Ahmadinejad rejects US claims of Iran support of Taliban

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday rejected US and British claims that Iranian weapons are being supplied to Taliban insurgents fighting the Afghan government and international troops.“I doubt seriously if there is any truth in it,” Ahmadinejad said at a press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on his first visit to the country since taking office.“With all our force, we support the political process in Afghanistan,” he said.

Both British and US officials have charged that Iranian-made weapons were aiding the Taliban, the extremist militia waging a guerrilla war against the Kabul government as well as the multinational forces here.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in June there were so many weapons of Iranian origin coming into Afghanistan that it was hard to believe “it’s taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government”.

The charges have been strongly denied by Tehran, which was a staunch opponent of the Taliban movement’s 1996-2001 regime in Afghanistan.

Karzai has also downplayed the claims, saying they have not been proven.

Afghanistan was close to Iran and also a friend and strategic partner of the United States, Karzai told reporters after meeting Ahmadinejad.

“If Afghanistan can bring them closer, that will be a great happiness for Afghanistan – but it depends on both sides,” Karzai said.

The United States led the invasion that drove the Taliban from power in late 2001 and is the biggest supplier of troops towards international efforts to defeat the Taliban insurgency.

It has about 27,000 soldiers and several bases inside Afghanistan.

The Iranian president said that his country, which shares a longer than 900- kilometre border with Afghanistan, felt the “first impact” of any security troubles in Karzai’s nation.

“For us, a secure and stable Afghanistan is the best,” Ahmadinejad said.

Karzai raised eyebrows this month when he said on the eve of talks with President George W. Bush that Iran was “a helper and a solution” to problems in Afghanistan, pointing to cooperation in the fight against terrorism and drugs. Bush responded saying he “would be very cautious about whether or not the Iranian influence there in Afghanistan is a positive force.”

The anti-US Iranian president, meanwhile, blamed certain “powers”, whom he did not identify, for the creation of terrorism which he said also affected his country.

Some did their “utmost to impose themselves and their ideologies on others”, he said, and there were those who “want the whole world for themselves”.

After their meeting, the leaders signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation.

Officials from both sides also signed several accords, including on Iranian help towards capacity building in the Afghan government and in building a road in the west of the country.

The visit was also likely to have focused on Tehran’s expulsion of Afghans illegally residing in Iran.

Since April around 170,000 unregistered Afghans have been driven out, sparking considerable concern over Kabul’s ability to cope with the influx.

Ahmadinejad visited the Iranian embassy before ending his trip to Kabul.

He was due to travel on to Turkmenistan and then Kyrgyzstan for Thursday’s summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Iran has observer-status at the Organisation, which brings together Russia and China with other Central Asian states.

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