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Afghan neighbors seek common approach to conflict

26 gennaio 2010

By Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Neighbors of Afghanistan met in Istanbul on Tuesday to find a “single voice” in their approach to the conflict ahead of a major conference in London.

The international community wants regional players to cooperate in bringing stability to Afghanistan, the focus of a summit in London on Thursday that is expected to agree a framework for the Afghan government to take charge of security.

“The aim of the meeting is to find a single voice in the region to take to the London conference,” a Western diplomat attending the regional meeting told Reuters. “The aim is to help Afghanistan stand on its own feet in the medium and long-term.”

Among those attending were China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Iran’s First Vice-President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, Britain’s Foreign Minister David Miliband and Paul Jones, the deputy to U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke.

Officials from Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, NATO and the European Union were also in Istanbul. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan did not attend.

On Monday, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said after meeting Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari that his government’s efforts to reconcile with the Taliban had the backing of allies like the United States and Europe.

Britain is hoping to use the meeting in London, to be attended by ministers from some 60 countries, to galvanize support for Afghanistan.

Karzai is expected to give details of a programme to “reach out” to Taliban insurgents as part of a political settlement.

That plan appeared to win the approval of top Western generals, including General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, who has held out the possibility of talks with the Taliban leadership to end a war now into its ninth year.

Karzai met Zardari in Istanbul on Monday, the latest in a series of talks Muslim Turkey has hosted to try to reduce distrust between the neighbors.

Pakistan has long played an important role in Afghan affairs, having nurtured the Afghan Taliban during the 1990s, but Kabul remains suspicious that Islamabad is pursuing its own agenda in the country to the detriment of Afghanistan.

Zardari would not be drawn into the plan to negotiate with the Taliban, but told a news conference alongside Karzai on Monday: “If there are any people who are reconcilable, democracy always welcomes them back.”

(Additional reporting by Zerin Elci in Istanbul; Editing by Noah Barkin)

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