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At Summit, Iran Says Foreign Forces No Help In Region

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has attacked the presence of foreign forces in the region at a summit with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts to discuss terrorism and other security problems.

The one-day meeting between the three neighbors took place as Pakistan and Afghanistan are battling to stem the spread of Taliban insurgencies in their countries.

Iran and Pakistan border Afghanistan and have a large stake in its stability because the impact of a flourishing drug trade and decades of violence have often spilled across borders.

Although it is a longtime foe of Iran, the United States is also pushing for a more regional approach to tackling the growing strength of Taliban militants in Afghanistan, one of the areas where Washington is seeking to engage Tehran.

"If we can save Pakistan and Afghanistan from these problems, from extremism,... then such trilateral meetings are meaningful," Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the summit in comments broadcast by Iran's English-language Press TV.

"The problems come from amongst ourselves," Karzai said.

But Ahmadinejad, who often rails against the West, took aim at outside intervention in the region "by others who are alien to the nations and culture of our nations."

Clearly referring to tens of thousands of U.S. and troops from other countries based in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said they were pursuing their own interests.

Shared U.S.-Iran Interest?

The United States is pouring thousands of troops into Afghanistan this year to try to reverse gains by a resurgent Taliban, particularly in its southern heartland.

"Although the presence of foreign forces in our region was under the pretext of establishing has not been much of a help to the establishment of permanent security and political and economic growth," Ahmadinejad said.

Despite such comments and three decades of mutual mistrust, analysts say Iran and the United States share an interest in regional stability. Iran says Washington is failing in Afghanistan, but that Tehran is ready to help its neighbor.

"We should expand our cooperation to fight terrorism and militarism," Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said.

At a UN meeting in The Hague in March, Iran offered to help Afghanistan combat the drugs trade, in a gesture that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called promising.

Pakistan, a vital ally of the United States as it struggles to bring stability to Afghanistan, is engaged in its most concerted effort to roll back a Taliban insurgency that has thrown the nuclear-armed country's future into question.

Also on May 24, Pakistani aircraft bombed Taliban militants in the Orakzai ethnic Pashtun region, killing at least seven, while soldiers battled insurgents in the main town of the Swat region, government officials said.

The United Nations launched an appeal on May 22 for $543 million for more than 2 million people displaced by fighting in northwest Pakistan.