- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

The United States yesterday waived narcotics sanctions against Afghanistan to bolster the government of interim leader Hamid Karzai, despite the nation's failure to curb drug production and trafficking.
In a letter to Congress, President Bush said "vital national interests" had prompted him to use a waiver provision in U.S. law that requires penalties for countries that are either major narcotics producers or traffickers.
"Stabilizing Afghanistan by providing various forms of assistance, including economic and military assistance in addition to counternarcotics, anti-crime and humanitarian assistance is essential," he said.
Mr. Bush's decision came after an annual review of the world's main drug-producing and transiting countries.
Out of 23 nations, the administration has designated three Haiti and Burma, in addition to Afghanistan as having failed to cooperate with Washington in the war on drugs.
But only Burma will continue to suffer from economic sanctions, which include a ban on receiving U.S. aid and a block on borrowing from international financial institutions.
Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, said lifting Afghan sanctions reflects Washington's support for Mr. Karzai.
"This is not a judgment with respect to the current administration, it's with respect to the past," Mr. Beers told reporters at the State Department. He cited a series of steps Mr. Karzai has taken to halt drug production, including offering farmers incentives to grow alternative crops.
About 70 percent of the world's raw opium supply flowed through Afghanistan in 2000, according to the United Nations.
The Taliban government, which ruled Afghanistan until being ousted this fall, had banned poppy cultivation for "moral" reasons but did little to curb production and trafficking.
Although Mr. Karzai has done essentially what the Taliban did, the Bush administration has decided to give him time to implement anti-drug measures.
The interim government, unlike the Taliban, has also promised to work with the United States.
"It is in the vital national interests of the United States to provide the full range of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan," Mr. Bush said in a "statement of justification" for the sanctions waiver.
In his letter to Congress, Mr. Bush said U.S. aid is also important for Haiti, where the rule of law, education, environmental and health programs would suffer from sanctions.
The president accused Burma of doing too little to crack down on the production of both opium and methamphetamine.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan's Mr. Karzai sought support in neighboring Iran for his fledgling administration, thanking Tehran for helping Afghanistan fight terrorism and throw off the yoke of Soviet occupation more than a decade ago.
Speaking to the Iranian Majis, or parliament, in Farsi the language of Iran and western and central Afghanistan Mr. Karzai assured Iranians the Afghan people would not forget.
Mr. Karzai, whose speech was broadcast live on state-run radio, also praised Iran for taking in some 2 million Afghan refugees over the years.
After repeated charges by Washington that Tehran was sending fighters and money into Afghanistan to destabilize the post-Taliban leadership, Mr. Bush declared that Iran, Iraq and North Korea form an "axis of evil" that seeks weapons of mass destruction and supports terrorism.
Mr. Karzai was hailed in the United States last month when he visited Mr. Bush and other dignitaries. The interim leader was sitting in the gallery of the House when Mr. Bush made the "axis of evil" assertion in his Jan. 29 State of the Union speech.

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