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LONDON — "Afghanistan: the London Conference" is under way at Lancaster House overlooking Green Park. The headlines:
Representatives of 70 countries are attending — including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Most of the 70 have reporters in the media centre so there is no place to sit. I am borrowing a chair in a multi-lingual enclave where I may be the only English speaker. I hear Russian, German and French in my immediate vicinity.
We are sequestered which means there is no possibility of inadvertent comments being made by officials ambushed on their way to the toilet. So more than is usual we are prisoner of spin and here is the spin so far.
1. The number of countries lending a hand in Afghanistan has grown: Armenia, Mongolia, Montenegro and South Koreaare joining the NATO-led ISAF.
2. "We have brought our ambitions and our resources into line," said Mark Sedwill, a British diplomat just appointed to head NATO's civilian affairs operations. What Sedwill meant is that there is enough money genuinely available rather than vaguely "pledged" to begin the hearts and minds civilian reconstruction projects that are necessary for something like success in stabilizing Afghanistan.
What he doesn't mention (cannot mention) is that some countries — Germany for example — cannot legally just ship the money off to Kabul or NATO ... these countries maintain strict accounting procedures on aid projects and so money that is available is frequently not spent owing to the corruption in Afghanistan.
And if that isn't important enough here is spin point number 3:
Talking to the Taliban. It's been out there in the press for a while but today it has been officially endorsed by the assembled foreign ministers.
Speaking at the conference Afghan President Hamid Karzai went further and asked the Saudi government to "kindly play a role to guide peace and assist the process." The Saudis have close contact with the Taliban.
It will be interesting to hear what the Foreign Ministers have to say after their deliberations —Thankfully, we don't have long to wait — this is a one-day meeting and will be over in a couple of hours. Just as well, as I have to give my chair back to the person I stole it from.