KABUL/PRAGUE -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has underscored his country's good relations and "cooperation" with Iran in the six years since a UN-backed interim government took over after the fall of the Taliban regime.
In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Karzai said Afghans are "lucky to have [had] the cooperation of both the United States and Iran from the very beginning of the interim government till today."
His statements come as Washington and Tehran are engaged in heated rhetoric over Iran's nuclear activities, a recent flexing of missile might by Iran, and persistent U.S. accusations that Iranians are fomenting violence in Iraq.
"We are happy that our brothers and neighbors in Iran recognized that a peaceful Afghanistan -- a stable Afghanistan -- is good for them, and understood the presence of the international community also to be good for Afghanistan, and in the long-term and immediate term, good for their own security," Karzai said in response to a question about relations with Iran. "We are very happy and we are lucky in this regard."
Senior U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly pointed to discoveries of Iranian-made weapons in the hands of Taliban or other antigovernment militants in Afghanistan. But they have stopped short of accusing Iran's leadership of supplying weapons directly to such fighters.
In his interview, Karzai praised the "great wisdom" of U.S. policymakers and credited Washington with having promoted constructive Afghan-Iranian relations.
"The United States has not only understood that we need to have good relations with Iran, but the United States has encouraged good relations between Afghanistan and Iran, and has been a factor of stability in this relationship," Karzai said.
Kabul chafed at Iranian authorities' threat last year to forcibly repatriate 1 million Afghan refugees in a move that could have undermined the Afghan government's hold on power. The Iranian side made good in part on the threat, summarily rounding up tens of thousands of Afghan refugees and dropping them at the Afghan-Iranian border.
But Afghan officials have appeared reticent to join in any public criticism of their Iranian neighbors.
Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said shortly after joining the government in mid-2006 that he thought Kabul could "have a role in reducing the tensions" between Washington and Tehran.
Karzai took a similar tack in his July 12 interview, saying "both countries have helped us in our reconstruction -- Iran to some extent [and] the United States of America to a very great extent."
"We are constantly working on how best we can be of help to, on the one hand, have a cooperative environment in Afghanistan between our allies and our neighbors, and, on the other hand, be able to improve relations if we can," Karzai told Radio Free Afghanistan. "And if there is an opportunity that presents itself again in this regard we will definitely take it and use it to the advantage of our neighbors and allies."
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