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Tajikistan: Middle East Intrudes On Persian Summit

Ahmadinejad (center) and Rakhmonov (right) on July 26 (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, July 27, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met on July 26 in Tajikistan with their Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmonov to discuss how they could cooperate on security, communications, and trade.

The three countries have a shared historical heritage and the task of the three leaders was to seek ways that their common future would be bright. But current world events shifted some of their focus away from issues on the agenda.

Ahmadinejad Defends Hizballah

The three presidents have much to discuss that immediately concerns all three of their countries, but the fighting between Lebanese Hizballah and Israel quickly captured the leaders' attention.
"I think what the U.S. is saying [accusing Iran of being behind Hizballah] is to justify their own defeat." -- Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Ahmadinejad's country has been mentioned often in recent days as a sponsor of Hizballah. Ahmadinejad, who has made a number of controversial remarks about Israel, said on July 25 after his meeting with Rakhmonov that Israel is raising a "wind" that would become a hurricane and that hurricane would eventually turn against what he described as "the enemies of humanity."

Presidents Ahmadinejad (left) and Rakhmonov at the opening of the Iranian-financed Anzob tunnel in Tajikistan on July 26 (RFE/RL)

Ahmadinejad returned to that topic at a separate press conference after his meeting with the Tajik and Afghan presidents on July 26. "Hizballah is part of Lebanon and we defend the territorial integrity of Lebanon," he said when asked about Hizballah. "We are against forced occupation. We ask [the United States]: 'What are your intentions and where do you want to go with the situation you have created?'"

Ahmadinejad also denied that Hizballah is an Iranian proxy. "I think what the U.S. is saying [accusing Iran of being behind Hizballah] is to justify their own defeat," he said. "They are desperate in the face of a popular group in Lebanon and they want to say that this group is not on its own, that it is backed by a country."

A joint statement released by the three presidents at the end of their meeting urged for immediate and unconditional end to military operations in Lebanon.

Improving Regional Cooperation

Ahmadinejad, Rakhmonov, and Karzai did address their mutual problems -- security and poor communications between the three countries.

The three leaders agreed to join in building a large hydroelectric dam on the Pyanj River that divides Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The dam would presumably provide power for all three countries.

They also agreed to cooperate more closely in the fight against illegal narcotics trafficking. Afghanistan is the world's largest supplier of opium, the key ingredient in heroin.

Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying of the three countries that "we should be as one -- economically, culturally, artistically."

Rakhmonov, Karzai, and Ahmadinejad decided to establish a council for coordinating trilateral relations that will be based in Kabul. They also agreed to meet every year to review progress in their ties.

(RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondent Rahmatkarimi Davlat contributed to this report from Dushanbe.)

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