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Karzai Urges Cooperation As International Conference Opens


Afghan President Hamid Karzai: "Much-needed relief"
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has called on neighboring and regional countries to do more to strengthen stability and economic development in Afghanistan.

Speaking at the start of the one-day international "Heart of Asia" conference in Kabul, Karzai said greater economic and security cooperation would bring the entire region "much needed relief from terrorism, radicalism, and violence."

Karzai thanked Saudi Arabia for help it has given toward finding a political resolution to the war in Afghanistan, saying Afghans "hope that our brothers and sisters in Pakistan will do same."

He also said Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, will soon visit Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to seek their help in bringing Taliban leaders to peace talks in the hope of ending decades of war.

Rabbani is the son of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed in September 2011 by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban.

The Taliban's leadership has been willing in the past to hold preliminary confidence-building talks in Qatar with the United States. But the hard-line Islamist militia publicly refuses to talks to the Afghan government.

Karzai insists that some Taliban leaders have spoken with Afghan government emissaries in private. He has been pushing for Saudi Arabia to be a venue for any possible talks.

At the conference on June 14, Karzai also sought to reassure Iran that ties between Kabul and Tehran would not be damaged because of strategic partnership deals signed by Karzai's government with the United States, a leading rival of Iran, and other Western countries.

The deals seek to define Western relations with Kabul after 2014, when NATO-led combat troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan, leaving security in the hands of Afghan forces.

But Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the conference that U.S. efforts to establish foreign military bases in Afghanistan would hurt peace efforts and could turn Afghanistan "once again into a scene of security rivalries."

Karzai said he is confident, despite persistent Taliban attacks aimed at overthrowing his government, that Afghan forces will be capable of taking full control of the country's security during 2013, ahead of the planned withdrawal of NATO-led foreign forces.

Afghanistan is currently in the third phase of a five-stage transition, in which the centers of all provincial capitals, including the violence-plagued south and east, will be handed over to Afghan forces.

The "Heart of Asia" conference is the second of its kind after a similar event in Istanbul in November 2011.

In addition to Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, participants at the conference include Russia, China, India, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Representatives of 15 mostly Western countries and a dozen regional and international organizations also are attending. They include the United States, Britain, Germany, the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa
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