ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - The man heading Afghanistan's peace efforts said Iran did not attend the ceremony marking the opening of talks with the Taliban due to tensions with the United States.
"Iran was invited...Sometimes their relations with the United States which [are] under a lot of tension at the moment, those things affect their decisions [of] participating in a conference or not," Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation told VOA in Islamabad toward the end of a three-day visit to Pakistan.
Despite that, Abdullah said, Iran supported the peace process. He also acknowledged that Iran had "legitimate concerns" and "legitimate interests" in Afghanistan as a neighbor that hosts millions of Afghan refugees.
He said Iran's contacts with various Taliban groups could be used as an opportunity to advance peace efforts.
The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, told a Washington-based research group, the United States Institute of Peace, last week that the U.S.-Iran relations were getting in the way of Iran cooperating with Afghanistan's peace process.
"Iran would like to keep us entangled in a conflict without winning or losing but paying a high price until there is an agreement between the U.S. and Iran," he said.
Iran strongly refuted those claims and said it supported peace in Afghanistan, according to its official Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA.
In the same story, IRNA quoted the deputy foreign minister for political affairs, Abbas Araghchi, as doubting the U.S. intentions in Afghanistan.
"We believe that the U.S. should not be trusted and that the U.S. presence in the region is dangerous and will cause a lot of discord in the region," said Araghchi.
Abdullah's Pakistan visit, in which he met with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, is being viewed as a major shift in his approach toward Pakistan.
As the chief executive of Afghanistan in the former administration, he declined several invitations to visit the country.
He said, however, that changes on the ground, including the fact that the Taliban and Afghan government were sitting across the table from each other in Doha, helped change his mind.
"I thought that with the prime minister, Imran Khan, as the prime minister of Pakistan, and the leadership, the political leadership, institutions, and establishment all being on the same page, giving messages of support for the peace process and also for the betterment of relations, then I decided it was necessary (for me to come here)," he said.
In his talks with Pakistan's army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa Tuesday, Abdullah said they discussed how to make "all the right efforts so peace is materialized," which he added was in the interest of both countries.
He also emphasized that in Afghanistan, in the region, and the world, the peace process had gained momentum, but some things, like the high level of violence, could be disruptive. In his meetings with Pakistani leaders, he said, he asked them to use "all the influence" over the Taliban, including public messaging, to help the process.
A day earlier, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that reduction in violence leading to a cease-fire was a prerequisite for the Doha talks.
Abdullah brushed aside suggestions that Afghans were politically divided compared to the Taliban, saying their side was "very diverse and much more sophisticated" with people who had exercised democracy in the last two decades.
He said all Afghans favored the idea of peace and any differences were technical rather than ideological.
Abdullah said if the U.S. decided to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan, it would have an impact but the urgency it created could be translated into an opportunity for a quick resolution to the conflict.
"But eventually it is us who have to find a way of working together, living together in peace, without posing a threat to our own citizens, or to the neighborhood, or to the rest of the international community," he said.