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UN Downplays Chance of Quick Afghan Agreement in Bonn - 2001-11-28

The U.N. sponsors of talks on the future of Afghanistan are trying to play down earlier optimism for agreement between the four factions meeting in Germany. The Afghan delegates are just beginning to discuss the complicated details of power-sharing in a post-Taleban government.

The United Nations is hoping to wrap up the conference near Bonn in four to five days. On Tuesday, U.N. officials stressed that there was enormous good will among the delegates to reach an accord that would lay the groundwork for an interim administration. But that was before the four groups around the table began discussing who should get which job in the new government.

The U.N. Deputy Chief Representative for Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, says the meeting probably will not decide the composition of a new administration. But he believes the groups can lay out a road map for Afghanistan's political future that might culminate in free elections in about 2.5 years.

The United States and the European Union are holding out the promise of billions of dollars in reconstruction aid if the parties agree on a broad-based, multi-ethnic interim government. Mr. Vendrell says even if the delegations agree to follow up these talks with a further round, that would be a good result.

But he says he wants a bit more than just that. "The international community is expecting some kind of political progress if they are going to match this political progress with the kind of assistance that the Afghans want - and that, at the moment, so many countries are prepared to give," Mr. Vendrell said.

Besides differing on how to share power, the parties also have disagreements on a future role in the reconciliation process for Afghanistan's former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah. Mr. Vendrell says the ex-monarch is a symbol of unity among Afghans and could be useful in bringing them together.

"The former king of Afghanistan enjoys widespread, I would say, almost unanimous respect amongst the Afghans, and he has unmatched popularity in terms of any other figure. That does not necessarily mean that everybody who is a power holder in Afghanistan agrees to give him a role," he said.

The Northern Alliance, the most powerful of the groups represented at the talks, is against a role for the former king. But its chief delegate, Younis Qanooni, told reporters through an interpreter that, if an assembly of tribal chiefs known as a "loya jirga" decides the ex-monarch should have a say in the peace process, the alliance will not stand in his way.

"We do not believe in the role of persons or personalities. We believe in systems. And, for example, the loya jirga is a national system, is a traditional system in Afghanistan. Once we think things through a loya jirga, and if the people agree through a loya jirga that the former king has a role, of course no one can deny that," Mr. Qanooni said, speaking through and interpreter.

The Northern Alliance has also opposed a multi-national force proposed by the U.N. to guarantee security in Afghanistan and protect such things as aid shipments. But Mr. Qanooni says such a force would be acceptable to the alliance if it is part of a comprehensive peace package.