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Iranian President Rejects US Allegations About Weapons in Afghanistan

14 August 2007

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spent the day in the Afghan capital, part of a three-nation tour of Central Asia. The visit comes as Afghanistan faces growing U.S. scrutiny over its relationship with neighbor Iran. From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports the Iranian leader denied U.S. charges that Tehran supports Afghanistan's Taleban insurgency.

It was President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first trip to Kabul and he used the occasion to highlight Tehran's support for its South Asian neighbor.

He also sharply rejected U.S. allegations that Iran is supplying weapons to Afghan insurgents.

He says the United States is making the same charges about Iraq but he has serious doubts about the accusations. He says Washington is opposed to Iran and Afghanistan's strong ties.

The Iranian leader spoke Tuesday during a joint conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Mr. Karzai was positive in describing his country's relationship with Iran.

He told reporters he believed Afghanistan could help improve relations between Iran and the United States, both of whom he described as important allies.

While in power the Sunni Muslim Taleban were violently anti-Iran, which is a predominantly Shi'ite.

Iran is one of Afghanistan's leading trade partners and is funding a series of assistance projects including highways, hospitals and power stations.

But U.S. officials insist Tehran is also a major obstacle to Afghan peace and prosperity.

Iranian-made weapons have been flooding the country. U.S. and NATO authorities say the arms increasingly end up in the hands of pro-Taleban insurgents.

U.S. officials say there is no direct evidence of Tehran's involvement but suspicions are on the rise.

Iran's influence in Afghanistan is now a growing source of tension between Kabul and Washington.

President Bush recently met with Mr. Karzai for two days at the presidential retreat in Camp David.

Speaking to reporters afterward Mr. Bush said concerns remain regarding Tehran's role in Afghanistan.

"The president (Karzai) knows best about what's taking place in his country and of course I'm willing to listen but from my perspective the burden of proof is on the Iranian government to show us that they're a positive force," Mr. Bush said.

Political experts say Iran, under pressure from U.S. and European countries over its controversial nuclear program, may in fact be playing both sides of the Afghan conflict.

Security analysts suspect Tehran may see the growing insecurity in Iraq and Afghanistan as a means of thwarting U.S. influence in the region.

The Iranian president visits Turkmenistan later Tuesday and then Kyrgyzstan to attend a summit of the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

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