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Former Afghan King Meets with French, Italian Foreign Ministers - 2001-10-15

Afghanistan's exiled former king, Mohammed Zaher Shah, has met with the Italian and French foreign ministers at his home in Rome. Diplomatic efforts to make plans for a transitional post-Taleban government have intensified since the United States began attacking suspected terrorist sites in Afghanistan.

Italy has offered to host a meeting of representatives from Afghan ethnic groups as a first step toward selecting a transitional government and head of state that could replace the Taleban.

The offer was made during talks between the Italian and French foreign ministers, Renato Ruggiero and Hubert Vedrine, and the former Afghan monarch at his residence in Rome. Tight security surrounded the villa where Mohammed Zaher Shah has been living in exile since 1973. Italian Foreign Minister Ruggiero called the meeting "very important." He said he and his French counterpart wanted to hold the meeting together to "underscore, not only the interest of our two countries, but that of the whole of the European Union for a future of peace and progress for the Afghan people."

An agreement was reached in Rome earlier this month between the former king and the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance to convene an emergency Loya Jerga, or Grand Council of 120 representatives from the country's ethnic groups, for the first time in 37 years.

The diplomatic activity in the Italian capital is being supported by the United States and by the Pakistani government, which believe that a broad coalition of Afghan representatives could provide a valid alternative to the present leadership. The Taleban have denounced the deposed monarch, saying he should not interfere.