U.S. hopes regional talks will stabilize Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States wants Afghanistan's neighbors to pledge to respect its sovereignty at regional talks this week, a U.S. official said Monday, even as Washington accuses Pakistan and Iran of meddling.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend a conference in Istanbul Wednesday that the United States hopes will bring Afghanistan's neighbors more directly into efforts to stabilize the country as U.S. troops withdraw.
A senior U.S. official said he hoped the countries gathered would commit to respect Afghan sovereignty; back a transition to Afghan security leadership; support Afghan efforts to achieve a political solution and promote economic growth.
"We are urging all of Afghanistan's neighbors to commit to a set of principles ... that underscore full respect for Afghan sovereignty and territory," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
What is unclear, however, is whether any words put on paper at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Heart of Asia held in Istanbul will lead to actions on the ground, notably by Pakistan and Iran. U.S. officials accuse Iran of providing lethal aid, including weapons and training, to insurgents fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The United States has blamed the Haqqani network, which some U.S. officials suspect of being supported by Pakistani intelligence, for a series of recent attacks in Afghanistan, including a September 13 assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
During an October 20-21 visit to Kabul and Islamabad, Clinton pressured Pakistani leaders to take military action against the Haqqani network in hide-outs along the Afghan border.
"We think that Pakistan, for a variety of reasons, has the capacity to encourage, to push, to squeeze ... terrorists, including the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban, to be willing to engage in the peace process," she said October 21 in Islamabad.
The U.S. official was noncommittal when asked if Pakistan had moved against the Haqqani network, which some Western officials believe may have been behind a suicide bombing Sunday in Kabul that killed 13 foreigners, since Clinton's visit.
"We continue to work very, very closely with them and Gen. Kayani and the civilian leadership have committed ... to undertaking actions and assisting in squeezing," he said, referring to Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
"(Clinton) was quite clear that we all need to see physical signs of progress as a matter of some urgency, in days and weeks, as she noted, as opposed to months and years," he added. "We are continuing to follow up through all of our channels of communication -- on the military, intelligence and diplomatic fronts."
The official said he did not expect U.S.-Iranian talks at the meeting, saying Iran was not expected to send its foreign minister but rather a lower-level official.
(Editing by Bill Trott)