Iran hits out against foreign interference

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ISLAMABAD: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday lashed out against foreign interference in the region at a summit in Pakistan designed to help chart a political solution in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for action rather than words after the three-way summit hosted by President Asif Ali Zardari, as Kabul seeks to enlist Islamabad’s assistance in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

Pakistan, the Taliban’s historically, was again forced to deny that it was playing a double game in supporting the militia, whose leaders are thought to have close ties to at least elements in the Pakistani military.

"All problems are coming from outside. In order to promote their goals and ambitions… they don’t want to allow our nations to develop," Ahmadinejad told a news conference, in a clear but unspoken allusion to the West.

Central to the summit was the 10-year war in Afghanistan, where the United States leads a foreign troop contingent of 130,000 and where all parties to the conflict now accept that negotiations are the only solution to the fighting.

"We are here to strengthen the steps in order to solidify cooperation among the three nations. We are going to move towards removing the problems… and we should deny others the opportunity to interfere," Ahmadinejad said.

Israel has accused Iran of targeting its diplomats in Georgia, India and Thailand this week, against a backdrop of speculation that the Jewish state or the United States could be months from launching military strikes against Iran.

Police in Thailand said Friday they were hunting for a fifth Iranian suspect in connection with a failed bomb plot, but Tehran has rejected all accusations.

Only four questions were allowed during Friday’s news conference, no Western reporters were granted permission to speak, and the subject of the bombings did not come up.

Pakistan has said it will do anything required by Kabul to support an Afghan-led peace process, but there is a wide degree of skepticism in Afghanistan and the United States about its sincerity.

"What we need now is to formulate a policy that is actionable and implementable and actually act upon it," Karzai told the news conference.

Relations between Kabul and Islamabad are traditionally mired in distrust, but both sides have made overtures towards reconciliation to facilitate a political solution in Afghanistan designed to ease regional instability.

"Our meeting today at the tripartite of the three countries was one that was futuristically orientated with recognition of the opportunities and dangers around," the Afghan leader said.

Karzai told the Wall Street Journal in an interview this week that secret three-way contacts had taken place with the Taliban. The militia denied any talks. The White House said it was taking part in Afghan-led reconciliation.

Islamabad is moving towards a detente in its own relations with Washington, which took a drastic turn for the worse over last year’s covert American raid that killed Osama bin Laden and air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

"I deny this notion that any of our armed forces are directly or indirectly involved," Zardari told a news conference when asked about evidence pointing to the involvement of Pakistani spies and high-level officials in the conflict.

"Yes I cannot deny that there is a residue in Pakistan of the war that was fought against the Soviet Union," he said referring to Pakistan’s sponsorship of the mujahideen against the Soviets that ultimately gave rise to Al-Qaeda.

"The three presidents you see sitting together, we shall fight this menace. Nobody is more concerned or more involved in it than me personally," he said.

Despite strong US objections, Pakistan says it is pressing ahead with a multi-billion-dollar project to build a gas pipeline to import fuel from Iran.

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