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Muslim states dig their heels in over Afghanistan

The world's Islamic countries have opened the door toward a negotiated settlement of the Afghanistan crisis -- and invited the Soviets to join them inside.

But in sticking fast to its demand for immediate, unconditional, and total withdrawal of Russian troops from Afghanistan, and in refusing to recognize the Soviet-backed Babrak Karmal regime, the conference here of Islamic foreign ministers challenged any acceptance of the status quo in Afghanistan.

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Moreover, in putting both Iran and Pakistan on a new three-member peace-seeking committee, the conference placed the full weight and support of the Islamic world behind the two countries most directly threatened by the presence of Soviet troops near their borders.

It took a heated all-night debate May 21 to 22 for the 40- nation conference to set up the three-member negotiating team with a mandate to seek out ways and means of reaching a comprehensive solution for Afghanistan. Its third member will be Islamic Conference Secretary-General Habib Chatti.

The conference empowered the committee to conduct "appropriate consultations, " including talks directly with Moscow and with the Soviet-supported Babrak Karmal regime in Kabul, and to convene an international conference under United Nations or other auspices.

In what may prove to be a major sticking point, however, the conference directed the committee to talk to all sides in the Afghan conflict, including guerrilla groups fighting the Kabul government. The committee would meet with Mr. Karmal as a concerned party, not as a head of state -- a condition both the Soviets and Mr. Karmal will find hard to swallow.

The Karmal government, installed by the Soviets following their Christmas troop invasion and execution of former Afghan President Hafizullah Amin, "is considered a puppet government," said Prince Saud Bin Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister.

"What is important about this resolution is that it tests the will of the Soviet Union," Prince Saud declared. "If they want to get out of Afghanistan, the Muslim world is showing they are willing to cooperate."

The Karmal regime has called for talks with Iran and Pakistan, but neither country has been willing to hold bilateral meetings for fear of legitimizing Mr. Karmal's authority and the presence of the Soviet troops.

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At the conference, Iran's dramatic gesture of seating eight Afghan rebel leaders on its delegation was instrumental in deflecting any notion of accepting the Soviet presence as a fait accompli, observers here believe.

Getting the fractious Afghan rebel groups together in common front for talks with the Karmal government may be the toughest challenge facing the committee. "It would be like Mission Impossible," acknowledged Dr. Chatti, who will serve with Iranian Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotbzadeh and Pakistani foreign affairs advisor Agha Shahi on the three- man negotiating team.

In other action the Islamic conference, attended by 38 African, Middle Eastern, and Asian Muslim countries and the Palestine Liberation Organization, "strongly" condemned the United States for its recent "military aggression" -- the aborted hostage rescue mission -- against Iran and deplored the military buildup in the Indian Ocean by both the United States and the Soviet Union.

In its only direct reference to the American hostages held in Iran since Nov. 4, it both appealed to Iran to continue working toward a solution to the hostage question and urged the United States to "refrain from any action that might hamper the solution."

Some diplomatic observer had expected much more strident rhetoric against the United States for the failed raid. "There could have been total equation of Soviet and American aggression," said one analyst. But many delegates were clearly impatient to get the hostage issue over and done with, viewing it as a distraction from the more pressing issues of an Afghanistan settlement and Palestinian rights.

The Islamic conference saved its harshest condemnations for Israel, terming it a "loathsome, racist, and Zionist entity."

It voted to call for an immediate United Nations Security Council session to discuss and annul the Israeli Knesset's recent decision to declare Jerusalem the eternal capital of Israel and annex the formerly Arab section of the city occupied since 1967. The Knesset, however, fell short of making a formal declaration on Jerusalem. Instead it agreed to send the matter for discussion to a parliamentary committee.

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