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British Foreign Secretary To Visit Iran, Pakistan


British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw leaves London later Wednesday to visit Iran and Pakistan to discuss the future political makeup of Afghanistan.

Mr. Straw said he wants input from Afghanistan's two biggest neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, ahead of next week's meeting in Berlin on Afghanistan's political future. "Historically, Iran has had obvious and direct connections with the non-Taleban, non-Pashtun forces and ethnic groups. And Pakistan has had very strong ethnic connections with the Pashtun and some connections in recent years with the Taleban. It is extremely important that we remain in dialogue with both Iran and Pakistan," Mr. Straw explained.

Mr. Straw says he is traveling with the authority of the United Nations, which is organizing the Berlin talks. The British foreign secretary cautions that there will be no easy path toward establishing a new government in Afghanistan. "I very much hope that the Berlin meeting successfully lays down good foundations for Afghanistan's future, but I don't want to raise expectations too high about the meeting on Monday. It is obviously going to take some time before you can really recognize a well-functioning, organized state," he said.

Britain and the United States have called for a multi-ethnic government to replace the Taleban, which had ruled most of Afghanistan since 1996. Pakistan wants to see a major role in the new government for Pashtuns, the biggest ethnic group in Afghanistan.

Iran has an interest in the large Shi'ite Muslim community in western Afghanistan. Both Iran and Pakistan host millions of Afghan refugees who have fled years of fighting and drought in their homeland.

Mr. Straw says he will also discuss Middle East developments in Iran, which stands accused by Washington of supporting Islamic terrorist groups, which attack Israel.

This will be Mr. Straw's second visit to the region since the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

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