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US Sees a Place for Iran at Meeting on Afghanistan

Clinton proposes a conference on March 31; separately, the Obama administration sends two officials for talks with Syria. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

The United States is proposing a big conference on Afghanistan and wants to invite Iran, one of its neighbors. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says dealing with extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan requires a regional effort.

She announced the proposal to hold a high-level meeting on March thirty-first. It would also include donors and members of NATO, and might take place in the Netherlands. The United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, could be the chairman.

Secretary Clinton presented the idea to NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. Then, on Friday, she met in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss arms control and other issues.

The NATO ministers agreed to restart high-level contacts with Russia. Those were suspended last year after its military action in Georgia.

President Obama wants Russia to help keep nuclear weapons away from Iran. He says that would reduce the need for an American missile-defense system proposed for the Czech Republic and Poland. But he also says his comments do not suggest a weakening of support for the security of those countries or other NATO members.

Russia opposes the defense plan. President Obama says it is directed at Iran, not Russia. But his administration is also re-examining current American policy which aims to isolate Iran from the world. At the same time, he has decided to send two high-level officials to Damascus for talks with Syria.

Secretary Clinton announced the trip in Jerusalem earlier this week during her first visit to the Middle East as America's top diplomat. The United States has not had an ambassador in Syria since former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri was killed in two thousand five.

The United States has criticized Syria and Iran for supporting militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. But, in a development announced Wednesday, Britain says it is open to talks with the political wing of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Britain halted contacts in two thousand five. And last July it added Hezbollah's military force to its list of banned organizations. But Hezbollah is part of a national unity government that was formed last year in Lebanon. The United States says it has no plans for now to follow Britain's lead.

Finally, in other news, this Sunday is International Women's Day. A new study says women's rights have gained some ground in Arab Gulf states since a similar study completed five years ago. The group Freedom House notes that in Kuwait, women have won the right to vote. In Oman, women have made gains in areas of higher education, the work force and politics.

Just last month, Saudi Arabia got its first woman cabinet member, Noura al-Fayez, the deputy minister for women's education. But the Freedom House researchers say much more progress is still needed, especially in Saudi Arabia.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.