Iran wants stronger alliance with Afghanistan and Tajikistan

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's president called Thursday for a stronger alliance with other countries in the region straddling the Middle East and Central Asia, saying NATO-led troops have failed to restore peace in Afghanistan.

Iran sees the presence of American forces on its doorstep in Afghanistan as a threat, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has urged neighboring countries to increase cooperation instead.

"The issue of Afghanistan should be solved in the region. Others cannot solve it. They could not do it in Iraq," he said during a summit of Farsi-speaking countries that included Afghan President Hamid Karzai and their Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon.

"Many do not welcome independence of our three countries. And they do not want a friendship between three powerful countries to be formed in the region because it will jeopardize their equilibrium," he added.

Iran and the United States view the Taliban as a common enemy, although they have each accused each other of playing a double game in Afghanistan.

Iran believes that the Taliban warped Islam to suit its ideology. Taliban forces killed eight Iranian diplomats in the late 1990s, and the militant group makes money from drug-smuggling operations across Iran's border with Afghanistan

Iran quietly supported the U.S.-led offensive to topple the Taliban after the 2001 terrorist attacks but has become wary of the continued American presence.

Ahmadinejad, who has visited Afghanistan twice as president, expressed concern over the deaths of Afghan civilians at the hands of NATO-led forces.

"The Europeans and NATO are not interested in the progress of our three countries," Ahmadinejad said during the meeting, which was broadcast live on state television. "Those who put pressure from abroad are unwanted guests should leave, sooner or later."

The Iranian leader also urged cooperation between the three countries in the fields of transportation, energy and trade. His counterparts called for more aid from Iran.

"If we do not take care of each other, others will not take care of us. They kill men for the sake of the dollar. The do not spend money for others," he said.

The three presidents later met Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters in Iran.

The ayatollah called the three nations "cousins" and complained over role of the foreign forces in Afghanistan.

"Foreigners who came to Afghanistan under the slogan of providing security and democracy now target civilians, while their presence has not had any result except evilness and corruption," he said, rejecting the West's claim that it is fighting terrorism. "These powers are only after their own interests in the region."

In a final statement, the three countries stressed the rights of all nations to access peaceful nuclear energy, a reference to Iran's disputed nuclear program. The West fears Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a charge that Iran denies.

They also supported fighting both terrorism and drug trafficking, according to the statement obtained from the Afghan presidential office.