For the first time since the start of the war, an Iranian representative joined international talks on Afghanistan.
Iran's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Qanezadeh, attended the meeting Monday in Rome of the coordinating group of representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan from more than 40 countries as well as the United Nations and European Union .
Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said Iran's presence at the meeting indicated that, as a neighbor of Afghanistan, Iran has "an interest in seeing a stable, prosperous, peaceful Afghanistan emerge."
"I'm not going to stand up here and say that it shows that they agree 100 percent with what we're doing in Afghanistan, what the international community is doing with Afghanistan," Toner said Tuesday. "But what I think it does point to is that there is a shared desire to see a stable Afghanistan in the future."
Qanezadeh, who is also the director of Asian affairs at Iran's foreign ministry, also attended a briefing by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, according to two senior U.S. officials. Petraeus delivered what one senior official called a "fairly frank and in-depth" PowerPoint briefing on NATO's aims and strategy for transferring control to Afghan forces.
The official said that Qanezadeh was paying close attention during the briefing and that some of his statements were "very positive." Media reports from the talks in Rome have said that Qanezadeh called for a "holistic approach" to Afghanistan, including military, political and diplomatic aspects.
The group of special representatives for the region has expanded into the International Contact Group on Afghanistan. The grouping has been used discretely. For example, Japan and the United Kingdom coordinated a trust fund for reintegration.
Both U.S. officials said now that the group has a more formal mechanism for meeting, it is in a better position to engage Iran in a discussion of political issues in the region.