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

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More