- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

From combined dispatches
TEHRAN Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, given a red-carpet welcome on his first official visit to Iran, urged Tehran and Washington yesterday to put aside their differences and work together for Afghanistan's reconstruction.
"We want countries such as Iran, which helped us a lot to resist the Taliban, terrorism and foreign aggression, and the United States, which contributed to the Taliban's defeat, to cooperate for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, even despite their differences," he said.
Mr. Karzai, speaking to reporters after talks with President Mohammed Khatami, paid tribute to Iran's "important role" in reshaping Afghanistan with the overthrow of its hard-line Taliban rulers.
"We are certain of the goodwill and fraternity of Iran in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the sectors of national education and roads," said Mr. Karzai, who spoke in Farsi.
Mr. Khatami, meanwhile, pledged Iran would "work to consolidate the interim government" in Kabul, adding that all countries should "contribute to the restoration of security and stability" in Afghanistan.
"Our relations with other countries must not have, and will not have, any bearing on our ties with Afghanistan and our cooperation in its reconstruction," he said, in an allusion to the United States.
Mr. Khatami also vowed that Tehran had "no intention of intervening in the internal affairs of Afghanistan," despite U.S. charges that the Islamic republic was seeking to destabilize its eastern neighbor.
He said the presence of the Afghan media to cover Mr. Karzai's visit was a sign of progress in itself.
"Being questioned by a journalist for Afghan television is a great development in that country because the media and especially TV were banned" under the Taliban, the Iranian president said.
Mr. Karzai, who flew in with 13 members of his government for the three-day visit, was given a reception worthy of a head of state and reviewed an honor guard at the former imperial palace in northern Tehran.
Today Mr. Karzai is to meet Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Iran's spiritual guide and parliament Speaker Mehdi Karubi. He will also address the Iranian parliament, according to the student news agency ISNA.
The reconstruction of Afghanistan, to which Iran has pledged $560 million over the next five years, and the 2 million Afghan refugees on Iranian soil are expected to top the agenda.
Hanging over the meetings, however, will be charges by Washington that Iran is interfering in the affairs of the Afghan government, as well as accusations by President Bush that Iran forms part of an "axis of evil."
The United States also says Tehran has allowed fighters of the al Qaeda terror network and their allies in the Taliban regime to enter Iran.
But Iran, a bitter foe of the Taliban, which sheltered al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has strongly denied the allegations and said it would deport any al Qaeda members it finds within its borders.
Outside the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, meanwhile, attackers fired rockets toward the U.S. military base at Kandahar airport yesterday. They missed their target and fled in two vehicles as Afghan soldiers gave chase, officials at the base said.
Canadian troops sent to investigate said the assailants had tried to fire Russian-made BM-12 rockets at the airport, but did not have launchers and used an improvised detonation system instead.
Maj. A.C. Roper, spokesman for the U.S. military at the base, said two explosions were seen yesterday morning less than a mile outside the airport, and two "suspect vehicles" were spotted in the area.


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