News Analysis: Iran emerges as new player for the intra-Afghan peace talks

In the last meeting between the Iranian Foreign Minister and the Taliban political chief, the FM said that the US is not a good mediator for the conflict.

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Last week, Tehran hosted an important visit by the Taliban’s political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. This development came after peace talks in Doha stalled. Iran’s FM met with Baradar to discuss several issues, including the situation in Afghanistan, Intra-Afghan negotiations, the full implementation of the Doha Agreement, and necessities for peace, the Taliban’s spokesman Mohammad Naeem tweeted. Furthermore, he added that the meeting took place in a warm environment. Elsewhere, Iranian FM Javad Zarif reiterated his government’s desire for an inclusive Afghan government that gives place to different segments of society. It can be claimed that the most important point of the talks was Iran’s offer of help as a mediator in peace talks between the actors concerned.

In 2020, the United States and the Taliban reached an agreement over the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which have been stationed in the country since 2001. Following this agreement, US-led peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government were launched. Upon the announcement of the US withdrawal, Iran also increased its contacts with the Afghan government and the Taliban. During this period, it can be seen that top leaders of the Taliban group have conducted visits to Tehran. In this context, Mullah Baradar’s visit stands out as his second official visit to Iran, which was planned upon the invitation of Tehran. Iran’s official media considered this visit as part of a much broader Iranian foreign policy strategy, aiming to reach out to important political figures in the intra-Afghan peace process.

There have been various analyses about Iran’s approach to this issue. According to one of these, Iran intends to show the new Biden administration in the United States its willingness to cooperate. Consequently, Iran may aim to convince the new Biden administration to reverse the maximum pressure policy implemented during the Trump-era. A former Afghan political commentator Torek Farhadi highlighted this point of view by using the statement: “Iran wants to impress Washington”, in his tweet.

Another approach could argue that the intentions of Tehran could not be so reconciliatory. As a matter of fact, statements made by some top Iranian officials supporting this opinion can be observed. For example, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said that the United States has been stalling the intra-Afghan peace process, during a meeting he held with the Taliban delegation. Similarly, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s statement, telling the head of the Taliban delegation that the US is not a good mediator, can be singled out as well. Based on this point of view, it can be speculated that Iran searches for ways to replace the United States.

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