Clinton at Afghan talks as aides play down Pakistan boycott

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived here for international talks Monday aimed at charting a course for Afghanistan after NATO combat troops withdraw, as her aides played down a boycott by Pakistan.

Clinton will meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials at a conference in Bonn that is also aimed at ensuring international financial and technical support continues after the troops withdraw in 2014.

The chief US diplomat will also meet her German and other counterparts from 100 countries and international organizations, but not from Afghanistan's key neighbor Pakistan, which announced a boycott after a deadly NATO bombing raid.

Clinton has voiced regret over the decision because she said Pakistan has a stake in a secure and stable Afghanistan, but aides travelling with her denied Pakistan's absence would undermine the conference.

Analysts have said the absence undermines efforts to promote peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban but US officials said neither Washington nor Kabul had current high expectations for reconcilation.

"I don't think it (the boycott) will impact the conclusions of the conference in any way," a senior State Department official told reporters on the condition of anonymity during the flight to Bonn from Washington on Sunday.

"We're all anticipating they (the Pakistanis) will continue to play an important role moving foreward. I wouldn't read too much into their non appearance tomorrow (Monday)," the official said.

The official instead hailed an Afghan economic strategy which will be unveiled at the conference and which he said shows the Karzai government wishes to take charge of its economic future.

"It's quite sober. It's very clear-eyed. It makes a series of specific commitments that they would like to move forward on, on legal and regulatory reforms," he said.

US officials have long pressed Afghanistan to root out corruption and establish a clear legal and regulatory framework to promote development and boost stability.

The United States plans to distribute in Bonn its own economic strategy for Afghanistan which stresses support for key sectors like agriculture, light manufacturing as well as mining and services, including banking.

© 2011 AFP

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