16 December Reuters

Iran says foreign role in Afghanistan poses more dangers


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Iran, deeply concerned about the involvement of its arch-enemy the United States in neighbouring Afghanistan, said on Sunday that foreign intervention could lead to more conflict in the war-torn country.

"The formation of the Afghan government should not be under the influence of international powers," Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told worshippers at a ceremony marking the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday ending the Ramadan fasting month. "If foreign governments follow their own interests in Afghanistan instead of the Afghan nation's interest, the existing temporary peace could be shattered," he said.

Reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami had swiftly condemned the September 11 attacks on the United States, leading some observers to anticipate rapprochement with Washington. But Khamenei, who has the final word in the Islamic republic's policy making, ruled out any restoration of ties.

Officially Shi'ite Muslim Iran was vehemently opposed to strict Sunni Muslim Taliban rule in Afghanistan, coming to the brink of war with its neighbour after Taliban forces killed 10 Iranian diplomats and one journalist in 1998. Tehran was a major backer of the Northern Alliance and sent arms and money to fight the Taliban, but it was U.S. bombs and military aid that helped Afghan fighters push the Taliban from power this month.

Having deposed the Iranian shah in 1979, the Islamic Republic is also uneasy about exiled Afghan monarch Zahir Shah's return to his former realm. "People who were abroad and did not feel the Afghans' pain of the past years should not take power while they are not familiar with the problems of the nation," Khamenei said.

A pro-Western government in Afghanistan would nearly complete a chain of countries surrounding Iran friendly to the United States, which has sought to isolate Iran for its alleged support of terrorism. Khamenei also called on the Muslim world to support Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.

He said the militant Hamas and Hizbollah groups, backed by Tehran but condemned as "terrorists" by Washington, were freedom fighters in a legitimate struggle against Israeli occupation. "The occupier regime every day is putting more pressure on the Palestinian nation and calls them terrorists, while all they want to do is to live freely in their own country. "The United States and global arrogance cannot mediate in the Islamic world while they are our enemies and they support the aggressors," he said.

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