Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rice Joining International Iran Talks

Anne Gearan, The Guardian:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is joining international talks on Iran's nuclear program as the world awaits Tehran's response to a U.S. offer to bargain with the country's clerical rulers.

Rice flew to the Russian capital on Wednesday after a quick and heavily guarded visit to Afghanistan, where she said that newly democratic nation has come too far to fall back into terrorism and anarchy. READ MORE

``Yes, Afghanistan has determined enemies and they are ruthless,'' Rice said following a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. ``They will not succeed in undermining or rolling back the democratic gains of the Afghan people,'' Rice said.

She also said the United States is committed to Afghanistan for the long haul.

``We are not going to tire, we are not going to leave,'' she said.

Iran is expected to dominate discussions that begin Thursday in the Russian capital at a gathering of foreign ministers from the world's largest industrial democracies.

Iran received an international proposal on June 6 that offered economic and other incentives in exchange for a long-term freeze on enriching uranium. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said the government will not respond until at least mid-August. But Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tuesday his country does not need negotiations with the United States over its nuclear program.

The Bush administration says it has heard varying responses from different quarters in Iran and wants a formal response soon.

``We've made very clear that we need an answer soon,'' Rice said in an interview with CNN. ``And I would hope that there is going to be an authoritative answer, a definitive answer, one that actually responds to the question, is Iran ready to negotiate, very soon.''

The U.S. has cited Afghanistan as a major success story in the fight against terrorism and a beachhead for the spread of democracy in the Muslim world. But there is growing alarm over a resurgent Taliban and growing frustration within Afghanistan over sluggish improvements nearly five years after the repressive Taliban government fell to U.S.-led forces.

Elements of the ousted Taliban rallied this spring in the troubled south of Afghanistan to mount the fiercest fighting since 2001. Taliban forces are using methods commonly used by militants in Iraq: suicide bombings, ambushes and beheadings. The fighting has killed more than 600 people, mostly militants, since mid-May.

In Washington, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told the House Armed Services Committee that the Taliban's strength has grown in some districts, primarily in the South. He said terrorist groups have taken hold in some areas because the Afghan government's institutions are relatively weak.

``We are seeing enemy forces now operate in formations of 40 to 50 fighters,'' he said. ``They are demonstrating better command and control, and they are fighting hard.''

Some 10,000 troops from the U.S.-led coalition have been deployed in a major offensive across southern Afghanistan. The U.S. hopes to reduce its forces in Afghanistan this year while NATO takes over operations in the south.

Karzai is struggling to extend his political control beyond the capital, and many Afghans say his government is seen as weak and cloistered. Last week, a clearly frustrated Karzai lashed out at the coalition's anti-terror campaign, deploring the deaths of hundreds of Afghans and appealing for more help for his government.

Karzai did not repeat that criticism with Rice by his side; neither of them mentioned a deadly anti-American riot in Kabul last month.

Terrorists ``are trying to attack us where they can,'' Karzai said. ``When we speak of success, it doesn't mean that we forget the problems.''

A flourishing drug trade helps bankroll the Taliban, and petty corruption remains a daily feature of Afghan life.