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Conference Hails New US Focus in Afghanistan

The international community has welcomed US President Obama's revamped strategy for Afghanistan at a conference in the Netherlands. Germany's foreign minister praised a reinforced focus on civilian efforts.

Forest of international flags outside Hague convention centre

The international community is standing together over Afghanistan

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed the importance of a common approach to tackling problems in Afghanistan.

"Finally we are on the path to a joint strategy, which will bring us joint success," he said on Tuesday, March 31.

Obama's policy, which was unveiled last week, stresses the need to cooperate with regional players such as Iran, Pakistan, Russia and India to tackle the deepening insurgency in the country seven years after the other throw of the Taliban.

Another central plank of the strategy is to boost the amount of civilian assistance to the country.

Germany to increase aid to Afghanistan

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeierin helicopter during visit to Afghanistan

Germany plans to expand its training program for Afghan security personnel

"We will have to strengthen our civilian effort," Steinmeier said, adding that it was important to find the right balance between the deployment of troops and reconstruction projects.

The foreign minister told the conference delegates that Germany intended to help set up a civilian air traffic control system in the country by training air traffic controllers and investing in navigational and communication technologies.

Steinmeier also announced a "significant increase" in German financial aid for the training of Afghan security forces, but he did not name any figures.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed his country's willingness to help.

"We need to combine the anti-terrorist measures with the socio-economic measures to rebuild Afghanistan," he said.

His Dutch counterpart Maxime Verhagen said Afghanistan and the international community were at the "crossroads."

"We have serious choices to make and the challenge is not just eliminating individual terrorists -- it is far more complex," he said. "What we need is a new Afghan bond, a bond that unites those Afghan citizens and the government, which unites Afghans and their neighbors."

Iranian participation regarded as positive

Antonio Milososki und Hamid Karzai

The Afghan president, seen right, also expressed praise for Obama's plan

The presence of Iran at the conference was welcomed by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh pledged to assist in the fight against the huge Afghan opium trade and in reconstruction projects, but expressed Tehran's opposition to the presence of foreign forces in the country.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Akhoundzadeh were not due to hold substantive talks at the conference.

In her address, Clinton offered Taliban fighters who renounce violence an "honorable form of reconciliation and reintegration into a peaceful society."

"We must support efforts by the government to separate the extremists of al Qaeda and the Taliban from those who have joined their ranks not out of conviction, but out of desperation," she said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed Obama's "fresh, strong and judicious leadership", but said his own government should take the lead in approaches to the Taliban.

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