- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TEHRAN Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim held talks here yesterday with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Shamkhani, the student news agency ISNA reported.

Rear Adm. Shamkhani said during the meeting that "the Islamic republic is engaged in a fundamental and durable policy of total support and strengthening of the central government in its relations with Afghanistan."

Mr. Fahim was quoted as saying: "We [in Afghanistan] need Iran's cooperation to rebuild Afghanistan."

"We hope Iran will stand alongside the Afghan people to help Afghanistan's recovery, as it has done in the past," he reportedly added.

Mr. Fahim, a member of the interim government set up in Kabul on Dec. 22, arrived Monday in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad. His visit comes after a telephone conversation Sunday between Iranian President Mohammed Khatami and Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, in which Mr. Khatami promised Iran's support for his administration and stability in Afghanistan.

President Bush warned Iran last week against any attempt to destabilize its eastern neighbor. Iran, which supported Afghanistan's Northern Alliance in its battle to unseat the former ruling Taliban regime, has welcomed Mr. Karzai's election to head an interim government.

Tehran has been trying to assuage concerns in Washington, saying it wants to play a "constructive role" in the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

Iran's state radio reported on Dec. 25 that Adm. Shamkhani had suggested Tehran help Kabul build a national army to contribute to local and regional stability.

Such an army "would contribute to re-establishing security in the country and fight against drug trafficking," as well as being beneficial "to all neighboring countries," he said.

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