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Clinton's Remarks Anger Afghan Foreign Minister

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KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton's use of the term "narco state" to describe Afghanistan in a recent Senate testimony has caught the attention of her Afghan counterpart.

Foreign Ministry Rangin Dadfar Spanta said Saturday that it is "absolutely wrong" to classify Afghanistan as such, though the minister readily admitted that Afghanistan is a major producer of drugs.

Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world's opium, the main ingredient in heroin.

"Madame Clinton is a good friend of Afghanistan, a close friend of ours," Spanta told The Associated Press in an interview arranged to rebut Clinton's classification of Afghanistan.

"But if somebody believes that our government, the government of President (Hamid) Karzai is involved as a government entity in the production of drugs, this is absolutely wrong."

Spanta was reacting to a report in the Financial Times on Friday that quoted Clinton as calling Afghanistan a "narco state" whose government was "plagued by limited capacity and widespread corruption." The comments appeared in Clinton's written Senate testimony for her nomination as Secretary of State.

But Spanta also made a startling admission: that the Afghan government controls perhaps only 90 percent of Helmand, the largest drug-producing province and one of the country's most violent.

"The main production center of drugs is Helmand, and we are not in charge. Helmand (is) not under control of my government," Spanta said. "If the international community is serious about fighting drug production and drug trafficking, they have to bring Helmand under our control."

Spanta said the government controls only the capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah, along with "some islands" of territory around the rest of the province.

The U.S. plans to send up to 30,000 new forces into Afghanistan this year, and several thousands of those troops are likely to go to Helmand, which produces more than 50 percent of Afghanistan's opium poppies.

Spanta called Helmand "the main threat" and said al-Qaida and Taliban militants as well as criminal drug organizations operate there.

He said corruption was a problem the Afghan government still needed to address but that it was actively working on the drug problem. He said the government has arrested more than 700 people involved in the drug trade in recent years.

Despite the irritation over the narco state label, Spanta called the United States a key alley and said he was sure President-elect Barack Obama would continue President George W. Bush's policy of strong support for Afghanistan.

Spanta called Obama a "strong president with vision for his country and the world."

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