Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will make his first trip to neighboring Afghanistan on Tuesday, Iran's official news agency reported Monday, a week after the Afghan leader said Teheran was playing a positive role in his country.
Ahmadinejad was scheduled to meet with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Tuesday, IRNA reported. Iran's Presidency office confirmed it would be his first visit to Afghanistan.
The trip comes after US President George W. Bush said during a press conference with Karzai last week that he thought Iran was playing a destabilizing role in Afghanistan where the Taliban have staged a comeback.
"I would be very cautious about whether or not the Iranian influence in Afghanistan is a positive force," Bush said after a two-day meeting with Karzai in the US
But Karzai countered Bush, saying he has heard reports that Iranian weapons are flowing into his nation but that so far Teheran has been a "helper and a solution."
Some Western and Persian Gulf governments have alleged that the Islamic government in Teheran is secretly bolstering Taliban fighters. Among US officials a prevalent view is that Teheran, while not an ally of the Taliban, is seizing any feasible opportunity in both Iraq and Afghanistan to complicate US stabilization efforts.
Iran has denied the Taliban accusation, calling it part of a broad anti-Iranian campaign. Teheran says it makes no sense that a Shi'ite-led government like itself would help the fundamentalist Sunni movement of the Taliban.
Relations between the two countries also have been strained in recent months over a broad Iranian crackdown on illegal Afghan migrants. About 100,000 Afghans have been deported, and many have accused Iranian authorities of abuse. Iran denies the allegations, saying it has forced laborers back home because the 1.5 million undocumented Afghan migrants are an enormous burden on its economy.
IRNA did not give more details about Ahmadinejad's trip, only saying that he seeks to broaden ties with Afghanistan.
After his one-day stop in Afghanistan, Ahmadinejad is scheduled to travel to Turkmenistan to meet with the country's new president and then to Kyrgyzstan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, IRNA reported. The SCO was created by Russia and China to address regional security threats, foster economic integration and counter US influence in the strategically placed, energy-rich Central Asia.
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