- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

NEW YORK Afghan leaders meeting today should expect no economic assistance from the United States unless they agree to form a coalition government representing all major factions, a U.S. official warned yesterday.

"Until there is a government that is broadly representative and recognized by us, there's not going to be any reconstruction assistance," the U.S. official said in Bonn, where nearly three dozen Afghan delegates have convened at an isolated resort.

Aligned into four main groups, the Afghans are expected to make plans for a provisional administration that will eventually yield to a fully elected, representational Afghan government the first in generations for their battle-weary nation.

U.N. officials are taking a more relaxed approach than Washington, saying they cannot estimate how long the early stages of the political process will take. None would predict the outcome of today's meeting at the luxurious Petersberg Hotel, located on an easily secured mountaintop outside Bonn.

What they did say repeatedly was that the role of the international community is simply to support the Afghans in whatever they decide.

"We are not forming a government for the people of Afghanistan; the Afghans are forming a government for the people of Afghanistan," said Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is coordinating the effort.

However, Mr. Fawzi told reporters gathered at the hotel: "It's their choice. They know what the international community has to offer. Without peace, there will be no development. Without peace, there will be no investment."

Representatives of 18 foreign governments and the European Union are accredited to monitor the proceedings as observers, but they will not be allowed to participate in any of the formal discussions.

The State Department has sent three officials to Bonn: program and policy coordinator Richard Haass, envoy James Dobbins, and Jeffrey Lundstead, the senior adviser and coordinator on the Afghanistan desk.

"We've sent a senior delegation," said a State Department official in Washington.

"They're going to be encouraging all the groups participating to work their hardest and to set aside their personal ambitions and work for the good of the country."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will address the Afghans this morning, after which they will break into smaller working groups to tackle specific subject areas.

One consideration is that most of the participants are fasting for Ramadan.

The hotel is serving special meals at sunset and before dawn, and will probably not put out the usual water pitchers for meetings. Separate prayer rooms have been designated for men and women.

The conference will have only four main Afghan parties, instead of the scores envisioned weeks ago.

Mr. Brahimi "initially wanted to bring together a large group of people and then narrow that down to something smaller," said U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard. "He's not going to try to get agreement on a small interim administration."

Mr. Eckhard said that if the agreement could not be reached in Bonn, there could be a second meeting in Kabul or elsewhere.

"That's good, too, but less good, because it will take more time. [Mr. Brahimi] knows how complicated this is."

The four parties represent supporters of the royal family; the Northern Alliance, dominated by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, who routed the Taliban from northern Afghanistan with U.S. air support; a predominantly Pashtun delegation from Peshawar, Pakistan, and a group of exiled Afghans whose leaders are based in Cyprus.

"Mr. Brahimi has said he does not want to exclude any group, any responsible Afghans from the process, but for this opening phase he's invited these four groups," said Mr. Eckhard.

"He hopes these four can form a transitional administration and that could then move to the formation of a larger, representative government and eventually be blessed by a loya jirga," or council of tribal elders.

"It's starting small, expanding outwards," he said.

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