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EghtesadOnline: Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif said on Sunday that Iran welcomes the Afghan government's peace efforts to bolster national reconciliation with Hezb-i-Islami Party.

He made the remarks in his statement to Seminar on 'Heart of Asia' in New Delhi, IRNA reported.

'The Islamic Republic of Iran supports Afghanistan National Unity Government and is ready to cooperate with Afghan leaders to discharge their obligations. Iran welcomes recent achievements of Afghanistan to restore peace. We hope that the peace process with Afghanistan to use all the existing capacities in the region will be directed towards a durable and comprehensive peace.'

The Seminar on Heart of Asia with Afghanistan being its theme in presence of senior envoys and leaders of more than 30 countries, including Iran, opened in Amristar in India's state of Punjab on Saturday.

'Five years ago, we founded the process of Heart of Asia to promote regional cooperation with Afghanistan being the pillar to make Afghanistan a safe and stable country for progress and prosperity in the Heart of Asia region. Within the period, we managed to gain progress. However, a long way is ahead. Our region is also suffering from worries of expansion of extremist violence and growth of production of illicit drugs in our communities. In the meantime, Afghanistan has been affected the most from all the calamities. The year 2016 was a highly challenging year for the Afghan National Unity Government because such extremist groups as Daesh developed their terrorist measures inside Afghanistan and even in Kabul,' Zarif said.

The minister said, 'Challenges ahead of Afghanistan and our region are interconnected and related. Recent report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows growth of 43 percent in poppy cultivation last year. Without income gained out of drugs, terrorists cannot finance their operations. The drug producers also need fighters to transfer their deadly goods. Low level of development, low income and lack of economic opportunities provide suitable ground for terrorist groups and drug trafficking networks.'

As a country lying on frontline of campaign against drugs smuggling, Iran suggested plans for substitute crops and alternative income generating projects so that Afghan farmers will stop opium production. However, to change the ongoing course and alarming trend of growth in drug production, international cooperation based on an integrated strategy for substitute development with an aim to change war economy into official and lasting economy is necessary and inevitable.'

'The tripartite Iran-India-Afghanistan agreement on development of Chabahar port is an important step for economic development, allowing Afghanistan have access to the world markets through the free waters and make rich and extensive mineral sources of Afghanistan attractive and affordable. We invited regional and ultra-regional players to consider development and expansion of Chabahar. The Khaf-Harat railway project is another key linking project which connects Afghanistan with international railway networks via Iran.'

Zarif said, 'In the past 37 years, Iran has been hosting about three million Afghan nationals and they have access almost to all the public service and facilities offered to Iranians, including basic facilities, public transportation, health services and public education. Just this year, we offered educational services to about 400,000 Afghan students without documents to stay. This is while we have received no help from the international community. As the country leading the Education CBM under Heart of Asia process, Iran has followed bilateral cooperation program with Afghanistan despite national fund shortage while, the contribution of the supporting countries to the program has not be noticeable. We invited the contributing countries to partnership in the program so that it would make it possible to implement the related programs and activities.'

'Once again, I emphasize the firm will of the people and government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for continuing support and backing for the government and dear people of Afghanistan to pass the hard segment of their history towards a stable, safe and progressive Afghanistan, which will help stability and progress of the Heart of Asia region.'
The Iranian Foreign Minister and the accompanying delegation will leave for China and Japan from India.

Mohammad-Javad Zarif Iran-Afghanistan ties Afghanistan peace