Afghan neighbours and allies to meet in Paris
AFP - 2 hours 52 minutes ago
PARIS (AFP) - - Senior envoys from Afghanistan, its neighbours and the world's great powers are to meet Sunday in Paris to discuss ways out of the war-torn country's seemingly permanent state of crisis.
French officials said the purpose of the meeting was to encourage the states around Afghanistan, in particular Pakistan and Iran, to play a more positive role in supporting Kabul's attempts to regain control.
But the talks will also be notable for bringing together senior officials from countries with disputes of their own to settle.
The meeting will put Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in a room with Indian deputy foreign minister Anand Sharma, as the regional rivals continue to argue over fallout from last month's Mumbai attacks.
The United States will be represented by its assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, Richard Boucher, who will be across the table from arch-enemy Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Franco-Iranian relations took a turn for the worse this week after President Nicolas Sarkozy criticised Tehran's threats against Israel, but diplomats said the meeting showed that the parties remained open to talks on regional issues.
"It's about working together in a concrete fashion on regional cooperation whether it be on broad political issues or questions of security and economic relations," said French foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier.
The host France also sees the talks as a continuation of the process launched at a conference in Paris in June that saw countries promise 20 billion euros in aid for Afghanistan's reconstruction programme.
This conference also sought to involve more Afghans themselves 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 airstrikes and special forces helped Afghan opposition troops overthrow the Taliban regime, the country has fallen back into the guerrilla conflict that marred much of its recent history.
Many of the Taliban and insurgent 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.
The talks are aimed at persuading Kabul's neighbours to halt this traffic.
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 scales 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.
Afghanistan and its immediate neighbours China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will be represented, with regional power India and UN Security Council heavyweights Britain, Russia and the United States.
As G8 members with troops in Afghanistan, Italy and Germany will also be present, as will 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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