Iran seeks diplomatic solution to Afghan crisis
Tue 22 Sep 98 - 15:33 GMT
TEHRAN, Sept 22 (AFP) - Iran reaffirmed Tuesday that it was trying to avoid a war with the Taliban in Afghanistan and had made finding a peaceful solution to its conflict with the fundamentalist Islamic militia a "priority."
Iran's parliament met behind closed doors meanwhile to discuss the tensions with the Taliban, which have been rising since last month's murders of eight Iranian diplomats and an Iranian journalist by the Sunni Moslem group.
"We have made finding a diplomatic solution our priority," Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the official IRNA news agency. "(Diplomacy) is our goal and we don't want to put a time limit on it."
"We will continue our efforts to find a political settlement to the current situation," he said from New York, where he represented Iran at a meeting on Monday between Russia, the United States and Afghanistan's six neighbors.
President Mohammad Khatami on Tuesday also reiterated Iran's desire to avoid a military confrontation with the Taliban.
Asked at a news conference at the United Nations in New York whether his country was ready to invade Afghanistan, he replied: "Iran is ready to defend its security and territorial integrity."
"But we are making all efforts so that, God willing, there will not be a war," he added.
Iran's ministers of intelligence and defense and other senior officials were among those who briefed parliament here on Tuesday on the situation in their war-torn eastern neighbor.
"Although a military reaction to the Taliban is not on the immediate agenda, the deputies examined various options," deputy Mohammad Bagher Nobakht told IRNA, adding that the armed forces should remain "ready."
Iran's defense minister, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, said Tuesday that the armed forces were in a state of readinness and dismissed any Taliban military threat.
"From a military point of view the Taliban is not that strong to be able to pose any threat to Iran," Shamkhani told the English-language Tehran Times.
Asked about upcoming exercises involving 200,000 Iranian troops along the Iran-Afghan border, the minister said: "Basically the main objectives of the maneuvers are to boost defensive powers of our forces."
"Given the changes in the security environment, preparedness of the forces is inevitable," he added.
Deputy Foreign Minister Zarif described Monday's so-called "Six Plus Two" meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York as a "positive step" and said he hoped it would be followed up by a "strong resolution from the Security Council."
"What is currently happening in Afghanistan is genocide," Zarif said in a reference to reported massacres of Afghanistan's Shiite Moslem minority by the Sunni Moslem Taliban.
He said the Afghan crisis "should be a subject of major concern for the international community and not just an ethnic conflict or local problem."
Zarif also said Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi had not been able to attend the "Six Plus Two" meeting, in which US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright took part, because he had other obligations.
"Mr. Kharazi was unable to attend the meeting because he had to accompany President Mohammad Khatami in his talks," he said, adding that he had sent his "regrets."
Afghanistan's neighbors, the United States and Russia agreed at the meeting to send a UN envoy back to the region in a bid to prevent the conflict between Iran and the Taliban from spilling over into war.
UN chief Kofi Annan convened the session which was attended by Albright, Zarif, the foreign ministers from Russia, China, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, and the UN ambassadors from Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
It was the first time such high-level US and Iranian officials have sat around the same table since the 1979 US hostage-taking in Iran.
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