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Annan Leaves Iran With Assurances

Sunday, 27 January 2002 12:00 AM

His visit, which followed stops in Tokyo, Pakistan and Afghanistan, was aimed at navigating the sensitive issue of Iran's role in Afghanistan and securing support for the coalition government in Kabul.

In recent weeks, Iran has been facing claims from authorities in the Afghan province of Kandahar that it is seeking to destabilize its neighbor by distributing arms among local commanders in western Afghanistan. The repeated claims prompted U.S. President George W. Bush to issue a warning to Tehran earlier this month.

In a news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on Saturday, Annan discounted reports of such interference, praising Iran's role in helping to rebuild its war-torn neighbor.

"We have no independent information," Annan said when asked whether Iran was arming factions within Afghanistan.

For his part, Kharrazi denied the arms charges, saying his country had supplied arms to Afghan tribal leaders fighting the Taliban, but that it had stopped all such shipments when the Taliban were ousted from power.

"During the period of resistance of Northern Alliance against Taliban, they (tribal leaders) received assistance from us, but now that the interim government is in place in Kabul, certainly it is the duty of everyone to support the interim authority," Kharrazi said.

Meanwhile, a senior U.N. figure said on Thursday that there was no evidence to support claims from Afghan local authorities and Washington against Iran.

"I don't have any concrete evidence of Iranian involvement, and certainly no concrete evidence that this involvement is masterminded in Iran by the Iranian government," Francese Vendrell, U.N. deputy special envoy to Afghanistan, said. He further said he believed the claims were "exaggerated."

At the news conference, Kharrazi also emphatically denied reports in the U.S. that Iran was helping al-Qaeda and Taliban members escape.

Calling such reports "baseless," Iranian foreign minister reiterated that Iran's 600-mile border with Afghanistan was sealed.

"We have closed our border (with Afghanistan) to any movement and we are very serious about that," he said, warning against falling into what he called "the trap of disputes between local Afghan governors."

Annan also commented on the issue, saying reports that Iran may be harboring al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters were inconsistent with Iranian stated policies.

"They (Iranians) have no love for al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and they do not have ideological, religious or political support for either group," Annan said.

"They assured me...they are determined to keep them out and if any of them have slipped in without the knowledge of the (Iranian) government, they will be hunted down and dealt with."

Also Saturday, the U.N. chief met with Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mohammad Khatami.

Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the last word on all major issues in Iran, told Annan that stability in Afghanistan was in Iran's interests and it seriously supported it.

Khatami reiterated Iran's pledge to cooperate with the interim government in Kabul, saying also that establishment of stability and peace in Afghanistan would be to Iran's benefit.

"Tehran will cooperate with the U.N. within the framework of international laws for the establishment of a sustained political system in Afghanistan," Khatami said, pointing out specifically its eastern neighbor's production of a huge amount of narcotics and its transfer to the outside world through Iranian soil.

"It is important to put forth a plan for substituting poppy cultivation with other crops. This issue deserves the attention of the U.N. and other countries," he told Annan.

Having sustained a great deal of material and human losses in its long-running fight against drug smuggling through its territory, Iran has already offered to help Afghan farmers change their poppy plantations to those of other commercial crops.

Host to more than two million Afghan refugees since the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, Iran pledged last week aid and grants worth $560 million over the next five years to back reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Analysts in Tehran believe Annan's trip to Iran brought him what he wanted: A clear idea of the Iranian agenda as far as Afghanistan is concerned.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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His visit, which followed stops in Tokyo, Pakistan and Afghanistan, was aimed at navigating the sensitive issue of Iran's role in Afghanistan and securing support for the coalition government in Kabul. In recent weeks, Iran has been facing claims from authorities in the...
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2002-00-27
Sunday, 27 January 2002 12:00 AM
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