On the eve of a possible groundbreaking meeting between the United States and Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton predicted Monday that Tehran would be propelled by self-interest to work with other world powers on stabilizing Afghanistan.
Clinton, leading a U.S. delegation that may meet today with Iranian officials at a conference on Afghanistan, said the Islamic regime in Tehran has an interest in reducing the huge Afghan drug flow and gaining control over its porous border with its eastern neighbor.
"From our information, they are really concerned about all the narcotics crossing the border into their country," Clinton told reporters on her plane, en route to The Hague. "This is a matter of their own internal security. . . . I would imagine that's an area where they are willing to work with others."
There has been speculation for weeks that the Obama administration would try to press forward with its diplomatic overture to Iran at today's international conference, which the United States proposed early this month.
The two countries have had an antagonistic relationship and limited contact since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But they cooperated on Afghanistan in 2002, and some U.S. officials believe a resumption of that collaboration could lead to a general improvement in relations.
Although Iran's clerics have been cool to the Obama administration's overture, Tehran plans to send a deputy foreign minister to the meeting.
"The fact that they accepted an invitation suggests that they believe there is a role for them to play" in Afghanistan, Clinton said.
Iran's participation in such events is considered unpredictable. In December, Iranian officials abruptly dropped plans to attend a French-sponsored conference on Afghanistan.
The administration has already taken several steps to signal its interest in reengaging with Iran. Over the weekend, a U.S. diplomat attended a meeting in Moscow of a regional group to which Iran also sent observers. And the administration is likely to lift 30-year-old rules restricting contacts between lower-level U.S. and Iranian officials.
The administration last week unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan that identifies the defeat of Al Qaeda as Washington's goal but calls for an intensification of the military mission and a boosting of the economy and government.
The conference comes at a time when the insurgency in Afghanistan is strengthening and public support in the West for the mission there is weakening.