The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia says it may be possible to work with Iran on some issues related to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. But at the same time General David Petraeus also said some Iranian elements may continue to try to make trouble in both countries, as they have in the past.
General Petraeus says in spite of its meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan, and strategic disputes over nuclear weapons, human rights and other issues, the United States and Iran have some common interests, particularly regarding the situation in Afghanistan.
"Clearly, there are some common objectives that no one, I think, would disagree on, that Iran is concerned about the narcotics trade, it doesn't want to see Sunni extremists, certainly ultra, ultra fundamentalist extremists running Afghanistan again any more than other folks do," he said.
General Petraeus also said Iran wants to export its products to Afghanistan. But he warned that some powerful elements in Iran may have a different focus.
"Having said that, I'm sure there is an element that is determining how they can make life miserable for the coalition, the alliance, and Afghan forces as well," added Petraeus.
The general also said he believes there are "common interests" between Iran and Iraq. He said trade is also a factor there, as well as access for Iranian religious pilgrims to holy sites in Iraq. He said he believes Iran is in a "period of assessment" about its policy toward Iraq, after its failed attempt to block the new U.S.-Iraq security agreements and the defeat of its Shiite insurgent network, and with the arrival of a new U.S. administration in 10 days.
General Petraeus said some of the counterinsurgency concepts he implemented successfully in Iraq during the past two years are being transferred to Afghanistan, such as the focus on securing the population, the need to work on security and civilian projects at the same time and an effort to better coordinate the broad effort by the U.S. government and its allies. But he also said the two countries are very different and require specifically targeted approaches.
Still, the general said one idea that worked in Iraq will be launched in Afghanistan on Friday -- a community policing program that has been called Concerned Local Citizens or Sons of Iraq.
"I believe tomorrow there will be a press conference in Kabul about a community protection initiative that is being launched, a coordinated effort between General [David] McKiernan's [allied] forces and the Afghan government, with President [Hamid] Karzai's full support," he said.
General Petraeus said the initial program will be a test to determine whether this approach can work in Afghanistan, but he said if it does it could spread rapidly and have a significant impact, as it did in Iraq.