International conference on Afghanistan opens in The Hague

March 31st, 2009 - 6:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban The Hague, March 31 (DPA) An international conference on Afghanistan began here Tuesday with delegates from some 80 countries welcoming the US’ new anti-Taliban strategy and vowed to support its reconstruction.
The new US approach was “absolutely right”, said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, noting that Germany supported the search for a regional solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

“We know that the stabilization of Afghanistan cannot succeed unless the situation in neighbouring Pakistan is also taken into account,” Steinmeier said.

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said Europe was “very happy with the new American strategy focused on civilian crisis management”.

The European Union’s (EU) foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said Afghanistan’s neighbours also had “a big responsibility” in ensuring stability in the region and urged Iran to take “a responsible position.”

Iran is one of more than 70 countries attending the UN conference in the Netherlands’ administrative capital, co-hosted by the Dutch government.

“Your presence here sends a powerful message of hope and confidence to the Afghan people,” Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said, stressing that his country supported efforts to promote “security for Afghans by the Afghans”.

US President Barack Obama has vowed to intensify the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But his new approach also involves more money for civilian reconstruction, increased training of the Afghan police and its army, and wider consultations with players in the region, including foes like Iran.

The European Commission Tuesday vowed to provide an additional 60 million euros ($80 million) to Afghanistan, in part to support the country’s August elections.

EU member states are also under pressure to provide more soldiers and trainers for Afghanistan’s police and army - an issue due to be discussed at a NATO summit taking place later this week.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who first called the conference at a NATO meeting of March 5, said the gathering would boost support for Afghanistan and re-affirm the need to eradicate the Taliban insurgency.

She also confirmed that the US would be providing $40 million to support the Afghan elections, in which President Hamid Karzai is vying for a new term in office.

“I commend US President Obama’s new strategy, which emphasises increased military commitment, strengthened institution building and enhanced cooperation with the authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in the wider region, in handling Afghanistan’s political and security needs,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Karzai, for his part, vowed to renew his government’s efforts to fight endemic corruption and illicit drug production.

“Afghanistan needs security, development, governance and reconciliation”, as well as “true cooperation” from its neighbours, Karzai said.

The conference was taking place amid tight security.

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