Reuters: Iran, which the United States and its NATO allies accuse of destabilizing Afghanistan, has provided some $500 million in aid for its conflict-torn neighbor, a senior Iranian official said on Thursday.
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Iran, which the United States and its NATO allies accuse of destabilizing Afghanistan, has provided some $500 million in aid for its conflict-torn neighbor, a senior Iranian official said on Thursday.
The statement from Mahmoud Barimani, head of international economic and specialized organizations at Iran’s Foreign Ministry, came just over a week after Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted his office gets “bags of money” from Iran.
“In recent years, we have undertaken some projects … aimed at rebuilding and reconstructing the country, focusing on infrastructure and capacity building,” Barimani told a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on Afghanistan.
“So far, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s official assistance to Afghanistan amounts to about $500 million for these projects,” he said.
Barimani said that Iran, like other states in the region, “has a vital interest in a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan at peace with itself and with its neighbors.”
Karzai said last week that he gets money from several “friendly countries” but named only the United States and Iran, the latter contributing as much as around $1 million twice a year.
Iran has wide and growing influence in Afghanistan, especially in the west, where it has important economic ties. U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke has said the United States recognizes that Iran has a role to play in resolving the Afghan conflict.
Tehran denies supporting militant groups in Afghanistan and blames the instability on the presence of Western troops.
Barimani said a recent increase in foreign troops in Afghanistan not only does not help the situation but “adds to the degree of violence there.”
He said there was “an urgent need that the foreign forces leave Afghanistan.”
The insurgency raging in Afghanistan is now the bloodiest it has been since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban, despite the presence of 150,000 foreign troops.
The U.S. State Department has said that Washington does not question Iran’s right to provide aid to Afghanistan, but is skeptical of Tehran’s motives given its history of playing what it describes as a “destabilizing role” with its neighbors.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)