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Iran's Ahmadinejad Sets Afghan Visit

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (right) and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Tehran in May 2009
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad plans to travel to Afghanistan on March 10, the Foreign Ministry said today, a day after the United States accused the Islamic state of a "double game" in its neighbor.

On March 7, Iran's semi-official Mehr News Agency said Ahmadinejad would visit Kabul the following day for talks with his counterpart Hamid Karzai, but later reports suggested the trip was postponed.

It was not clear whether this was linked to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' visit to Afghanistan on March 8. Gates said he was concerned Tehran was playing a "double game" in the country, being friendly to the Afghan government while looking to undermine the United States.

Western powers want regional players to cooperate in bringing stability to a country where U.S. and other foreign troops back Karzai's government in the face of an insurgency by the Islamist Taliban.

Iran says the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan is a key reason for the problems in its eastern neigbor.

It would be Ahmadinejad's first visit to Afghanistan since both he and Karzai were reelected last year.

Mehr said on March 7 that Karzai had invited Ahmadinejad and the visit was aimed at expanding bilateral ties. They would also discuss "solutions for settling the problems" in Afghanistan.

Western forces have been in Afghanistan since 2001, when the United States led an invasion to drive the Taliban from power over their alliance with Al-Qaeda.

Western security analysts have long talked of the need for a regional settlement on Afghanistan to prevent a resurgence of old rivalries which could stoke a renewed civil war when U.S.-led troops begin to leave.

But Tehran, locked in a showdown with the United States over its nuclear program, has little reason to cooperate with Washington in helping it stabilize Afghanistan.