. "In the letter, we asked Iran to use all its faciilties to ensure the safe and quick return of Robert Levinson, and the release and free travel of Roxana Saberi and" another Iranian American being held in Iran.

She later said the letter was handed over to the head of the Iranian delegation not by Holbrooke or herself, but by "a member of our extended delegation." She also said the letter, "seeking both information and assistance about our three American citizens," was not signed by her. "We hope to hear something positive," she said.

"I myself had no contact" with the Iranian delegation, Clinton added.

Iran is being represented at the "big tent" Afghanistan conference, which involves diplomats from 72 countries, by Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Mehdi Akhundzadeh.

In his speech to the conference, Akhundzadeh, dressed in a dark pin stripe suit and white Nehru collar shirt, outlined Iran’s support for contributing to regional efforts to combat drug trafficking and improve security on the Iranian Afghan border.

“Welcoming the proposals for joint cooperation offered by the countries contributing to Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran is fully prepared to participate in the projects aimed at combating drug trafficking and the plans in line with developing and reconstructing Afghansitan,” the deputy foreign minister said.

He also described the U.S. and NATO miiltary mission in Afghanistan as "ineffective," arguing instead for the Afghanization of that nation’s security. “The presence of foreign forces has not improved things in the country and it seems that an increase in the number of foreign forces will prove ineffective too," Akhundzadeh said. "The military expenses need to be redirected to the training of the Afghan police and Afghanization should lead the government building process.”

(British sources at the conference said Akhundzadeh had been a frequent interlocutor of the British over the years. A British newspaper report Monday said that Akhundzadeh had met with U.S. official Patrick Moon in Moscow last week under a Russian initiative to discuss international efforts to improve security in Afghanistan.)

 

Clinton spoke in a somewhat guarded but cautiously positive way about what she called the "Iranian intervention" at the conference, without naming the Iranian official who spoke and while trying to keep the focus on Afghanistan. "The U.S., Iran, and all the nations here today have a mutual interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan," Clinton said. "The intervention by the Iranian representative set forth clear ideas" on countering drug trafficking and improving border security that Clinton said the United States would listen to.

 

The State Department has previously downplayed the prospect of U.S. and Iranian discussions at the meeting. In advance of the conference, State Department spokesmen have repeatedly said that the Secretary had no plans for substantive meetings with Iranian officials here. The language seemed to leave room for unplanned or more casual meetings occurring, including with someone other than Secretary Clinton.

Holbrooke was cited earlier today by the AP calling US-Iran relations “a work in progress,” but he argued it made sense for Iran to be included at an international conference involving Afghanistan’s neighbors. "How can you talk about Afghanistan and exclude one of the countries that is a … neighboring state?" he said.

 

Earlier, a background briefing a senior U.S. official traveling with Clinton was planned to give to the press traveling with the State Department officials was canceled after reporters had waited an hour for it. They were told the official had been pulled into bilateral meetings.

 

By the time Clinton gave her public press briefing revealing Holbrooke’s exchange with the head of the Iranian delegation, Holbrooke had apparently already departed the conference.

 

Clinton also said she had held bilateral meetings with the Dutch foreign minister who is hosting the conference, foreign minister of Pakistan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the foreign minister of Japan, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. She heads to London tonight to meet up with President Obama, where they will attend the G-20 dialogue.

U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke held a "brief and cordial exchange" with the head of the Iranian delegation attending an international conference here at The Hague, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a press conference.

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."

At her direction, "A letter was delivered to Iran," Clinton added, saying it was one of two exchanges between the United States and Iran that had occurred here today. "In the letter, we asked Iran to use all its faciilties to ensure the safe and quick return of Robert Levinson, and the release and free travel of Roxana Saberi and" another Iranian American being held in Iran.

She later said the letter was handed over to the head of the Iranian delegation not by Holbrooke or herself, but by "a member of our extended delegation." She also said the letter, "seeking both information and assistance about our three American citizens," was not signed by her. "We hope to hear something positive," she said.

"I myself had no contact" with the Iranian delegation, Clinton added.

Iran is being represented at the "big tent" Afghanistan conference, which involves diplomats from 72 countries, by Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Mehdi Akhundzadeh.

In his speech to the conference, Akhundzadeh, dressed in a dark pin stripe suit and white Nehru collar shirt, outlined Iran’s support for contributing to regional efforts to combat drug trafficking and improve security on the Iranian Afghan border.

“Welcoming the proposals for joint cooperation offered by the countries contributing to Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran is fully prepared to participate in the projects aimed at combating drug trafficking and the plans in line with developing and reconstructing Afghansitan,” the deputy foreign minister said.

He also described the U.S. and NATO miiltary mission in Afghanistan as "ineffective," arguing instead for the Afghanization of that nation’s security. “The presence of foreign forces has not improved things in the country and it seems that an increase in the number of foreign forces will prove ineffective too," Akhundzadeh said. "The military expenses need to be redirected to the training of the Afghan police and Afghanization should lead the government building process.”

(British sources at the conference said Akhundzadeh had been a frequent interlocutor of the British over the years. A British newspaper report Monday said that Akhundzadeh had met with U.S. official Patrick Moon in Moscow last week under a Russian initiative to discuss international efforts to improve security in Afghanistan.)

 

Clinton spoke in a somewhat guarded but cautiously positive way about what she called the "Iranian intervention" at the conference, without naming the Iranian official who spoke and while trying to keep the focus on Afghanistan. "The U.S., Iran, and all the nations here today have a mutual interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan," Clinton said. "The intervention by the Iranian representative set forth clear ideas" on countering drug trafficking and improving border security that Clinton said the United States would listen to.

 

The State Department has previously downplayed the prospect of U.S. and Iranian discussions at the meeting. In advance of the conference, State Department spokesmen have repeatedly said that the Secretary had no plans for substantive meetings with Iranian officials here. The language seemed to leave room for unplanned or more casual meetings occurring, including with someone other than Secretary Clinton.

Holbrooke was cited earlier today by the AP calling US-Iran relations “a work in progress,” but he argued it made sense for Iran to be included at an international conference involving Afghanistan’s neighbors. "How can you talk about Afghanistan and exclude one of the countries that is a … neighboring state?" he said.

 

Earlier, a background briefing a senior U.S. official traveling with Clinton was planned to give to the press traveling with the State Department officials was canceled after reporters had waited an hour for it. They were told the official had been pulled into bilateral meetings.

 

By the time Clinton gave her public press briefing revealing Holbrooke’s exchange with the head of the Iranian delegation, Holbrooke had apparently already departed the conference.

 

Clinton also said she had held bilateral meetings with the Dutch foreign minister who is hosting the conference, foreign minister of Pakistan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the foreign minister of Japan, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. She heads to London tonight to meet up with President Obama, where they will attend the G-20 dialogue.

Laura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.
Tag: Iran