- Afghanistan - Pakistan - US military - USA
REUTERS - Iran rejected the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, apparently putting it sharply at odds with Washington before Tuesday's first major conference on Kabul since President Barack Obama unveiled his strategy.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is hoping to win support at the 90-nation conference for greater military involvement along with increased economic development and army and police training to defeat al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents.
"The presence of foreign troops cannot bring peace and stability for Afghanistan," Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzade was quoted as saying in The Hague on Monday by Iran's official IRNA news agency.
"It encourages radicalism," he said, adding that a regional solution was needed.
"This policy (the Western countries) decide for the Afghan nation and for the Afghan officials does not work out any more."
Obama came to office offering a new engagement with Iran, ending decades of official U.S. hostility towards the Islamic Republic. Iran has welcomed Obama's overtures but says it wants to see changes in policy rather than words.
More than 70,000 U.S. and NATO troops are in Afghanistan battling a growing insurgency by the Sunni Islamist Taliban movement, which is also spreading its influence in Pakistan through the porous mountain border between the two countries.
Since taking office in January, Obama has ordered 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to tackle the violence, and a further 4,000 to help train the army.
Clinton, who says she has no plans for direct talks with Iranian officials at the conference, said she wanted Iran's help on border security and fighting drugs in Afghanistan.
Iran had been cooperative after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the then Taleban government, she said.
Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Iran's presence at the conference was a logical part of efforts to produce peace for Afghans.
"How can you talk about Afghanistan and exclude one of the countries that's a bordering, neighbouring state?' he told reporters in The Hague. "The presence of Iran here is obvious."
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he expected international forces to have to stay in Afghanistan "for the foreseeable future" and that the new U.S. strategy was realistic.
Clinton announced $40 million in new U.S. aid for a U.N. fund to prepare for Afghanistan's election in August, and an effort to encourage other nations at the conference to provide assistance.
"We do want to encourage the participants to begin thinking hard about what their contributions will be," she said.
Some European nations have been reluctant to send troops to Afghanistan but are expected to help in other ways.