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Afghan president got cash from Iran; U.S. questions motives

From Barbara Starr, CNN
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How Karzai got bags of Iranian cash
  • State Department spokesman says the U.S. is skeptical of Iran's motives
  • Hamid Karzai says his office has taken cash from Iran
  • The Afghan president likens it to aid from the United States
  • He said the U.S. has been aware of Iran's help
  • Afghanistan
  • Hamid Karzai
  • Iran

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan acknowledged Monday he has received cash from Iran and said the United States knows about it and does the same thing in doling out cash.

In response, the U.S. State Department spokesman said the United States does not question Iran's right to give financial assistance to Afghanistan, nor does it question Afghanistan's right to accept it.

"But we remain skeptical of Iran's motives, given its history of playing a destabilizing role with its neighbors," said spokesman P.J. Crowley.

He acknowledged some U.S. aid to Afghanistan during the past nine years -- particularly at the start of the conflict there -- arrived in the form of cash.

White House spokesman Bill Burton echoed Crowley's fears about Iran.

"I think the American people and the global community have every reason to believe that -- or every reason to be concerned about Iran trying to have a negative influence on Afghanistan," he said aboard Air Force One.

Karzai's comments followed a New York Times report that said Iranian officials once gave the president's chief of staff a bag stuffed with cash as "part of a secret, steady stream of Iranian cash" totaling millions of dollars. That stream, the newspaper reported, gives the president and his chief of staff a fund that has been used to pay "Afghan lawmakers, tribal elders and even Taliban commanders to secure their loyalty."

Karzai told CNN on Monday that the United States is and has been aware of Iran's financial contributions. He also said that the United States gives bags of money.

"The United States is doing the same thing," he said. "They are providing cash to some of our offices."

The president said Iran "asked for good relations in return and for lots of other things in return."

He thanked the various countries for their assistance and stressed nothing about aid is secret.

"The cash payments are done by various friendly countries to help the president's office and to help dispense assistance in various ways to the employees around here, to people outside, and this is transparent and this is something that I have discussed," Karzai said. "Even when we were at Camp David [Maryland] with President [George W.] Bush, this is nothing hidden."

"We are grateful to Iran for the help that they are giving and to those receiving that help under my instruction," he said.