JERUSALEM (AP) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an interview published Friday he is willing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and that the two countries could form diplomatic ties once a Palestinian state has been established.
Karzai told the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot that following Israel”s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and recent Pakistani overtures toward Israel, he felt it was time for Afghanistan to acknowledge Israel.
"The times have changed. Pakistan took a step toward Israel. We will too," Karzai said.
Israel and Afghanistan never had formal relations. Afghan”s Islamic fundamentalist Taliban rulers often lashed out at Israel. The pro-Western Karzai came to power following the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Afghanistan is the latest Muslim state to make gestures toward Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has met with counterparts from Qatar, Pakistan and Indonesia since the Gaza pullout last month.
In the interview, Karzai congratulated Sharon for his "brave" Gaza pullout and said he hoped it marked a major step toward peace. He said he would like to see an end to the violence and suffering of both sides.
"When there will be more progress and the Palestinians start getting a state of their own, Afghanistan would be happy to have full diplomatic ties with Israel," he said.
Karzai said he had previously met Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres, whom he called "a real warrior for peace." He added: "God willing, I will soon also meet Prime Minister Sharon."
"At the moment I do not think that Prime Minister Sharon will come to Kabul, and I also do not think I will have an opportunity to come soon to Tel Aviv. But a meeting somewhere else, why not?"
Israel welcomed Karzai”s statements.
"For far too long, Israel was boycotted in many parts of the Muslim world and the fact that today more and more Muslim countries are talking openly about peace with Israel and relations with Israel is surely a positive sign," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "By engaging with Israel, Muslim states cannot only advance their own interests but they can also serve to strengthen the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and clearly support Palestinian moderates who seek peace with Israel and choose the path of negotiations over that of terrorism," Regev said.