- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

The United States yesterday accused Iran of conducting "troublesome" and "meddlesome" operations in Afghanistan that serve to undermine Kabul's fragile interim administration.
The State Department said it was concerned about reports that Iranian intelligence and military personnel are working with Afghan rebels inside the country.
"We find some of their activities troublesome, some of their activities meddlesome, particularly as regards their activities with specific areas or commanders," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
The Washington Times yesterday quoted U.S. intelligence officials as saying that agents from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Iranian spy service, and Iranian special-forces troops from the Revolutionary Guards Corps were working with several hundred Afghan fighters operating near the strategic city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
"They are armed to the teeth, and they have lots of money to buy people off," one U.S. official said.
Iran, which has been named along with Iraq and North Korea as part of President Bush's "axis of evil," has vigorously denied U.S. charges that it allowed Taliban and al Qaeda fighters to escape through its territory. It announced last week the arrest of 150 Iranians but said Monday that none of them was part of the Afghan terrorist network.
Newspaper reports from Tehran yesterday said the Iranian government had decided to expel Afghan guerrilla leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom it had been sheltering, on the grounds that he was acting against Iran's national security.
But Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on Monday suggested that Mr. Hekmatyar had not been ordered out of the country.
"The reason Hekmatyar is still in Iran is because our friends and those outside the region have requested it, but he is free to leave the country," Mr. Kharrazi told reporters in Tehran. "But Hekmatyar should not act against our national interests as long as he is in Iran."
Mr. Hekmatyar fled Afghanistan after the Taliban militia seized power in 1996. He had led one of the main mujahideen groups fighting Soviet occupation in the 1980s and has threatened repeatedly to return to his homeland to oppose U.S. forces and the interim government in Kabul.
The decision to expel him was taken by Iran's Supreme National Security Council, which is chaired by President Mohammed Khatami and includes top ministers and leading judges, as well as clerics and representatives of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to the Tosea newspaper.
An official in the Afghan city of Kandahar told reporters yesterday that Mr. Hekmatyar, a Pashtun warlord, and the Iranian government are a greater threat to Afghan security than the remnants of the Taliban.
"My concern is not the Taliban anymore because I believe that the Taliban as an effective organization has been dismantled," said Mohammed Yusuf Pashtoon, spokesman for Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha.
Also on Monday, the Afghan government announced that interim leader Hamid Karzai will visit Tehran next week.
But a long-planned visit to Moscow by Mr. Kharrazi was canceled abruptly yesterday. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said the visit was postponed because of difficulties in organization.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovlenko issued a brief statement saying that the reason for the delay was "the need to work out certain questions of bilateral cooperation."
The cancellation coincided with negotiations in Moscow this week between the United States and Russian on nuclear arms cuts. The talks have been held up partly because of Russia's cooperation with Iran on nuclear and missile technology.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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