Hillary Clinton may not be shaking the hand of an unclenched fist yet, but at least she’s working together in the same room as Iran. Today in The Hague, countries are meeting at a UN conference on Afghanistan, and it’s a very good sign that Iran is in the mix. Cue Richard Holbrooke’s blunt wisdom:

“How can you talk about Afghanistan and exclude one of the countries that’s a bordering, neighbouring state?” Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters. “The presence of Iran here is obvious.”

Iran’s interests in Afghanistan are, well, obvious. Drug traffickers have destabilized the Aghan-Iranian border, and Tehran has no interest in a resurgent Taliban next door either. Remember that immediately following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, Iran was — quite literally — on the phone with Washington, offering its help. What happened next? George W. Bush included Iran in his “axis of evil” speech in January 2002. So long, cooperation.

Could this be a turning point in U.S.-Iran relations? Well, probably not yet. But it could be a turning point in terms of Afghanistan, and international relations with that country are just as, if not more, important.

UPDATE: Laura Rozen suggests that, because Iran is only sending its deputy foreign minister to the conference, it is effectively holding back on warming relations with the U.S., deploying a “B team” as a snub to the America’s “A team.” True enough, but again, I think this misses the point. This conference is not about Iranian-American relations; it’s about Afghanistan. In this light, the delegation disparity makes sense — the United States currently has more at stake in Afghanistan than Iran. But it’s only in Iran’s interest to increase engagement with its neighbor.

(image from flickr user rabinal under a Creative Commons license)

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