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Iran/Afghanistan: Karzai Calls U.S. And Iran 'Friends'

Tehran, 24 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The head of the Afghan interim government, Hamid Karzai, said today that Iran and the United States are both "friends of Afghanistan" and urged countries to put aside their differences in helping to rebuild his war-torn nation. Karzai is in Tehran today with 13 members of his government at the beginning of a two-day visit.

"We would like to ask the countries, even the ones with differences among them, to put aside their differences and cooperate with us in the reconstruction," Karzai said, according to AP. "Iran can play a very important role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Iran is a country with huge facilities and has goodwill in this regard."

Iran has pledged over $500 million over five years for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

After meeting with Karzai, Iran's President Mohammad Khatami said that no country could affect bilateral ties between Afghanistan and Iran.

"What counts most for Iran is a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, and we stand by our Afghan brothers," Khatami said.

Iran has consistently denied U.S. accusations of destabilizing Afghanistan's interim government by arming anti-government warlords and sheltering members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, though U.S. officials repeated those charges earlier today.

"Iran from the very beginning has recognized the government of Afghanistan and thinks strengthening this government is its responsibility," Khatami said. "Naturally, Iran has had and will have an important role in Afghanistan. We will do anything we can without even thinking of interfering in Afghanistan."

Karzai is scheduled to meet tomorrow with spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and parliament Speaker Mehdi Karubi. He is expected to discuss reconstruction of Afghanistan and the return of more than 2 million Afghan refugees who sought shelter in Iran for two decades.

Karzai is also scheduled to address engineers from the private sector.

Speaking on the eve of his Iran trip, Karzai said, "We are just a poor people trying to remake our lives.... We just want to have good relations with our neighbors and great relations with America. America helped us free ourselves, so we value that relationship, and we also want to be friendly with our neighbors."