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Afghan Minister Affirms  Commitment to Hold Elections Next Year - 2003-07-13

Afghanistan's foreign minister says his government is committed to holding elections next year. His comments come as he prepares to meet with top U.S. officials in Washington.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told CNN's Late Edition his government is working hard to prepare for national elections next June.

"The government is fully committed to be on time, to have elections on time," he said. "We are working with the United Nations, as well as with our partners in the international community. We should do our best. If we are a month or so behind the schedule, that should be dealt with at that time. But at this stage, we should all focus on the work."

Mr. Abdullah urged the United States not to forget about Afghanistan. "We will remind everybody that Afghanistan is the biggest, the biggest, test for the United States and the international community," he said. "We cannot afford failure in Afghanistan. It is the credibility of the international community, the United States as the lead member of the coalition, which is at stake."

The Afghan official is set to meet with senior U.S. officials in Washington, including Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Back home, Mr. Abdullah says remnants of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorism network have been linked to some terrorist actions inside Aghanistan. But he says he is convinced Osama bin Laden himself is not inside the country.

Meanwhile, on NBC's Meet the Press, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld talked about NATO's impending takeover of command of international troops in Afghanistan.

"What NATO has is a number of countries that decide to do something," he said. "And they're just agreeing now to take over the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan."

NATO is due to take authority over international forces in Afghanistan on August 11. This will be the Alliance's first so-called "out-of-area" operation in its 54-year history.