WASHINGTON (JTA) — There are no plans for U.S. engagement with Iran at a conference on Afghanistan.
The policy outlined Wednesday by State Department spokesman Robert Wood underscored continuity on Iran strategies between the Bush and Obama administrations.
"I’m not aware of any plans at this point for the delegations to engage," Wood said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed the conference, to be held under the auspices of the United Nations in the Netherlands on March 31. U.S. officials said it was hoped that all of Afghanistan’s neighbors, implicitly including Iran, would join in discussions of how to stabilize the nation still beset by Taliban insurgents.
It was seen as the first Obama administration overture to Iran after years of Bush administration efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic, but Wood’s statement suggested continuity with Bush policy. Bush administration officials also attended regional conferences that included Iranian delegations while avoiding formal interactions.
Similarly, an assistant deputy secretary of state, Patrick Moon, will attend another lower-level Afghanistan conference in Moscow next week at which Iranian delegates will be present.
Wood said he would not rule out a "chance interaction" between Clinton and Iranian officials in the Netherlands, but added that Iran policy was still under review and engaging Iran now would be premature.
"It’s important for us to be able to finish that so that we can give you a clear outline of what our policy objectives are, how we plan to go forward in engaging Iran in the future," he said.
In another sign of continuity with Bush’s Iran polices, Wood also repeated that the United States does not intend to suspend its plans to set up missile defense stations in Poland and the Czech Republic. The defense system is aimed at neutralizing any potential Iranian threat on Europe, but Russia vehemently opposes it, saying it revives Cold War tensions.
Under the previous administration, Democratic lawmakers had argued that the defense system was costing Russian cooperation in the efforts to isolate Iran and should be scrapped. Wood suggested instead that the Obama administration’s strategy was to draw Russia into the system.
"Our concern remains Iran and that threat posed by Iran," Wood said. "The Russians, as I said, see it the same way we do, and we look forward to cooperating with Russia on missile defense as we’ve said many times."