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Industrial nations pledge help to Afghanistan's developing economy

Updated:

WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) _ Hamid Karzai's new government in Afghanistan can expect support from the world's leading industrial nations as it tries to rebuild after years of conflict.

Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight countries agreed Thursday to provide economic and political support for Karzai, while also exploring ways to keep terrorists from getting deadly weapons.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the ministers talked about Iraq as part of a general discussion of nonproliferation and that country's ``continuing desire to develop and acquire'' dangerous weapons. But they did not discuss any possible U.S. action to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he said.

Powell is seeking support for a proposal under which the United States would spend $1 billion annually over the next 10 years to develop programs to better control the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The plan calls for each of the other G-8 nations to match the U.S. spending.

The proposal will probably be addressed at the G-8 leaders' summit this month in Kananaskis, Alberta.

Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham told reporters the foreign ministers discussed disposal of weapons material held in the former Soviet Union, and ``there was the acceptance by the Russians of the way in which it is probably going to happen.'' He did not explain possible disposal scenarios, but added: ``I think we moved that (issue) along to a point that can be very productive at Kananaskis.''

The ministers also:

_Committed to holding a Middle East peace conference, but did not agree on a date, venue or agenda.

_Expressed a desire to continue working with India and Pakistan, which have taken steps toward scaling back their tense standoff over Kashmir.

_Noted renewed talks on Cyprus, and urged Cypriot leaders to ``bridge the remaining obstacles towards a lasting settlement.''

_Encouraged peace efforts on the Korean Peninsula, and called anew on North Korea to ``respond constructively'' to international concerns about its weapons program and the humanitarian needs of its people.

The ministers promised to make a special effort to help Afghanistan's fragile central government build a security presence so it can stave off threats that could topple it. Warlords reportedly remain in control of large areas outside Kabul, the Afghan capital.

``The G-8 will sustain its support _ political, financial and military _ to build a secure and prosperous future for the people of Afghanistan,'' said Graham. ``This is a highly critical time in that nation's troubled history.''

While the ministers met, they received word that the Afghan grand council had named Karzai, the U.S.-backed interim leader, as head of state. They congratulated Karzai and commended the way he led the interim governing authority.

Graham said his country and other G-8 nations have sent funds directly to Kabul, and that some of the money was being used to reform the army and build a police force.

``We believe strongly that by strengthening the central government, eventually it will be able, particularly when it's democratic, ... to move out of Kabul and re-establish its authority in those areas,'' Graham said.

Powell pointed out that the United States has put $300 million into Afghan recovery, and said he told his counterparts from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia that the best way to ensure stability is to keep the money flowing.
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