Analysis: Iran a sour note at summit


WASHINGTON, Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Amid the photogenic bonhomie of the Camp David summit between President Bush and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, Monday, there was only a hint of a single discordant note.

In a widely reported interview with CNN just before his departure for the United States at the weekend, Karzai said Iran had been helpful to security efforts in his country -- directly contradicting the repeated, public assessments of senior U.S. officials.


"Iran has been a supporter of Afghanistan, in the peace process that we have and the fight against terror, and the fight against narcotics in Afghanistan. … They … have contributed steadily to Afghanistan. We have had very, very good, very, very close relations" with Iran, Karzai said.

U.S. officials, most recently William Wood, the U.S. ambassador brought from Bogota, Colombia, to Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this year, have repeatedly accused the Iranians of supporting the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan and trying to destabilize the country.


Officials have said Iran is providing weapons including small arms and shaped charges, which make roadside bombs effective even against armored vehicles.

Wood said in June there was "no question that weaponry of Iranian types has been entering Afghanistan for some time in amounts that make it hard to imagine that the Iranian government is not aware that this is happening."

But Karzai seemingly dismissed that assessment.

"We have had reports of the kind you just mentioned. We are looking into these reports," he told CNN. But he concluded emphatically, "So far Iran has been a helper and a solution."

When President Bush was asked whether Karzai was able to convince him about Iran's helpful role, he said it was "up to Iran to prove to the world that they're a stabilizing force, as opposed to a destabilizing force."

"The president knows best about what's taking place in his country," he said of Karzai, adding, "and of course I'm willing to listen.

"But from my perspective, the burden of proof is on the Iranian government to show us that they're a positive force. And I must tell you that this current leadership there is -- is a big disappointment."

Bush said the United States would continue to work to isolate Tehran, which he said "seems to be willing to thumb its nose at the international community."


But he did not address the issue of the Iranian role in Afghanistan directly, and Karzai's comments echo the skepticism of many regional experts about the U.S. claims, which have come with increasing volume since they first emerged last year sourced to unnamed U.S. military officials.

Professor Barnett Rubin of New York University, a leading U.S. expert on Afghanistan, said recently any assistance the Taliban might be getting from the Iranians pales into insignificance beside the support they receive from Pakistan -- a major U.S. ally.

"True, some intelligence states that (the) Iranians may have supplied (the) Taliban with low-level, (and a) small amount of training. On the other hand, the Taliban openly train, recruit, rest, and raise funds in Pakistan."

Rubin pointed out that the bazaars of the isolated autonomous tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan are notorious as unregulated arms markets.

"The Iranians say you can buy any weapons in the Pakistani tribal territories, including theirs," he told Harpers.

Others also point out the Taliban ruthlessly suppressed Afghan Shiites, co-religionists of the Iranians, when they were in power -- and that Iran was one of the first foreign countries to support the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

That support continues today, even as the alliance is now an uneasy ally of Karzai's internationally backed government in Kabul.


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