TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Monday it was ready to help train Afghan police in fighting the drugs trade, but Tehran was not discussing the narcotics problem with NATO forces in its eastern neighbor.
Iran offered at a U.N. meeting in The Hague on March 31 to assist Afghanistan in combating drugs, in a gesture to a U.S. call for regional support in Afghanistan that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described as promising.
The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic ties for three decades and are now at odds over Tehran’s nuclear plans, but analysts say they share an interest in ensuring a stable Afghanistan and in an end to opium and heroin production there.
Asked whether he envisaged Iranian and NATO forces working together against drug traffickers, Iran’s police chief Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam told a news conference:
“We have had no talks with NATO and recognize only the government of Afghanistan ... We have made no pledge to foreign forces.”
Last year, he accused NATO of mounting little more than a symbolic campaign against drug cultivation in Afghanistan, the world’s largest opium producer and exporter.
Nearly eight years after the U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, more than 70,000 U.S. and NATO troops are still there battling a growing Islamist insurgency.
Iran, which shares a 900 km (560 mile) border with Afghanistan, is a smuggling conduit for drugs to the West from its neighbor. Up to 2 million people are estimated to use narcotics in the country of 70 million.
Ahmadi Moghaddam said Iran had helped Afghanistan control the border by building police outposts and had also “voiced our readiness” to train Afghan police.
“Improving stability in Afghanistan and its government is the most important factor to prevent the cultivation of narcotics in that country,” he said.
In the 1990s, Iran began to construct physical barriers to make it more difficult to transport narcotics into the country and is now adding hundreds of kilometers to link the different sections to each other, as far as the rough terrain allows.
Ahmadi Moghaddam said Iran in the year to March 20 had seized about a third of the 3,000 tons of drugs smuggled into the Islamic Republic from Afghanistan.
He said 14 police had been killed fighting smugglers during the same period, on top of about 3,600 security personnel killed during such operations since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.
In its World Drug Report 2008, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said five southern regions in Afghanistan controlled by Taliban militants produced enough poppies to double the world’s opium output between 2005 and 2007.
“Wherever the Afghan government has sovereignty the cultivation of narcotics is either zero or minimal,” Ahmadi Moghaddam said.
Editing by Richard Williams