News / Middle East

Tehran Softens Tone with Kabul

Afghanistan’s  President Hamid Karzai (L) and Iran's President Hassan Rowhani pictured on September 13, 2013.
Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai (L) and Iran's President Hassan Rowhani pictured on September 13, 2013.
Iranian diplomacy has seen major shifts since Hassan Rouhani became the president of the Islamic Republic this year.  Rouhani became the first Iranian president to speak with an American president when he and Barack Obama talked by phone in September.  He has also led a robust diplomacy geared to settle Tehran’s longstanding nuclear dispute with the West.
Now Rouhani has turned his attention to neighboring Afghanistan, and experts say after years of hostility, Iran is taking a somewhat softer line towards its neighbor.
Under his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Tehran overtly opposed the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Iran was even accused of trying to sabotage the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by President Barrack Obama and President Hamid Karzai in May 2012.
In March 2010, during a visit to Kabul, Ahmadinejad blamed the United States for the war in Afghanistan. 
"Why is it that those who say they want to fight terrorism are never successful? I think it is because they are the ones who are playing a double game…what are you even doing in this area? You are from 10,000 kilometers over there. Your country is on the other side of the world. What are you doing here," Ahmadinejad said.
This week in Kabul, elders and important Afghans will gather in a traditional assembly known as loya jirga to vote on a security agreement that will define the U.S. – Afghan relationship once combat troops withdraw next year.  But this time Tehran is not voicing public opposition. 
Last week Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Ibrahim Rahimpor, met President Karzai in Kabul. A press release issued by the Iranian embassy in Kabul following the meeting emphasized enhanced cooperation between Kabul and Tehran but made no mention of any U.S. military presence. 
Afghanistan: a test case
Mohsin Melani, a professor of diplomatic studies at the University of South Florida says Tehran’s language towards Afghanistan reflects Rouhani’s desire to improve relations with the West.
“Iranian policy towards Afghanistan has always been based on the nature of Iran’s relations with the U.S. at least for the Islamic Republic, Afghanistan has been an important country in which both Iran and the U.S. have major strategic interests,” he said.
Melani added that Afghanistan could prove an area where the U.S. and Iran could test their improved ties.
“Now, the relationship between the U.S. and Iran, at least on rhetorical level, has changed - after the telephone conversation between President Obama and President Rouhani.  There is an attempt by both Washington and Tehran to see if they can agree on certain common objectives and goals and I am not surprised that the language of Tehran about Afghanistan has somehow changed.” 
In the Islamic Republic all major decisions, including changes in foreign policy, have to be approved by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Ahmad Khalid Majidyar, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute says the recent softening tone coming from Tehran about the U.S. presence next door must have been endorsed by Khamenei. 
“Major decisions concerning Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon are made by the Revolutionary Guards and particularly by the Quds Special Forces. Major foreign policy issues have also to be approved by the Leader of Iran, Mr. Khamenei.  The president cannot change Iran’s policies in the region unilaterally,” he said.
For years, President Karzai has tried to balance competing foreign interests in his war-ravaged country.
Emal Faizi, a spokesman for President Karzai, told VOA’s Dari Radio that the U.S.-Afghan talks have been difficult because as he puts it some “regional states” had opposed long-term U.S. military bases in Afghanistan. Karzai he says has tried to convince Tehran that it is in Iran’s interest to have stability inside Afghanistan. 
“Afghanistan must not be a fighting ground for the rivals of Iran. Instead Afghanistan and the rival countries can create an environment of cooperation and all can cooperate in Afghanistan.” 
In the past, U.S. and NATO officials had accused elements in the Iranian regime of providing munitions to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan – something Tehran has denied. 
Iran did strongly oppose the Sunni Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 1990s and cooperated with U.S. efforts to oust the Taliban in 2001.  
So what exactly does Tehran want in Afghanistan as the U.S. is ending its longest war there?
Mohsin Milani says Iran’s interests in Afghanistan are varied.
“Number one, from an Iranian point of view both from the time of Shah and the Islamic Republic, Iran wants an Afghanistan that does not pose a national security threat to Iran. Secondly, I think Iran has invested heavily in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and they want to make sure that whatever government is there, it does not impede the Iranian’s involvement. Finally, Iran wants to make sure that its allies both elements of the Northern Alliance and the Hazaras, Shiites and others are not marginalized in Afghanistan,” he said. 
Iran’s softer line towards Afghanistan could be tested soon as the six world powers and Iran meet to discuss how Iran can curb its nuclear enrichment activity, in return for a partial lifting of crippling economic sanctions.  If the talks succeed Rouhani’s new conciliatory policies towards Afghanistan would likely be continued. But, if the talks fail and Iran sees no end to the sanctions that are destroying its economy, Tehran’s tone will likely change and neighboring Afghanistan will feel the repercussions.

You May Like

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: LongLiveUSA
November 22, 2013 11:59 AM
Gulom: And Turkey is the saint nation of the Middle East? If Iran is evil, it is no more evil than Turkey or Saudi Arabia, or Qatar, or any other Sunni terrorist nation in the region. The previously mentioned countries all sponsor terrorism across the region, like in Syria. And then we always come to the rescue of these terrorist dogs you all seem to support... I am for improved relations between us and Iran.

by: Gulom Bazar from: Turkey
November 19, 2013 6:30 PM
the whole region is aware of the Iranian treachery. evil has a particular stench in Iran - and the whole Middle East can smell it.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs