The US negotiator on Afghanistan said Thursday he would welcome talks with Iran on ending the Afghan conflict, accusing Tehran of seeking to bog down its arch-enemy in its longest war.
Veteran US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad has taken part in UN-backed talks on Afghanistan that involve Iran, a rare area of dialogue between the countries as President Donald Trump imposes intense pressure on Shiite Muslim state.
“Iran would like to keep us entangled in a conflict without winning or losing but paying a high price in Afghanistan until there is an agreement between the US and Iran,” Khalilzad told a virtual event of the US Institute of Peace.
“But we have offered to meet with Iranians on this issue, that they should join various forma where we are there and they are there, to discuss the future of Afghanistan,” he said.
Khalilzad warned, however, that the United States would target any Iran-backed groups “taking action against us,” saying Washington was “monitoring them very closely.”
Iran has a complicated relationship with the Taliban, who promote an ultra-austere form of Sunni Islam. Tehran almost went to war in 1998 with the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan after the killings of Iranian diplomats and civilians.
Iran has denounced an agreement negotiated by Khalilzad between the United States and the Taliban which envisions a US pullout next year, and has accused Washington of legitimizing the Taliban.
But it has also stepped up its own contacts with the militants, with US officials accusing Tehran of backing attacks against Western forces.
Iran had supported the US overthrow of the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks but relations with Washington sharply deteriorated soon after when then-President George W. Bush called Tehran part of an “axis of evil.”
Trump has imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran in hopes of reducing Tehran’s regional clout, and in January ordered a drone strike in Iraq that killed its best-known general.