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Afghan President Denies Rift with Defense Minister - 2004-07-27

A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai says the country's powerful defense minister is not resigning and has denied any rift between the two men. The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan says he is ready to help ease any tensions within the transitional government.

Speaking to reporters, Afghan presidential spokesman Javed Luddin said Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim would stay on at his ministry post and his concurrent job as vice president.

Reports Monday quoted aides to Mr. Fahim saying he was quitting his post after being passed up to serve as one of President Karzai's two running mates in the presidential election slated for October 9.

Mr. Fahim is considered the leader of the Northern Alliance, a powerful group of militias which allied with the United States in 2001 to overthrow Afghanistan's former Taleban regime. Mr. Luddin said relations between the president and defense minister are still friendly and denied rumors of possible political unrest stemming from the dispute.

The Northern Alliance still controls its own militia units, though they are technically under the command of the central government. International peacekeepers in the capital, Kabul, were on alert Monday, due to what a spokesman called politically sensitive times.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad says the United States would mediate any disputes between President Karzai and Mr. Fahim, if necessary.

"The hurt feelings that have been referred to, some loss of trust between some elements that has been referred to, well do what we can to ease those, to bring about an increased level of confidence and comfort," he said.

Ambassador Khalilzad also denied that Washington had pressured President Karzai to drop Mr. Fahim from his ticket.