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Karzai: Talks in Iran 'Fruitful'

Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, calls his three days of talks with Iranian officials "very useful and fruitful."

Hamid Karzai had a lot to discuss, including Iran's role in helping rebuild Afghanistan and the return of the approximately two million Afghan refugees living in Iran, many of whom are educated and have skills badly needed in Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai also appealed to Iran's business leaders to help Afghanistan expand industrial and economic trade. Among his immediate priorities is creation of a banking system to help process aid funds and infrastructure projects as well as collect taxes.

The Afghan leader, accompanied by a 13-member delegation, met with President Mohammad Khatami, Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei and other top officials.

In addition to seeking Iran's aid in rebuilding Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai also appealed to Iran's leaders not to let their differences with the United States interfere with their efforts to aid Afghanistan.

U.S. officials have claimed that Iran is offering shelter to Taleban fighters who managed to escape from Afghanistan into Iran. The two countries share an almost 1,000 kilometer border. The United States has also accused Iran of trying to destabilize the new Afghan government by encouraging factional fighting among warlords. Iran denies both charges, while at least indirectly making countercharges of its own against the United States.

In remarks Monday, without naming the United States directly, Ayatollah Khamenei said reconstruction aid should not be used to impose foreign political and cultural values on Afghanistan. The ayatollah added that a strong and proud Afghanistan that embraces its religious identity leaves little room for foreign interference.

During his time in Iran, Mr. Karzai was careful not to take sides. He commended both the United States and Iran for helping to drive out the Taleban and said Iran is not interfering in Afghanistan.