KARZAI ARRIVED IN TEHRAN AMID HARSH CRITICISM FROM PAPERS
TEHRAN, 25 Feb. (IPS) Afghanistan's interim Prime Minister Hamed Karzai arrived Sunday in Tehran for a three day official visit amidst a barrage of criticism by pro-government newspapers noting that he had come to Iran after Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, the three nations that had helped the now collapsed Taleban regime to come to power and had recognised it officially.
Observers also noted that contrary to his visit to Pakistan, the Taleban’s main military supporter, where President General Parviz Mosharraft greeted him at the airport, in Tehran, Mr. Karzai was met by a junior Iranian minister and a deputy from the foreign affairs ministry.
His arrival in the Iranian capital also coincides with the American Administration’s accusing Iran of plotting to destabilise Mr. Karzai’s government by arming local Afghan local commanders and sheltering members of the "Al Qa’eda" terrorist organisation suspected by Washington to be behind the 11 September attack on the United States.
At first, Tehran adamantly had rejected as "baseless" and "undocumented" the American charges, but in a sudden U-turn, it confirmed the arrest of at least 150 Taleban and Al-Qa’eda members, some of them carrying European and Arab passports, after the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan, the Afghan-born Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad disclosed that he had handed "irrefutable" documents to Iranian diplomats.
"Americans have not yet presented any evidence in support of their claims. Furthermore, the Islamic Republic of Iran's policy regarding Afghanistan has always been based on promotion of good neighborly ties", the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Mr. Yoones Qanooni, the Afghan Interior Minister as having stated, rejecting Washington's claims of Tehran's interference in his country's internal affairs.
In his 29 January State of the Union speech to the Congress, President George W. Bush also named Iran as an "evil State" alongside Iraq and North Korea.
Mr. Karzai, who is heading a large delegation that includes six ministers, started talks "on issues of mutual interest" with the embattled and powerless Iranian President Mohammad Khatami immediately after his landing.
The United States helped us to get rid of the Taleban" Karzai said on his arrival, adding that however, Afghanistan "cannot be a country through which neighbouring countries can be harmed. Our Iranian brothers should be completely sure of that".
"Khatami will continue his talks with Karzai in private after the Iranian and Afghan delegations have conferred with each other", IRNA said, adding that the two are expected to exchange views on such issues as the role of Iran in reinforcing peace and stability in Afghanistan, Tehran's contribution to reconstructing the war-shattered country, and the return of Afghan refugees residing in the Islamic Republic.
Before leaving Kabol, Mr. Karzai called for Iran's participation in the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country, saying it is "obvious" that the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a brotherly and friendly country, will have an active role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
Tehran has pledged a US Dollars 550 millions over five years to help reconstruct Afghanistan and hopes to win a large share in contracts to repair the nation's devastated infrastructure.
"I liked very much to travel to Iran much earlier, but my visit was delayed because of a busy schedule and some domestic preoccupations" he said, quoted by Irna.
But the English language "Iran Daily" which is published by the official IRNA observed that: "Simple protocol and the consequences of events which led to Afghan developments in the past several weeks, would have it that the new leader in Kabul would start his foreign tour from Tehran," pointed out `Iran Daily' in its Perspective column.
"Even those in Tehran who are pushing hard for effectively helping Afghanistan get back on its feet believe some damage has been done to Kabol's credibility", the paper added, pointing to suggestions that hard line clerics who have the upper hand in Iran, including the regime’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, regard the Afghan leader as little more than an American stooge.
It is not clear whether Mr Karzai will be meeting Mr. Khameneh'i, who strongly opposed the American military intervention in Afghanistan and refused any co-operation with Washington in its war on international terrorism.
[But the French news agency AFP said Karzai is to meet Mr. Ali Khameneh'i and Majles (parliament) Speaker Hojjatoleslam Mehdi Karubi].
"The bottom line is that officials "can pick friends and foes but not neighbours", "Iran Daily" said.
Commenting on the same issue, "Iran News" called Karzai's visits to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan before Iran as "unwarranted."
"Needless to say that none of the heads of state (of the above-mentioned countries) formally received the Afghan chief nor apologised to him for their support of the Taleban, which was against everything Karzai stands for", the paper said in its Sunday editorial.
In their comments –obviously "inspired" from the same source—both newspapers reminded Mr. Karzai of the "sacrifices" Iran paid in receiving millions of Afghan refugees, the assistance and backing it offered to the Northern Alliance against the Taleban and the "important role" Tehran played in the success of the Bonn Conference.
"Our presence here is like going to your brother's house, because Iran is our brother country", Karzai told a news conference. "Iran is not only a neighbour, but also a friend", he added. ENDS KARZAI IRANIAN VISIT 25202