Iran’s views of the Taliban have changed considerably since 2001. Iran did not recognize the Taliban government and considered them an ideological nemesis and a major security threat that was created by Pakistan’s ISI, with generous financial support from Saudi Arabia partly for the purpose of spreading Wahhabism and undermining Iran. When the Taliban were in power in the 1990s, Iran, along with India and Russia, provided significant support to the Northern Alliance, which was the principal opposition force to Taliban rule and eventually dislodged them. Iran also contributed to dismantling the Taliban regime and to establishing a new government in Kabul in 2001.
Ironically, the strategic interests of Tehran and Taliban have converged today, as each, independent of the other and for different reasons, oppose the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and demand their immediate and unconditional withdrawal.
A Taliban-dominated government is clearly not in Iran’s long-term interests, since it would generate considerable tension and conflict between Iran and Afghanistan and would inevitably lead Pakistan, and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia, becoming dominant foreign powers in Afghanistan, which Tehran vehemently opposes. At the same time, Tehran has for many years maintained that political stability in Afghanistan can be achieved only if the government reflects the rich ethnic and sectarian diversity of Afghanistan itself. Iran, more than anything else, wants to see a stable and friendly government in Kabul. Tehran now seems convinced that without Taliban participation in the government, as a partner but not as the main force, stability would be unattainable.
Tehran has attempted in vain to convince Karzai to call for the withdrawal of Western troops. Tensions between the two neighbors are likely to increase if there is a new agreement between Washington and Kabul about establishing permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.
The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,…does not object to transparency because he already issued a fatwa in 1995 against weapons of mass destruction. But he is against discrimination, suspension [of uranium enrichment], and the deprivation of Iran’s rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
On the nuclear issue, the end state for the Iranians is full rights under the NPT, without discrimination over enrichment. Other countries enrich but do not face sanctions. The nuclear impasse will not be resolved as long as U.N. resolutions are enforced because they require Iran to indefinitely suspend enrichment and provide access to sites and scientists for an indefinite period. These conditions extend beyond the framework of NPT.
Iran views indefinite suspension as a way for the P5+1 (five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) to buy time for a long-term ban on Iran’s enrichment program and ultimately its discontinuation.
[The] Iranians raised, almost immediately after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the problem of al-Qa’ida personnel trying to make their way from Afghanistan into Iran…
…Tehran documented its detention of literally hundreds of suspected al-Qa’ida operatives, repatriated as many of these detainees to their countries of origin as it could, and requested U.S. assistance in facilitating repatriations of detainees whose governments did not want to cooperate (a request the Bush Administration denied).
…Iranian officials acknowledged that a small group of al-Qa’ida figures had managed to avoid capture and enter Iranian territory, most likely through Sistan-Balochistan, in 2002. The Iranian government located and took some of these individuals into custody and said that others identified by the United States were either dead or not in Iran. At the beginning of May 2003, after Baghdad had fallen, Tehran offered to exchange the remaining al-Qa’ida figures in Iran for a small group of MEK commanders in Iraq, with the treatment of those repatriated to Iran monitored by the International Committee for the Red Cross and a commitment not to apply the death penalty to anyone prosecuted on their return. But the Bush Administration rejected any deal.
Of the six al-Qa’ida operatives sanctioned by the Treasury Department last week, only one is alleged to be physically present in Iran — and, by Treasury’s own account, he is there primarily to get al-Qa’ida prisoners out of Iranian jails. Moreover, the United States apparently has no hard evidence that the Iranian government is supportive of or even knowledgeable about the alleged al-Qa’ida network in the Islamic Republic.