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Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 22:54 GMT 23:54 UK
Afghan ex-king meets top US official
Former king of Afghanistan Mohammad Zahir Shah
The former king wants to help in any capacity
The former king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah, has met with America's most senior diplomat in Italy to assess the situation in Afghanistan.


We do have regular contacts with the former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, and other Afghan expatriate groups in coordination with the United Nations

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher
King Zahir Shah, 86, met the US Charge d'Affaires in Rome, William Pope, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

"He now lives near Rome and has a continuing interest in ending the bloodshed in his country so today, the charge of our embassy in Rome met with the king to discuss this situation in Afghanistan," Mr Boucher said.

He added that the meeting was one of many the US has been holding with Afghan opposition groups and individuals since the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September.

'Ready to return'

The former king told a visiting group of UK Tory members of the European Parliament that he would want to return to Afghanistan if he could be of use.

"I will serve in any capacity, either as head of state or as a mediator in the process towards democracy," he said speaking through an interpreter.

"Afghanistan is my homeland. I have waited years to be able to return to my homeland," he told Turkey's Sabah newspaper in an interview published on Monday.

His comments were published three days after the UN's special envoy for Afghanistan, Francesco Vendrell, said the ex-king could play a major role in the political reconciliation of the country.

Deposed in a coup in 1973 and now resident in Rome, the ex-king called last week in a radio address for a Loya Jirga, or chief's assembly, to elect a head of state and a transitional government for Afghanistan.

He said his goal was the "liberation" of his country.

Moderniser

During his 40-year rule, King Zahir Shah, now 86, emerged as a cautious moderniser and reformer.

In 1964 he introduced a new constitution providing for an elected parliament, political parties and freedom for the press.

The king also encouraged social reform, trying to improve the status of women.

But his innovation was hampered by traditionalists and by factionalism and the country's growing prosperity was not shared evenly.

In 1973, while he was abroad, the king was ousted by his left-wing cousin Mohammed Daoud and has lived in exile ever since.

Despite an absence of almost 30 years he is still widely respected in the country, and much of the Afghan population, exhausted by the years of warfare, would grasp at any chance of a return of peace.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tom Fielden
talks to Mohammad Zahir Shah
Haroun Amin of the United Front
would welcome the return of the former King
See also:

21 Sep 01 | Americas
Analysis: Bush rises to the occasion
21 Sep 01 | Americas
Text: Bush address to Congress
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
21 Sep 01 | South Asia
Millions of Afghans face starvation
21 Sep 01 | Americas
Taleban face US wrath
21 Sep 01 | Americas
Q&A: Military options
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