KOENIGSWINTER, Germany -- Afghan factions can expect no aid for rebuilding their war-ravaged country unless they agree on a broad-based government, a senior U.S. official said Monday on the eve of U.N.-sponsored talks.
''Until there is a government that is broadly representative and recognized by us, there's not going to be any reconstruction assistance,'' said the official, who is close to the talks and spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
When formal talks start Tuesday, the four Afghan delegations gathering at a stately mansion overlooking the Rhine River face intense international pressure to reach a consensus on Afghanistan's political future.
Eighteen nations, including the United States and Britain, are exerting influence from the corridors, and the U.N. spokesman for Afghanistan said Monday that the four groups must decide quickly on a security force and an interim administration.
Ahmad Fawzi's comments came amid fears that the eventual fall of the last Taliban stronghold -- Kandahar -- would ignite infighting among the northern alliance.
The delegates will spend the duration of the talks at Petersberg, perched on a hilltop above the former German capital of Bonn, and reached by a single road. The secluded location was chosen not only for security reasons, but also to remove the delegations from what Fawzi called ''daily pressures,'' a move the United Nations hopes will give them perspective to reach a consensus.
''It's a very simple agenda really,'' Fawzi said. ''We're talking about the possibility to form a transitional administration for Afghanistan, as soon as possible because speed is of the essence in view of the situation on the ground.''
Some of the 32 delegates arrived early and started informal discussions Sunday, including those representing ex-King Mohammad Zaher Shah and a group of exiles based in Cyprus. Those conversations continued Monday.
The United States hopes the promise of billions in aid will help bring about a power-sharing accord among the four groups: the ex-king's supporters, the Cyprus group, another exile group based in the Pakistani city of Peshawar and the northern alliance warlords who are regaining control of Afghanistan from the Taliban.
Fawzi said the United Nations was imposing no conditions on the Afghans.
''It's their choice. They know what the international community has to offer,'' Fawzi said. ''Without peace there will be no development. Without peace there will be no investment.''
At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said that while President Bush believes the formation of the government of Afghanistan should be up to the Afghan people, he also wants ''to make certain that there is a multiethnic group that governs Afghanistan and that includes women.''
The delegates must decide how long a transitional administration would run the country before convening a loya jirga, or national assembly, and the makeup of a peacekeeping force under a U.N. mandate.
With the fall of the city of Kunduz to the northern alliance on Sunday and fighting raging in the last Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, none of the most important warlords were at the talks.
Northern alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani was not attending, sending instead his acting interior minister, Younus Qanooni. The other leading figure, Zaher Shah, stayed in Rome, where he has lived in exile since 1973, to remain above politics.
''His majesty is above such meetings. His role is that of a father figure,'' said Mostapha Zaher, his grandson, who was part of the delegation.
The Afghans are being pressed hard to succeed at the talks. If they fail to reach an agreement and slide into another round of factional conflict, the world could lose interest in Afghanistan once more. The country has lacked a central authority, a legal system and most other trappings of government since the Taliban pulled out of the capital Nov. 13. It has not had a stable, recognized government since the 1970s.
Afghans have vivid memories of the factional fighting in 1992-96 when rival armed groups -- many now sitting for talks -- flattened much of the capital, Kabul, in fierce rocket exchanges that killed tens of thousands of civilians.
There had been talk that moderate Taliban would be included in the talks. But the head of the Cyprus delegation, Houmayoun Jareer, said upon arrival that they no longer had a role.
In neighboring Pakistan, which had been a staunch supporter of the Taliban before the terrorist attacks on the United States, the president said a outsiders should have no influence.
''No solution should be imposed'' on Afghans, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said during an interview on state television Monday. ''One can only facilitate them whatever homegrown political arrangement takes shape there without any outside interference.''
While there is no single group purporting to speak for all Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, at least three of the delegations in Germany include Pashtuns.
The king's grandson said private talks with the Cyprus Group on Sunday had been ''encouraging,'' and that he planned to meet with the northern alliance after it arrived later Tuesday.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will greet the four delegations when the conference opens on Tuesday. At that point, German officials will step into the background as hosts, not facilitators.
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