Iran shuns Paris talks on Afghanistan

Iran shunned talks with Afghanistan, its neighbours and other world powers in Paris on Sunday. The meeting aims to try to end Kabul's perpertual security crises and will also address arms trafficking destined for the Taliban and other militants.


REUTERS - Iran failed to send its envoy to a major conference in Paris on Sunday aimed at persuading Afghanistan's neighbours to play a greater role in restoring stability in the war-torn state.

French officials said delegates would urge the states around Afghanistan, in particular Iran and Pakistan, to play a more positive role in supporting Kabul's attempts to regain control over its territory.

Tehran had promised to send its Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, according to French officials, but in the end he failed to make the trip and the Iranian ambassador also failed to show up, a diplomatic source said.

French-Iranian relations were strained this week after the foreign ministry in Tehran summoned the French ambassador to protest remarks by President Nicolas Sarkozy condemning Iran's threats against Israel.

The one-day Paris conference brought together top envoys from Afghanistan, its neighbours and the world's great powers to discuss ways out of the beleaguered country's seemingly endless state of war

Pakistan has been accused of not doing enough to prevent cross-border operations by the Taliban. In recent weeks NATO convoys and even their supply depots have been attacked within Pakistan itself.

On the eve of the talks, however, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi insisted progress had been made.

"There's a greater level of confidence between the leadership of Afghanistan and Pakistan," he told reporters in Paris.

"We have a well-defined road map between Afghanistan and Pakistan but we've got to have the other players involved."

Commenting on the recent increase in Taliban attacks, he said: "It's a reaction to the effective operations taken by the Pakistani government and military forces in the tribal belt."

The hosts want to involve more Afghans in work to stabilise the country, where 70,000 foreign troops under NATO and US command are battling resurgent Taliban and extremist forces for control.

Since the US intervention in 2001, in which air strikes and special forces helped Afghan opposition troops overthrow the Taliban regime, the country has fallen back into the guerrilla conflict that so marred its recent history.

Many of the Taliban and extremist groups fighting against foreign and Afghan troops in the south and east of the country have rear bases in Pakistan, and US officials have also accused Iran of shipping arms to some groups.

French officials, however, played down expectations of rapid progress, noting that little new in the way of policy can be decided while the world waits for US president-elect Barack Obama to take office on January 20.

During the campaign, Obama argued that as the United States scaled back its presence in Iraq more troops could be moved to the frontline in Afghanistan, but his wider political policy has not yet been revealed.

The envoys will hold a full day of closed-door talks at French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's official out-of-town residence at La Celle-Saint-Cloud in the leafy western suburbs of Paris.

Despite Iran's decision to stay away, Afghanistan and its other immediate neighbours China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were represented at the gathering. Representatives of regional power India and UN Security Council heavyweights Britain, Russia and the United States also attended.

As G8 members with troops in Afghanistan, Italy and Germany were also present, as was UN Afghanistan envoy Kai Eide, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and external affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Walder.

The group will dine at the foreign ministry, joined by representatives of Australia, the Netherlands, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

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