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UK minister to visit Iran, Pakistan

Straw said both Pakistan and Iran had a key role to play
Straw said both Pakistan and Iran had a key role to play  

LONDON, England -- British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is to visit Iran and Pakistan as part of negotiations over the future of Afghanistan.

He told a news conference on Wednesday he would hold talks in Tehran on Thursday and Islamabad the following day.

Iran has close connections with non-Taliban, non-Pashtun groups in Afghanistan, and Pakistan has similar ties with Pashtuns. Both had a key role to play, Straw said.

"There is plainly a role for people who are Pashtun who, for survival, had to support the Taliban, but not for the core Taliban," he said.

Straw also said the UK would consult with the opposition Northern Alliance in Afghanistan before any large-scale deployment of British forces in the country.

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The United States and Britain want to see a new, multi-ethnic government replace the Taliban movement.

Islamabad wants Pashtuns, who form Afghanistan's largest ethnic grouping and who dominate much of Pakistan's border regions, to take a leading role in a future government. Tehran wants the minority Shi'ite Muslims to be represented.

Straw said he wanted to hear both governments' perceptions of the situation in Afghanistan and the problems of refugees on their borders.

He said he would not flinch from raising with Iran the issue of "terrorist" groups.

Iran stands accused by the United States of sponsoring terrorism by backing Lebanon's Hizbollah and the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

It will be Straw's second visit to the region since the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsin Aminzadeh said on Tuesday that Iran and Pakistan had narrowed their differences over the political future of Afghanistan.

He told a news conference after two days of talks with Pakistani officials that Iran wanted a broad-based, multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan chosen by Afghans, and that he found the "same emphasis" given by Pakistani authorities.


• UK Foreign Office

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