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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 21:20 GMT
Straw in key troop talks
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, right, and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi
Jack Straw meets Iran's foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said he believes there is still a role for coalition troops in Afghanistan.

But in a sign of changing military priorities, a senior foreign office official told reporters there was a "world of difference" between an army of occupation and troops "invited to do a specific task."


Exactly what their needs are in terms of longer-term peacekeeping and stabilisation from outside remains to be seen

Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary
Arriving in Pakistan on the second leg of his diplomatic mission in the region, Mr Straw said the situation in Afghanistan was more "benign" than had been expected.

He told the BBC that "the Northern Alliance has secured the situation in Kabul much more satisfactorily than anybody had considered possible."

Long-term needs

Coalition troops were ready to help with specific tasks, Mr Straw said, and might become involved in humanitarian role, such as securing airfields and transport routes.

But any decision on the deployment of a large scale stabilisation force - including up to 6,000 British troops currently on standby - would now have to wait until next week's talks between the various Afghan factions in Bonn.

"Exactly what their needs are in terms of longer-term peacekeeping and stabilisation from outside remains to be seen," Mr Straw said.

He said the coalition would not "be able to get a fix on that" until the conclusion of the first stage of the Bonn meeting, "which I guess will be some time next week."

Foreign troop warning

The foreign secretary is in Pakistan on the second leg of a mission to secure support for the establishment of a broad-based, multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan.


some kind of security force under a United Nations mandate might well be the right approach

Francesc Vendrell, UN envoy in Afghanistan
He flew into Islamabad on Thursday night from the Iranian capital Tehran, where he met his Iranian counterpart Dr Kamal Kharrazi.

Following that meeting, Dr Kharrazi told journalists he believed the Afghans would prefer foreign troops to stay off their soil.

"This is a very sensitive issue to Afghans," he said.

'International security force'

However, the United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, said he believed there might be a role for an international security force within Afghanistan.

Following a meeting with Mr Straw in Islamabad on Thursday, Mr Vendrell said: "There ought to be some kind of international security force.

"Peacekeepers no, not at this point, we don't have a peace to keep.

"But some kind of security force under a United Nations mandate might well be the right approach," he said.

Mr Vendrell said he believed such a force would be acceptable to most Afghans.

'Don't expect too much'

He also said it would be unwise to expect too much from Monday's meeting in Bonn.

"I don't think we should have too high expectations that they are going to meet and to immediately agree with the kind of plan we have put forward in the security council. "

He added: "There is a great deal of distrust among the various groups, not even within the groups there is full agreement."

'Moderate Taleban'

Earlier, Mr Straw said a fledgling civil administration in Afghanistan could be in place within a week.


Those who have volunteered for the leadership of the Taleban are extremely unlikely to want to take part in any broad-based multi-ethnic government

Jack Straw
However, he later added, it was unlikely to include so-called "moderate Taleban" members.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's PM programme, Mr Straw said: "Moderate Taleban is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

"Those who have volunteered for the leadership of the Taleban are extremely unlikely to want to take part in any broad-based multi-ethnic government."

Mr Straw was keen to involve what he called "skin deep Taleban", people who had joined the Taleban "because the alternative was a bullet in the back."

But he stressed that these could not include people who "had participated in war criminality in Afghanistan."

Mr Straw is due to have discussions with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar on Friday.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Bridget Kendall
reports on Mr Straw's meeting with the Northern Alliance's Dr Abdullah Abdullah
See also:

22 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Memorials planned for terror victims
21 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Straw set for new diplomatic drive
21 Nov 01 | South Asia
Nations unite to rebuild Afghanistan
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Q&A: What will Afghan talks produce?
21 Nov 01 | Americas
US wary of peacekeeping
25 Sep 01 | Middle East
UK fosters Iran relations
24 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Analysis: Straw's visit divides Iran
22 Nov 01 | Middle East
UK mission to Afghan neighbours
21 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Minister hits out at troop delay
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