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U.N. steps up post-Taliban plans

By CNN State Department Correspondent
Andrea Koppel and Producer Elise Labott

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- With rebel forces gaining ground in their approach towards the Afghanistan capital of Kabul, the United Nations moved to bring together members of various Afghan opposition groups to form an interim post-Taliban government.

A meeting of such groups, sponsored by the United Nations, is likely to be held in coming days in either Geneva, Switzerland; Vienna, Austria; Ankara, Turkey; or Mecca in Saudi Arabia, diplomats at the U.N. said.

As the Northern Alliance advanced towards Kabul, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed a meeting of the Six-Plus-Two working group on Afghanistan on the need for "speed, speed, speed" in assembling some type of interim government, according to a U.S. diplomat in the meeting.

The Six-Plus-Two group is made up of the six countries neighboring Afghanistan plus the United States and Russia.

After the meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke on the need to "bring the political aspects in line with the military development on the ground."

"We have to be nimble," he said. "We have to move quickly and we have to be flexible."

To that end, Powell dispatched his special envoy for Afghan opposition groups, James Dobbins, to Rome to meet the deposed king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, before heading to the region, State Department officials said.

Also after Monday's meeting, Lakdhar Brahimi, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, said he hopes to assemble the Afghan groups in the "next couple of days."

In a joint statement, the six countries neighboring Afghanistan -- Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- plus the United States and Russia agreed there should be a "broad based, multi-ethnic, politically balanced and freely-chosen" Afghan government.

Agreement on goals

This was the first time this U.N.-sponsored group had agreed to similar goals.

A diplomat in the meeting said that Powell predicted the need for a peacekeeping force to keep the capital secure in the event of the Taliban's fall, but did not go into specifics.

Diplomats said that the most likely scenario is for a multi-national force to enter Kabul.

At the same time the United States and the United Nations worked to assemble Afghan opposition groups, the U.N. was also gearing up to send back international staff to Afghanistan, provided there was adequate security, to resume on-the-ground humanitarian assistance.

Diplomats said that the United States and Japan are expected to hold a donors conference as early as next week to address reconstruction of Afghanistan.

First meeting with Kharrazi

Japan has already appointed Sadako Ogata, former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, as its special envoy for reconstruction of Afghanistan.

The Six-Plus-Two meeting marked the first time Powell met Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.

A U.S. diplomat in the meeting said that Kharrazi initially pushed for a "road map" spelling out how they would bring together the various Afghan groups, but softened his position after word of the American Airlines crash in the Queens area of New York.

The diplomat said that Kharrazi offered his condolences to the American people and the families of victims of the crash and said that he hoped it was an accident, rather than an act of terrorism.

Pakistan, which has supported the Taliban and has pushed for some moderate Taliban representation in a new government, was not represented by its foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, who was kept from the U.N. when the headquarters were temporarily closed because of security concerns after the crash.

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