TEHRAN, Iran – Afghanistan interim leader Hamid Karzai on Monday praised Iran for standing by Afghans in their struggles against Soviet occupation and terrorists.
In a speech before the Iranian Majlis, or parliament, Karzai said the two countries share "a common culture and language and these bonds have made our friendship eternal." Karzai spoke in Persian, Iran's official language and the language spoken in neighboring western and central Afghanistan.
"We will never forget your support of the Afghan nation's struggle against the former Soviet Union and later against terrorists," Karzai said.
Karzai, whose speech was broadcast live on state-run radio, also praised Iran for taking in some 2 million Afghan refugees over the years.
"You have shared our sorrows and pains and millions of our refugees have been a big burden on your shoulders," he said.
The United States repeatedly has accused Iran of trying to destabilize its eastern neighbor, a charge denied by Tehran. President Bush said Iran was part of an "axis of evil" -- along with Iraq and North Korea -- seeking weapons of mass destruction and forming alliances with terrorists.
Karzai was sitting in the gallery when Bush made that comment during his State of the Union address before the U.S. Congress.
Before Karzai's speech on Monday, parliament speaker Mahdi Karrubi said Iran wanted a "free, independent and developed Afghanistan without foreign interference."
Karzai, who is making a three-day visit, on Sunday called upon the United States and Iran to put aside their differences and cooperate in the reconstruction of his country.
Karzai arrived in Tehran with 10 Cabinet ministers and other officials to discuss improving bilateral ties and returning Afghan refugees.
Iran has pledged more than $500 million over five years to rebuild Afghanistan.
Earlier Monday, Karzai laid flowers at the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.