United States moves toward recognizing interim government in Afghanistan

Wednesday, December 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ The United States took a preliminary step Wednesday toward establishing diplomatic relations with the new interim government in Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the U.S. troubleshooter to Afghanistan, James Dobbins, would head a U.S. liaison office.

``We will be establishing a presence in Kabul,'' perhaps by the middle of the month, Powell said.

Speaking with reporters as he flew here for a NATO meeting from Turkey, Powell also said that he was kicking off a drive to generate funds for the new government.

``We need some money to get these folks started,'' Powell said.

He said he would look at his own State Department accounts as an initial source of cash and would be doing a little ``collection plate nagging'' as he meets with NATO allies over the next few days.

Powell spoke only hours after negotiators in Germany reached agreement on a new post-Taliban interim government in Afghanistan.

Powell praised the development and said discussions would intensify now on which nations might be willing to go to Afghanistan to serve as peacekeepers and to help support the new government.

However, Powell said, ``For the foreseeable future, our mission is not finished. An American presence will be there until that mission is finished.''

In Ankara, Powell told anxious Turkish leaders that President Bush has not yet decided whether the next phase of the war on terrorism should include Iraq.

The United States remains concerned about Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's efforts to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, Powell said.

``But the president has made no decision with respect to what the next phase in our campaign against terrorism might be,'' he said.

Turkish officials had pressed Powell to clarify the U.S. position amid rising speculation that the United States might go after Iraq next.

``No country would like to see trouble in its neighbor(hood),'' Turkish Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said in a joint news conference with Powell.

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Meanwhile, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Bush administration should ensure that the Iraqi regime suffers the same fate as the Taliban.

Citing past terror-related activity by Iraq, Helms said, ``The obvious next step in the war on terrorism is the elimination of Saddam Hussein's tyrannical terrorist regime.''

Helms' remarks were prepared for delivery to a dinner gathering in Washington.

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Powell welcomed ``positive developments'' in talks in Germany over a post-Taliban government. Afghan factions agreed on an interim government for the next six months headed by anti-Taliban commander Hamid Karzai.

``Now the real work is ahead as we put that interim government in place in Kabul,'' said Powell.

Powell said the United States will consult with allies over ``what support may be required to make it a viable government.''

Powell spoke before the Pentagon announced that Two American soldiers were killed and 20 wounded in Afghanistan when a B-52 bomber missed its target.

Turkey, the first Muslim nation to pledge troops to be Afghan peacekeepers, has voiced concern about widening the war to Iraq.

``We don't want an American operation concerning Iraq,'' President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said Tuesday.

Some hard-liners in the Bush administration want Iraq to be the next theater in the war, but Powell insisted no decision has yet been made.

``The president has indicated for a long time that we are concerned about Iraq as it tries to develop weapons of mass destruction. We're doing everything we can to keep it from getting such weapons. We also know that Iraq is a sponsor of terrorism over the years. And that continues to be a concern of ours,'' Powell said.

Ankara was the second stop on Powell's eight-day, ten nation tour of Europe and central Asia.

After a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Powell on Wednesday had separate meetings with Sezer, Cem and Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.

Powell was heading next for Brussels, Belgium, for discussions with NATO representatives. He goes to former Soviet republics in central Asian later in the week and to Moscow over the weekend.

The trip's main theme of rebuilding Afghanistan has been overshadowed by the flare-ups in the Middle East this week. A suicide bomber set off an explosion Wednesday outside a hotel in Jerusalem, following two days of Israeli military strikes against Palestinian targets in Gaza and the West Bank.

Noting that latest incident, Powell on Wednesday repeated a U.S. plea that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat do more to control terrorist organizations. He suggested the latest violence did little to buttress Arafat's claim that he was making a 100-percent effort to end the violence.

``We'd like to see a zero level of violence,'' Powell said. ``As long as bombs keep going off, it's very difficult to put in place conditions leading to a cease fire.''