Reuters: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacked the presence of foreign forces in the region at a summit with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts on Sunday aimed at tackling terrorism and other security problems.
By Hossein Jaseb and Fredrik Dahl
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacked the presence of foreign forces in the region at a summit with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts on Sunday aimed at tackling terrorism and other security problems.
In separate comments underscoring the Islamic Republic's deep mistrust of the United States, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's Asif Ali Zardari that America was hated among the region's people.
The three neighbours' first such meeting, which ended with pledges of cooperation but without any specific measures being announced, took place as Pakistan and Afghanistan are battling to stem the spread of Taliban insurgencies in their countries.
Iran and Pakistan border Afghanistan and have a large stake in its stability because of the impact of a flourishing drugs trade and because in decades of violence, millions of refugees have often spilt across borders.
Although it is a long-time foe of Iran, the United States is also pushing for a more regional approach against the growing strength of Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan, one of the areas where Washington is seeking to engage Tehran.
"If we can save Pakistan and Afghanistan from these problems, from extremism … then such trilateral meetings are meaningful," Karzai, the Afghan president, told the summit in comments broadcast by Iran's English-language Press TV.
"The problems come from amongst ourselves," he said.
But Ahmadinejad, who often rails against the West, took aim at outside intervention in the region, "by others who are alien to the nations and culture of our nations."
Clearly referring to tens of thousands of U.S. and mostly NATO troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said they were pursuing their own interests.
The United States is pouring thousands more troops into Afghanistan this year to try to reverse gains by a resurgent Taliban, particularly in its southern heartland.
"Although the presence of foreign forces in our region was under the pretext of establishing security … it has not been much of a help to the establishment of permanent security and political and economic growth," Ahmadinejad said.
Khamenei, Iran's highest authority, later told Karzai and Zardari in a meeting that foreign military interference was one of the region's main problems.
"America … is very much hated among the people of the region," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.
At a U.N. meeting in The Hague in March, Iran offered to help Afghanistan combat the narcotics trade, which helps fund the Taliban, in a gesture that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called promising.
Speaking after Sunday's summit in Tehran, Ahmadinejad said the three presidents had signed a declaration of "paramount importance" to increase cooperation, without giving details.
Zardari said they "reached broad consensus on giving further shape to our tripartite cooperation," including working towards free trade.
(Additional reporting Zahra Hosseinian and Hashem Kalantari in Tehran and Golnar Motevalli in Kabul; Editing by Myra MacDonald)