KABUL, Afghanistan – President Mohammad Khatami, paying the first visit to Afghanistan by an Iranian head of state in 40 years, accused the United States on Tuesday of pursuing an "angry approach" to foreign policy since the attacks of Sept. 11.
Khatami, speaking at a press conference with U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai, promised to help rebuild this country and said the only justification for any foreign presence in Afghanistan was to bring peace after nearly a generation of war.
"The American administration has a misunderstanding about their own power and their own interests," Khatami said. "Since Sept. 11, this administration has taken an angry approach to foreign policy."
Khatami did not offer specific examples, nor did he cite U.S. threats to force the ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, with whom Iran fought a long war in the 1980s.
"No doubt attacking one state in the world affects other states," Khatami said. "Today, we know that aggression brings aggression and to believe that you can make people submit by force is wrong. We know it actually brings anger and destruction."
"Those with power have more responsibility to bring peace in the world," Khatami added. "No country should use the fight against terrorism to force their views on other countries."
Karzai, whose government depends heavily on the United States for its very survival, was careful to avoid taking sides. "We are grateful to Iran for accepting our refugees and we thank America for their help in fighting the terrorists, for help in establishing the transitional government," Karzai said.
Khatami was welcomed at Kabul airport by Karzai, who rode with his Iranian guest to the presidential palace under heavy American and Iranian security. The two leaders were accompanied by Herat warlord Ismail Khan, whose close ties to Iran have worried both Karzai and his American backers.
"We are hopeful for a brighter future for Afghanistan," Khatami said in a speech to the Afghan people shortly after arriving at the palace. "I have warm gratitude and special respect for you, dear people of Afghanistan."
During his press conference, Khatami said Iran has offered 2,000 university scholarships to Afghan students and that 6,000 Afghans had expressed an interest in studying there. Khatami said efforts were under way to boost trade between the two countries and that Iran hoped to rebuild the rail link between Herat and the Iranian border.
"The international community should accept responsibility to help the government to start rebuilding and bring stability to this country," Khatami said.
Last week the Iranian parliament approved $500 million in reconstruction aid for war-shattered Afghanistan. Iran also recently handed over 16 suspected Al Qaeda fighters to Saudi Arabia at that country's request.
Khatami's entourage also included Iranian police officials who planned discussions on how to stem opium production and trafficking in Afghanistan.
By the late 1990s, Afghanistan had become by far the world's largest producer of opium, the raw material of heroin. In 2000, the Taliban government imposed an effective ban on opium production but the U.S.-led overthrow of the former government has spurred the planting and harvesting of opium poppies again in the country.
The Iranian news agency said the visit was the first to Afghanistan by an Iranian head of state since 1962, when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi visited Kabul in a failed attempt to mediate a dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The high-level visit and the promise of aid underscore Iran's interest in reaching out to neighboring Afghanistan, which shares close ties of language, Islamic faith and culture, at a time when this country's government is heavily dependent on the United States.
Iran was not on good terms with the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan and sheltered hundreds of thousands of refugees. The Iranians publicly endorsed the U.S.-led fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda and cooperated with the United States in trying to limit the spread of narcotics from Afghanistan.
Still, Iran remains one of the countries President Bush has identified as belonging to the "axis of evil" that threatens global stability. Earlier this year, the United States criticized alleged Iranian interference in Afghan affairs and accused Tehran of trying to undermine the Karzai government.
"We have no intention of interfering in this country," Khatami said. "No country should interfere in this country because the people of Afghanistan would never tolerate that."
U.S. intelligence officials have also complained that Iran has allowed some senior Al Qaeda officials shelter or safe passage. Iranian officials have expressed concerns about the United States having too much influence over the new government in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, Iranian and American security agents rode together in the convoy that accompanied Khatami from the airport to the palace. Armed Americans stood watch on rooftops overlooking the route.