| ||Iran threatens to expel Afghan refugees if Kabul ratifies US strategic partnership |
By Ben Farmer
Iran has threatened to expel Afghan refugees and workers if Kabul ratifies a 10-year strategic partnership with Washington allowing US troops to remain in Afghanistan.
Kabul - Fazel Hadi Muslimyar, speaker of the Afghan senate, said the Iranian ambassador had made the threat last week as he demanded senators reject the deal between Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai.
His intervention triggered a diplomatic row as senators denounced his meddling in Afghan affairs and called for his removal.
"He told me that if we signed the agreement with the Americans then they would kick out the refugees," Mr Muslimyar said.
"We want the ambassador removed. They should send a diplomat, not a dictator." Iran has long lobbied against the partnership, fearing it would result in American bases along its eastern border and permanent encirclement by US forces.
Afghanistan has an estimated one million refugees in Iran and an unknown, but large number of migrant workers.
Their fate is often used by Tehran as a bargaining chip during disputes with the Afghan government.
Tensions between the neighbours were already running high over the strategic partnership with reports Afghan diplomats in Tehran had been intimidated by Iranian security forces since the signing.
Ramin Mehmanparast, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, denounced the agreement at the weekend and said it would only "intensify insecurity and instability in Afghanistan".
Senator Hafez Abdol Qayum said: "Iran is shamelessly interfering in our internal affairs and even trains armed militants. As you know, Iranian ammunition and weapons have been seized many times in Afghanistan. Also, its spies have been detained." Afghan politicians hope the agreement will prevent meddling and intimidation from Iran and Pakistan by showing that America will not abandon the Afghan government after 2014 and will help Kabul resist interference, by military means if necessary.
A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Iranian first counsellor had been summoned and told Afghanistan could sign agreements with whoever it chose.
"Afghanistan has emphasised many times that it will not allow any country to use Afghan territory against neighbouring countries," it said.
The Iranian embassy in Kabul was unavailable for comment.
Iran fears the agreement will lead to permanent American military bases which will be used to launch attacks or surveillance.
Its fears were illustrated late last year when an advanced American spy drone was launched from a base in Afghanistan and then crashed more than 100 miles inside Iranian territory.
Ryan Crocker, American ambassador, has refused to rule out using Afghanistan as a base for continued drone strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan after 2014, saying the US had a right to defend itself.
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