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5/16/06

Afghanistan: Kabul Willing To Moderate Between U.S., Iran

New Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said today in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that his country is ready to play a role in reducing tensions between its ally, the United States, and neighboring Iran over Tehran's nuclear activities.

PRAGUE, May 15, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan Foreign Minister Spanta said today that his country wants a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis over Iran's nuclear program.

"We want the tensions between [the U.S. and Iran] to be decreased and disagreements to be resolved in the framework of international laws and also the expectations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," he said. "In this regard we have said that Afghanistan is ready, if it can, to have a role in reducing the tensions."

"They all believe that the main center of terrorism and main terrorist leaders are outside the borders of Afghanistan, in one of the neighboring countries." A Mediator?

Spanta, however, said that there has been no demand for his country to mediate in the ongoing crisis over Tehran's refusal to halt its uranium-enrichment program.

"We have not been entrusted with mediation, we just wanted to have a role in this regard," Spanta said. "If someone will eventually ask to convey a message from one country to the other, then we would definitely do so."

Iran's Fars news agency recently reported that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is due to travel to Iran next month with a high-level delegation.

Afghan Foreign Minister Spanta today confirmed in his interview with RFE/RL that he will accompany Karzai during his trip to Iran, though he didn't give a date. Spanta said cooperation between Kabul and Tehran in different fields -- including railroad building -- will be discussed.

Mutual Trust

He added, however, that the nuclear issue is not on the agenda for talks with Iranian officials. "[The nuclear crisis] is not directly on our agenda but we hope that this issue will be solved between Iran and Western countries as soon as possible," he said. "Any tension in the region will affect Afghanistan, economic developments, and peace in our country."

Spanta said Afghanistan enjoys very good friendly ties with its Western neighbor, Iran, which are based "on the principle of cooperation and mutual trust."

Regarding ties with Afghanistan's eastern neighbor, Pakistan, Spanta said that he is hopeful that the two countries can overcome "misunderstandings." Spanta did not elaborate but he blamed Pakistan for not doing enough to catch Taliban leaders who, he says, have taken refuge on its territory.

Fighting Al-Qaeda But Not Taliban?

"I'd mainly like [to emphasize] that although Pakistan has arrested several Al-Qaeda leaders, there has not been any significant action to arrest Taliban leaders," he said.

Spanta was quoted on May 13 by a German paper ("Bild am Sonntag") as saying that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is living in Pakistan close to the Afghan border, but that Pakistani authorities are only making "half-hearted" efforts to catch him.

The claim was rejected by Pakistani officials as "absurd."

Spanta told RFE/RL that "representatives from the international community" have told him that leaders of terrorist organizations active in Afghanistan are based outside the country.

"Because of comments by representatives of the international community, with whom I have talked in recent days," Spanta said. "They all believe that the main center of terrorism and main terrorist leaders are outside the borders of Afghanistan, in one of the neighboring countries, and they've also said so and I just confirmed the reality they had expressed."

Spanta also said that he has invited his Pakistani counterpart to visit Afghanistan to discuss "issues of mutual interest."

(The interview was conducted by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Farishta Jalalzai. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari contributed to this report.)


Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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