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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 17:45 GMT
Afghan leader thanks Iran
Hamid Karzai and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Khamenei warned Karzai about "outsiders"
Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai has thanked Iran for its help in ousting the Taleban, during a landmark meeting with country's Supreme Leader.

Mr Karzai thanked Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for "Iran's boundless assistance in helping bring peace and stability to Afghanistan".

During a three-day visit to Tehran, Mr Karzai is treading a delicate line between Iranian and US interests.

Hamid Karzai addresses Iranian parliament
Karzai thanked the Iranian parliament
US President George W Bush has recently described Iran as part of an "axis of evil", while powerful Iranian hardliners fear increasing American influence in Afghanistan.

The Supreme Leader stressed the importance for Iran of peace and stability in Afghanistan.

But, he said, Afghans must not allow the reconstruction effort to become a pretext for outsiders to exercise political and cultural influence.

The BBC's Tehran correspondent, Jim Muir, says this was an obvious reference to the United States.

He says Ayatollah Khamenei is generally seen as responsive to the views of hardliners, some of whom regard the Afghan leader as little more than an American stooge.

But nevertheless, the meeting seems to have gone well, he says.

Common culture

After addressing the country's parliament, Mr Karzai laid a wreath at the grave of Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the Iranian Islamic revolution.

Hamid Karzai and Mohammad Khatami
Karzai: Afghan-Iranian friendship is "eternal"
He described the two countries' friendship, founded on common culture and language, as "eternal".

"We will never forget your support of the Afghan nation's struggle against the former Soviet Union and later against terrorists," he said.

Mr Karzai began his visit on Sunday by urging the US and Iran to put aside their differences for the good of Afghanistan.

He arrived only hours after US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad told him that the US suspects Iran of sending elite forces into Afghanistan to foment tribal unrest.

Call for cooperation

But Iranian President Mohammad Khatami pledged to work with - not interfere with - the Afghan administration.

He said Iran was eager to play an active role in Afghanistan's reconstruction, especially in education, health and infrastructure, because it saw a stable, independent and prosperous neighbour to be in its interests.

Mr Karzai and his entourage - he is accompanied by 13 of his ministers - will also be talking about drugs trafficking, as Iran wants to halt the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan across its borders.

Also on the agenda are schemes to repatriate some of the more than two million Afghan refugees currently living in Iran.

The BBC's Jim Muir reports from Tehran
"The atmosphere throughout Mr Karzai's visit seems to have been relaxed and friendly"
See also:

13 Feb 02 | Middle East
Iran to hand over foreign prisoners
12 Feb 02 | Middle East
US warns Iran over al-Qaeda help
14 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iran pledges Afghan support
11 Jan 02 | South Asia
Iran defends role in Afghanistan
11 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iran hits back at Bush
10 Jan 02 | Americas
Bush warns Iran on terror
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