- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

Afghanistan interim Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah arrived in Washington yesterday to prepare for Hamid Karzai's visit to the White House next week as the U.S. government freed up $217 million in Afghan gold and cash.

The money is desperately needed to bolster the fledgling government headed by Mr. Karzai, Afghan diplomats say.

Without cash to pay salaries of civil servants, police and troops, the regional warlords once more are chopping up fiefdoms around the country and threaten to emasculate the Karzai government.

"The interim government has not received any support for the last four weeks," but in recent days, the first aid arrived and civil servants received their monthly pay, Mr. Abdullah told the Council of Foreign Relations.

Apart from the influx of aid, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday the Treasury Department signed the license authorizing the Federal Reserve Bank in New York to unblock Afghan government assets frozen in 1999.

The move allows the interim Afghan government to access the assets of the Afghan central bank held in New York, including approximately $193 million worth of gold and $24 million in other assets of the Afghan central bank.

Release of the funds was discussed when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell visited Kabul last week and later at donor nations' meetings with Mr. Karzai in Tokyo.

"We collected some signatures from Afghan officials sort of the same kind of signature card you fill out whenever you start a bank account so that they could demonstrate their authority over the monies," Mr. Boucher said.

The Afghans may decide to leave the $193 million in gold as currency reserves, Mr. Boucher said.

Mr. Abdullah, who served as a leading spokesman and foreign minister for the Northern Alliance before it seized power in Kabul, will meet today with Mr. Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Last night, he called for continued U.S. support, even military help, if needed to maintain Afghanistan's stability.

He also asked that all foreign aid be given directly to the central government to help bolster its authority.

Mr. Abdullah said he had no proof of Iranian support for warlords, but said it would be a big mistake to continue past policies of intervention by Afghanistan's neighbors.

Pakistan, he said, "should use this opportunity to clean house of elements that supported the Taliban They are still strong."

He called for increasing the size of the international peace force, to place units in cities other than Kabul, which has seen its stability enhanced by the foreign troops.

In Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Mr. Karzai also called on the international community yesterday for help in establishing a postwar settlement in his embattled country and in rebuilding its infrastructure.

The call for aid came in a joint statement with Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmonov after a session of talks during his first official visit to the neighboring former Soviet republic.

"We want to have very close, friendly relations with our neighbors, to develop close political and economic relations," Mr. Karzai said.

In Kabul yesterday, a 21-member commission was formed to organize a council of tribal elders to appoint a new government after Mr. Karzai's six-month mandate expires.

The membership of the commission will be announced today when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan visits the city.

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