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Small But Significant Success in Talks

A huge sigh of relief spreads across the Afghan delegations, who have finally agreed on a UN blueprint for an interim government.

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Northern Alliance delegation head Yunis Qanuni gets the go-ahead from Alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Afghan representatives at the UN-sponsored talks near Bonn have reached agreement on the interim post-Taliban government. The delegations also decided to ask the UN Security Council to consider mandating peacekeeping forces to Afghanistan. The troops would maintain security for the Afghan capital Kabul and surrounding areas.

According to UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi, there are still discussions on who will fill the planned cabinet posts. Negotiations on the names are to resume on Tuesday afternoon. "I'm hoping we'll get it done today or tomorrow morning," said royalist delegate Mohammad Ishaq Nadiri. "I wish it were faster. Personally I would have liked to go home already."

German powers of persuasion

The delegates recessed after the dominant Northern Alliance finally submitted a list of candidates for the interim government overnight. It nominal leader Burhanuddin Rabbani had previously raised objections to the conference results.

Rabbani is not at the talks, but has been in close contact with his delegation in Germany. He had repeatedly demanded that the cabinet posts be awarded in Kabul and not at the Petersberg hotel near Bonn.

A telephone call from German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, however, was able to convince Rabbani to back down from this demand. He reluctantly gave his delegation the go-ahead to present the list of candidates to the conference.

A western diplomat said Fischer had made clear to Rabbani that his actions were seriously slowing the conference down and threatening the success of the talks.

US diplomats also put the pressure on Rabbani to relent.

Tears of joy

UN spokesman Fawzi spoke of joy and tears at the breakthrough, which came after a week of gruelling talks between the rival groups.

"There was a general feeling of jubilation in the room when we finished. There were tears in some eyes, including my own," said Fawzi, who said the deal should mean a government could be picked by the end of the day. "We must wrap this up," he said.

The agreed UN text is an outline for an interim government for about six months until a Loya Jirga, or traditional assembly, is held. The text calls for Afghanistan's 87-year-old former King Zahir Shah to participate in the Loya Jirga rather than play a symbolic role in opening it, as the original draft had proposed.

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