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German chancellor to skip London's Afghanistan conference

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Berlin, Jan 21, IRNA -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not take part at next week's key conference on Afghanistan in London, press reports said in Berlin on Thursday.

Germany will be officially represented by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, according to the German press agency dpa.

Merkel was one of the initiators of the Afghanistan conference along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The UN meeting on Afghanistan aims to set new targets for transferring security responsibilities to the Afghan authorities as a prelude to lowering NATO troop levels.

Afghanistan has been the subject of numerous international conferences but NATO casualties have hit record levels and public doubts about the war are mounting in the US, Britain, Germany and other western countries.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to visit Berlin on January 26-27 for political talks ahead of the London confab on Afghanistan, Merkel spokesman Ulrich Wilhlem announced Wednesday.

Wilhelm stressed that Karzai's trip would be an "important opportunity" to discuss Berlin's future Afghanistan strategy.

The Afghan president is also due to meet with leaders of the various parliamentary factions.

Meanwhile, Merkel is to address the parliament on her future policy on Afghanistan on January 27, one day before the start of the London meeting.

The German government remains deeply divided over its future strategy in the war-stricken country.

OT**1412

End News / IRNA / News Code 911656



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