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IRAN: No Afghan peace without Tehran, former Reagan administration official says

October 30, 2008 |  9:18 am

Kabul

Another day, another horrific attack in Afghanistan.

This time a suicide bomber managed to get inside Kabul's heavily-guarded Information and Culture Ministry building and blow himself to smithereens, killing at least three other people, according to a report from Kabul by the Los Angeles Times' Laura King.

With Iraq appearing to simmer down, Afghanistan will continue as one of the greatest challenges for the next president.

According to an Oct. 24 opinion article in the Boston Globe, written by former Reagan administration diplomat Lawrence J. Kolb and his colleague Laura Conley, there will be no peace in Afghanistan unless the U.S. comes to terms with Iran, which now holds enormous sway over certain parts of the country.

Korb and Conley argue that the U.S. botched an opportunity to reward Iran's good behavior in 2001, when it helped Washington overthrow the Taliban. If the U.S. wants to win in Afghanistan, it must talk with Iran, they argue:

The United States has little to show from its diplomatic silence with Iran. Since being inducted into the axis of evil, Iran has proceeded with its nuclear enrichment program. It has also expanded its influence in the Middle East courtesy of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the election of a Shi'a-dominated government there. Meanwhile, the United States has faltered in Afghanistan, with troops increasingly paying the price. ... While U.S. efforts in Afghanistan do require more troops, any success will not come without a renewed commitment to diplomacy and the engagement of Afghanistan's neighbors. Iran is the indispensable player in this process.

The sentiment was also echoed by New York University Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin in an essay he co-wrote with Sara Batmanglich for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for International Studies.

They argue that even if the U.S. and Iran can't come to terms on the issue of the Iranian nuclear program and Tehran's support for militant groups fighting Israel, they can agree on Afghanistan's future:

One issue that may require U.S.-Iranian cooperation is the need to hold a presidential election in September 2009, according to the Afghan constitution. The security conditions are hardly conducive to such an election; even if it were held, the results are much more likely to be contested in the streets than were the results in 2004. Iran is in a position of influence with many of the leaders who might challenge President Karzai and can either aggravate or mitigate the aftermath.

--  Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: An injured woman is assisted after a suicide bomber targeted the Information and Culture Ministry in Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: Syed Jan / EPA

P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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