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Afghanistan Conference Draws 80 Countries

Representatives from more than 80 nations, including the United States and Iran, are gathering Tuesday in the Hague for a key conference focusing on Afghanistan at a time when NATO and U.S. forces there are fighting a rising insurgency.

The Afghanistan conference follows the unveiling of a new U.S. strategy that calls for sending more aid and additional troops to conflict-torn country and to focus more on al-Qaida terrorists operating there.

Dutch Development and Cooperation Minister Bert Koenders, whose country is hosting the conference, says the meeting is not about dollars and soldiers, but about forging an international agreement on what to do in Afghanistan.

"Obviously the outcome of this conference has direct implications for troop levels and for money being spent on development cooperation," said Bert Koenders. "But I think the importance is to force a new international consensus and a contract between Afghanistan and the international community on mutual rights and obligations."

Mr. Koenders said the Afghan government should do more to fight corruption and to guarantee August presidential elections are free and fair. He says the international community should strike a better balance between military and non-military aid.

But European members of NATO are under pressure to come up with more troops for the alliance's operations in Afghanistan, particularly after U.S. President Barack Obama said he would add 4,000 troops to quell the rising insurgency. That is on top of the 17,000 new troops he has already pledged.

On NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also urged Europe to do more, saying this should not simply be Mr. Obama's war. World leaders are expected to discuss that issue at a NATO summit on the French-German border later this week.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be joining representatives from more than 80 countries and international organizations at the conference. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will also be there, as will representatives from Iran.

There appear to be no plans for high-level talks between U.S. and Iranian officials, but Minister Koenders says Iran's presence is key.

"I think they are very vital for the future of Afghanistan," he said. "It is a neighboring country. They have an enormous interest in stability in Afghanistan, in terms of the refugee flows they have had to deal with, but also in terms of exports of drugs [from Afghanistan]."

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is also expected at the Hague meeting. Russia hosted its own conference on Afghanistan last Friday.