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Britain should talk to Iran - Clegg

Sunday, November 9 07:36 am
Press Assoc.

Britain must be ready to talk to Iran and the Taliban to find lasting 
resolutions to conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Liberal Democrat leader Nick 
Clegg said. 

He called for a regional peace conference bringing together all countries in 
the region - including Iran - to seek a comprehensive settlement, underpinned 
by external guarantors including the US, Russia and China.

And he said that the international community must accept that the Afghan 
conflict "cannot be won on the battlefield" and efforts must be made to engage 
more moderate Taliban leaders and separate them from the fundamentalist zealots 
in the movement.

The election of Barack Obama as US President has cleared the way for Britain to 
withdraw its forces swiftly from Iraq and participate in a "troop surge" in 
Afghanistan, said the Lib Dem leader. And the President-elect's willingness to 
open talks with old enemies could be the "fresh, decisive change" that makes a 
regional peace deal possible and allows the international community to reshape 
its efforts in Afghanistan.

In an article for the Independent on Sunday, Mr Clegg accused the Government of 
failing to offer "support, leadership and direction" to British troops.

UK personnel have been left in "the worst of all situations", with 4,000 boxed 
into Basra Airport in Iraq unable to do anything more than defend themselves, 
while in Afghanistan the 8,000-strong UK force is too small to achieve 
sustainable success in Helmand province, he wrote.

"We need to ask whether we are providing the support, leadership and direction 
our troops need today. The answer is no," said Mr Clegg. "The failure to plan 
for these two wars is nothing less than a betrayal of the men and women sent 
into harm's way."

Britain should withdraw from Iraq "as soon as is safe and practicable" and 
should not wait for the expected US drawdown in 2010, he said. This would make 
possible a troop surge in Afghanistan.

Coupled with increases in troop numbers in Afghanistan must be a policy of 
engagement and negotiation with the Taliban, said Mr Clegg.

"The Taliban is a diffuse, disparate band of tribal leaders, conservatives and 
ideologues. It can and must be split. There are some die-hard fundamentalists 
who cannot be negotiated with. But there are many, leaders and foot-soldiers 
alike, who can, and must, be approached."

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