TEHRAN, Iran — Iran acknowledged Tuesday that it has been sending funds to neighboring Afghanistan for years, saying the money was intended to aid reconstruction of the embattled country.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that he receives millions of dollars in cash from Iran, adding that Washington gives him "bags of money" too because his office lacks funds. U.S. officials said the money flowing from Tehran was further proof that Iran is playing a double game in Afghanistan — wooing the government while helping Taliban insurgents who are fighting U.S. and NATO forces.
"Iran has provided the country with plenty of help," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in his weekly news briefing in Tehran. "Iran has helped construction of Afghanistan and the preparation of its economic infrastructure and it will pursue it in the future, too."
Mehmanparast said Iran's help began years ago. He said peace and stability in Afghanistan is important for Iran.
Karzai's remarks came a day after The New York Times reported that Iran was giving bags of cash to the president's chief of staff, Umar Daudzai, to buy his loyalty and promote Iranian interests in Afghanistan. The Times quoted unidentified sources as saying the cash amounted to a slush fund that Karzai and Daudzai had used to pay lawmakers, tribal elders — and even Taliban commanders — to secure their loyalty.
Karzai told reporters Monday that he had instructed Daudzai, a former ambassador to Iran, to accept the money from Tehran.
The Iranian embassy in Afghanistan dismissed the allegations that the Iranian government was making cash payments to Daudzai, calling them "ridiculous and insulting." The statement, which didn't mention money that Tehran might be giving to the president's office, was issued earlier Monday, before Karzai's comments.
Iran publicly opposed the U.S.-led offensive that toppled the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, though its relations with the Taliban regime had been frosty.
Iran is believed to not want the Taliban to return to power. But it remains wary of a long-term U.S. military presence of American forces on its doorstep in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
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