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Saturday, 26 January, 2002, 22:53 GMT
Iran backs Afghan peace
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
The supreme leader talked at length to Mr Annan
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has told UN Secretary General Kofi Annan his country supports the peace process in Afghanistan.

The Iranian Government has no love for al-Qaeda or the Taleban

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
During talks in Tehran, Ayatollah Khamenei also expressed concern at continuing US military activity in its neighbour, and urged the UN to ensure the US treated prisoners captured there properly.

Mr Annan had earlier been given assurances by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami of whole-hearted Iranian support for the interim administration in Kabul, which the Americans have accused Iran of trying to undermine.

Mr Annan praised Iran's role in the reconstruction of its neighbour and thanked it for its "great support" for the Afghan people.

Saturday's talks came as a local commander in the western Afghan city of Herat denied reports that Iranian arms and money had reached Ismail Khan, the de facto ruler there.

Iranian assurances

The US has recently also suggested al-Qaeda and Taleban fugitives may have been allowed to escape across the border into Iran - something Mr Annan said Iran was keen to prevent.

"They [the Iranian Government] have no love for al-Qaeda or the Taleban, and they do not have ideological, religious or political support for either group," Mr Annan told reporters at a joint news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Mr Khatami's government has pledged $500m to Afghanistan
"They assured me... they are determined to keep them out and if any of them have slipped in without the knowledge of the government, they will be hunted down and dealt with," he said.

Ayatollah Khamenei, usually identified with Iran's conservatives, said stability in Afghanistan was in Iran's interests, and it seriously supported it.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran says this was what Mr Annan must have been hoping to hear from the man who has the last word on all major issues in Iran.

He says Mr Annan's friendly and appreciative tone stood in contrast to US allegations of meddling.

There have been persistent reports of Iranian officers travelling through western Afghanistan distributing arms and money to local tribal leaders without Kabul's support.

Foreign Minister Kharrazi said Iran had supplied arms to Afghan tribal leaders fighting the Taleban, but that all such shipments had stopped when the Taleban were ousted from power.

Mixed voices

Mr Annan's visit, which follows brief stops in Pakistan and Kabul, forms part of UN efforts to influence Iran's role in Afghanistan.

Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai
Iran says it backs Hamid Karzai's interim cabinet
The day's discussions focused on rebuilding Afghanistan, devastated by years of war, and establishing its new interim government's authority throughout the country.

Iran has strong links with its neighbour, and is also home to 1.5 million Afghan refugees.

Officially it supports the interim administration in Kabul, and it has pledged aid and grants worth more than $500m over the next five years to back the reconstruction process.

But conservative leaders in Iran have made no secret of their discomfort at American military penetration on the country's back doorstep.

They are also concerned lest a secular, Western-backed regime is established in Kabul.

The BBC's Jim Muir
"The American's are now hand in glove with the Northern Alliance"
Middle East analyst Dilip Hiro
"It is not possible for anybody to keep Iran out of the equation"
See also:

14 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iran pledges Afghan support
11 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iran hits back at Bush
10 Jan 02 | Americas
Bush warns Iran on terror
11 Jan 02 | South Asia
Iran defends role in Afghanistan
19 Nov 01 | South Asia
Iran regains role in Afghanistan
27 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
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