Cablegate: Afghanistan's Outlook On Iran: A Karzai Insider's

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P 031358Z FEB 10 ZDK

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EO 12958 DECL: 02/02/2020

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Classified By: D/Ambassador Ricciardone; Reasons (b) and (d)

1. (S) Summary: President Karzai’s Chief of Staff and former Ambassador to Iran, Omar Daudzai, offered the Palace’s outlook on Iran’s role in Afghanistan. Daudzai suggested that Karzai could provide “an open door” for the United States to engage Iran, at such time as the U.S. may judge this useful. Daudzai had found in Iran that paradoxically, the Iranian people hate foreigners, except for Americans; but that the Iranian revolution survives on its animosity towards the United States. He said that the Iranians no longer deny their support for the Taliban. While there is room for “indirect” U.S.-Afghan cooperation on Afghanistan, Daudzai cautioned that at best the Iranians would only “tolerate” our presence in Afghanistan. End Summary.

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We Can Help Open the Door to Iran
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2. (S) At a meeting within the GIRoA with COS Daudzai, D/Amb. Ricciardone asked for Afghanistan’s outlook on the anti-coalition Jundullah organization (Septel), and Karzai’s and Daudzai’s assessments of Afghanistan’s interests with Iran. Daudzai confirmed February 2, that only he and President Karzai had any substantial political engagement with the Iranian government. Karzai does pay close attention to Iran, Daudzai said, and he suggested that Karzai could help “open a door” for the United States to engage Iran “perhaps after Ahmadinejad leaves the scene,” or at any time the USG may judge useful. He explained that Karzai had maintained excellent relations with Iran and Khatami personally, and that Karzai had obtained the former Iranian president’s support for Daudzai’s appointment as Afghan Ambassador to Tehran. Relations had become more complicated with Ahmadinejad’s election. Daudzai went on to serve about a year and a half in Tehran, from 2004-2005.

3. (S) D/Amb. Ricciardone posited that, while President Obama and Secretary Clinton had made clear the United States’ willingness to discuss our differences with the Iranians, Iran evidently is not ready to engage with us. Even though we believe that many Iranians desire more normal relations with the United States, the Iranian government appears out of touch with its people, in particular an increasingly angry middle class.

4. (S) Daudzai related that after the first and only time he was “summoned to the MFA” for a complaint on alleged GIRoA support for Jundullah (Septel), and his categorical denial later proved true, he developed excellent relations with Iranian officials. Nonetheless, living in Tehran had been “challenging”. At first, Iranian intelligence shadowed Daudzai’s every move; after he told the Iranians that he was annoyed that he was being followed, the Iranians became more subtle in their approach. He was astonished that while there were no Sunni mosques in Tehran, an estimated 30 to 40 percent of its population was Sunni (combining Iranian and Afghan Sunnis residing there). He established an informal mosque in the basement of the Afghan Embassy, an act that drew much appreciation from the Sunni population.

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Iranian People Dislike Foreigners, Except Americans
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5. (S) Reflecting on his time in Tehran, Daudzai said he had reached two main conclusions: 1) “Common” Iranians hate foreigners, except for Americans, whom they “miss”. To illustrate, he said that even his wife’s doctor told her, “Please tell the Americans to bring their soldiers to our country next.” 2) paradoxically, the Iranian revolution lives on its animosity towards the United States. If this animosity ends, then the revolution will end. The national leadership knows this and thus do all they can to sustain “the revolution.” While Daudzai did not foresee that the Iranian revolution would end under Ahmadinejad’s tenure, he predicted that Ahmadinejad’s influence over the remainder of his term would wane. Therefore, he said, it was opportune to now start “preparing the ground” for U.S. relations with Iran under a better leader who would replace Ahmadinejad even though the Supreme Leader really “calls the shots.” Daudzai said that Iran’s “real” Foreign Minister is not Motaki, but rather Ali Akbar Velayati, who reports to the Supreme Leader.

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The Two Sides of Iranian Influence in Afghanistan
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6. (S) Daudzai said Iran’s influence in Afghanistan, like
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Pakistan’s, has been both helpful and hurtful. (Last year, Daudzai had acknowledged that Iran paid limited amounts of money to the Palace only episodically and unpredictably. He contrasted this with sustained U.S. financial support to Afghanistan with far more than the Iranians’ occasional cash payment.) Iran and Pakistan each had supported their own favored Afghan Mujahedin groups against the Soviets, largely along religious affiliations. Likewise, in the current conflict, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia were each supporting their “preferred” Taliban groups. This time, however, Iran’s support was driven by “a war of objectives” not religious sympathies: Iran would even support Sunni Taliban to counter Western influence in Afghanistan, so long as the Taliban factions they supported were not affiliated with Mullah Omar.

7. (S) Daudzai said that two years ago when he raised with the Iranians their support for Afghan Taliban, they had flatly denied any involvement. However, over the past half year, the Iranians, including their Ambassador in Kabul, no longer deny this assertion -- now they remain silent, he said. Daudzai attributed the Iranian change in posture to their awareness that the GIRoA has evidence of Iranian support for some Taliban elements.

8. (S) Daudzai said that on occasion, young Afghan males are allowed to cross into Iran, where they are recruited and trained before returning to Afghanistan to fight against the GIRoA and Coalition Forces. The Iranians also recruit Afghan university students and graduates. Daudzai said that approximately 7,000 Afghans hold Iranian university degrees, including three of President Karzai’s cabinet picks, who “fortunately” Parliament did not confirm. He claimed that Iran is also offering three-year visas to Afghans who deposit USD 100,000 in an Iranian bank account.

9. (S) According to Daudzai, Iran grooms thousands of Afghan religious scholars. After completing their education in Iran, they return to Afghanistan to work in Madrassas, where they continue to receive “support packages” from Iran. The support package included a monthly salary. Daudzai claimed that a man named Ibrahim directed this program from the Supreme Leader’s office. He also asserted that in addition to financing Afghan religious leaders, Iran had provided salary support for some GIRoA deputy ministers and other officials, including “one or two even in the Palace.” Daudzai claimed that some of these officials had been relieved of their duties because “you can’t be an honest Afghan if you receive a (Iran) package.”

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U.S.-Iranian Convergence of Interests is Complicated
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10. (S) Daudzai opined that there could be room for indirect, but not direct, cooperation between Iran and the U.S. regarding Afghanistan. Iran at best would “tolerate” the U.S. participation in an area of common interest here, he said. He would reflect further on the subject and would look forward to continuing the conversation. Eikenberry

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