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U.S., U.N. hold talks on post-Taliban government in Afghanistan

Lakhdar Brahimi, pictured here in March 2000, is the chief U.N. envoy for Afghanistan.  

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration held talks Friday with the United Nations' top man on Afghanistan regarding a future government in Kabul.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Richard Haas, the State Department director of policy planning, met Friday with Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister who is now the chief U.N. envoy for Afghanistan. Brahimi also had lunch with other top State Department and USAID officials before meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney and others at the National Security Council.

Haas, whom Secretary of State Colin Powell named this week as his personal representative on Afghanistan, met in New York on Thursday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Brahimi as a precursor to Friday's talks, which officials say are aimed at preparing a "game plan" for building a broad-based government to replace the ruling Taliban.

"They went over what the president has outlined as our goals for Afghanistan," Deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said after the talks.

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U.N. and U.S. administration officials say Brahimi's job will be to work with the various Afghan opposition groups to settle their differences and come up with a formula for a new government.

A senior State Department officials added that Brahimi and U.S. officials "compared notes and discussed the common goals of the U.S. and the U.N. in terms of humanitarian relief, setting up a long-term government in Afghanistan and facilitating the return of Afghan refugees."

On Monday, Brahimi will travel to Rome, where he will convene a meeting with exiled King Zahir Shah and other Afghan groups seeking to form the new government, administration and U.N. officials tell CNN.

Administration officials tell CNN that the Afghan groups are "jockeying" for a place in a supreme council, which would bring together 120 ethnic and tribal representatives to draw up a new government structure, political process and constitution for a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Members of the Cyprus group, a multi-ethnic conglomerate of Afghan intellectuals, were meeting Friday in Cyprus to discuss their final positions before traveling to Rome for the meeting with the king and Brahimi, Quadir Amiryar, a professor at George Washington University and member of the Cyprus group, told CNN.

Powell said this week that the international community was searching for moderate Taliban members to be part of a broad-based government.

He said the United Nations will play a "leading role" in a shaping a post-Taliban Afghanistan. U.N. and administration officials tell CNN the United Nations' role will manifest itself in three ways: working with the international coalition in advance of a Taliban collapse, helping the Afghan groups come up with a political agreement for a post-Taliban government and with humanitarian aid, and reconstruction of the country after the Taliban fall.

United Nations officials say the U.N. would likely apply its experience in nation-building, such as it did in Kosovo and East Timor, to help the Afghans rebuild. Such help could include working to build institutions, such as law enforcement, judiciary and education.

One administration official told CNN a "forward-looking" U.N. Security Council resolution addressing political and economic reconstruction and authorizing an international peacekeeping force would be likely.

But Brahimi, who resigned in frustration two years ago from his current post, cautioned against rushing in with a peacekeeping force that might not be welcomed by Afghans, even if it was a Muslim force, which Turkey has offered to lead.

"What we are recommending is that the United Nations should never rush into sending a peacekeeping operation," he told reporters Wednesday. "It is unclear why foreign Muslim troops would be more acceptable. ... Afghans don't like to see foreigners there, especially in military uniforms."

Administration officials say a major concern is a potential power vacuum if the Afghan opposition groups are unable to come to agreement before the Taliban fall, and the Northern Alliance or young armed former Taliban fighters promote lawlessness and massive infighting.

But diplomats involved in the discussions say that while there is a "general idea" of what needs to be done, no specific plan for U.N. involvement has been developed. These diplomats say that Brahimi will travel to the region in the coming weeks to meet with officials from Afghanistan's border states, specifically Pakistan and Iran, who will be an important factor in supporting a new government.

"There is a sense of urgency about this, but we also know that this is going to be a long-term, hard process. And we must be prepared to see it though," one Western diplomat said.


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