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Afghan, Iranian leaders in Pakistan for summit

Pakistan: The leaders of Afghanistan and Iran were scheduled to meet for a regional summit in Pakistan on Friday at a key juncture in peace efforts with the Taliban and amid rising tensions between Tehran and Israel.

Talks were to focus on strengthening regional stability, cooperation against counter-terrorism, drug trafficking and trade, with a news conference expected at around 11:00 am (0600 GMT), Pakistani officials said.

Central to the summit is the 10-year war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, where all parties to the conflict now accept that negotiations are the only solution to the fighting that has killed thousands of people. “Multifaceted cooperation among Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, being close neighbours, was essential to address the challenges and exploit opportunities in the region,” Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was quoted as saying.

He expressed the hope that the summit with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be a significant step in promoting the agenda of regional peace, stability and prosperity.

Relations between Kabul and Islamabad are traditionally mired in distrust, but both sides have made overtures towards reconciliation to facilitate talks with the Taliban, over which Pakistan is considered to have influence.

Karzai told the Wall Street Journal in an interview this week that secret three-way contacts had taken place with the Taliban -- a claim denied by the insurgent militia but confirmed by the White House.In Islamabad, Karzai described Pakistan's support as “critical to the success” of an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process.

Pakistan, the historic ally of the Taliban, says it will do anything required by Kabul to support an Afghan-led peace process, but there is a wide degree of scepticism in Afghanistan and the United States about its sincerity. Karzai hailed his trip to Pakistan as one of the most important in the past 10 years, his office said. He also also thanked Islamabad for cooperating with the investigation into the September assassination of his peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani, which Kabul initially accused Islamabad of obstructing.

Pakistan says the trilateral summit will focus on cooperation on counter-terrorism and transnational organised crime including drug and human trafficking, border management and trade issues. Islamabad is moving towards a detente in its own relations with Washington, which took a drastic turn for the worse over last year's covert American raid that killed Osama bin Laden and air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. But despite strong US objections, Pakistan says it is pressing ahead with a multi-billion-dollar project to build a gas pipeline to import fuel from Iran.

Israel this week accused Iran of targeting its diplomats in Georgia, India and Thailand, against a backdrop of speculation that the Jewish state or the United States could be months from launching military strikes against Iran.

On Wednesday, Ahmadinejad unveiled new strides in Tehran's nuclear programme in a defiant blow to US and EU sanctions designed to rein in the activities. “I don't think so,” a senior Pakistani government official told AFP when asked if mounting tensions between Iran and Israel, and the showdown over Iran's nuclear programme, would dominate the summit. AFP

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