WASHINGTON - Hillary Clinton moved to break the taboo on engaging with Iran Thursday by proposing a conference on Afghanistan with a seat reserved for Tehran.
"It is expected that Iran would be invited as a neighbor of Afghanistan," Clinton said at a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. It marked the first effort to fulfill President Obama's campaign pledge to engage Iran, an Islamic state listed by the U.S. as a sponsor of terrorism.
There was no immediate response from Tehran, where supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was hosting his own conference to build support for the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups to confront Israel.
Clinton said the proposed conference of major powers and Afghanistan's neighbors including Pakistan and possibly Iran could be held March 31 in the Netherlands and led by the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide of Norway.
"We hope that this meeting could provide an opportunity to reach a common set of principles, perhaps embodied in a chairman's statement, on a common way forward" in Afghanistan, Clinton said.
The U.S. has maintained indirect contacts with Iran through the Swiss, and U.S. military and diplomatic officials also discussed border concerns with Iran during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
But the U.S. has had no formal contacts since the hostage crisis of 1979 with the Tehran regime, dubbed part of the "axis of evil" by former President George W. Bush.
In the NATO ministers meeting, Clinton called on Russia to cut off talks of selling Iran missiles or missile technology. The ministers also agreed to restart the NATO-Russia Council, which was suspended last summer during the Georgia-Russia conflict.