Washington: A day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that once or twice a year Iran gives his office $700,000 to $975,000 for official presidential expenses, the United States said it "remains sceptical of Iran's motives" in providing money to Afghanistan.
"What we think is important is Afghans having the ability to shape their own future without negative influences from its neighbours," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington.
"We'll let the government of Afghanistan speak to how they spend financial assistance received from other countries, but we remain sceptical of Iran's motives," he said.
Crowley's comments were in response to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's revelation on Monday that once or twice a year, Iran gives his office between 700-thousand and 975-thousand US dollars for official presidential expenses and that Washington also provides "bags of money" because his office lacks funds.
Karzai made the comments a day after The New York Times reported that Iran was giving cash to the president's chief of staff, Umar Daudzai, allegedly to buy his loyalty and promote Iranian interests in Afghanistan.
The newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying the cash amounted to a slush fund that Karzai and Daudzai had used to pay Afghan lawmakers, tribal elders - and even Taliban commanders - to secure their loyalty.
Karzai told reporters on Monday in Kabul that he had instructed Daudzai, a former ambassador to Iran, to accept the money from Tehran.
He added that several nations have given money to his office - the first being the United Arab Emirates, which provided 1.5 (m) million US dollars nine years ago when Afghanistan's interim government was formed.
The Iranian embassy in Afghanistan dismissed the allegations that the Iranian government was making cash payments to Daudzai, calling them "ridiculous and insulting."
The statement, which didn't mention money that it might be giving the president's office, was issued earlier Monday, before Karzai's comments.
Karzai also said the payments were "transparent" and had been discussed with previous US administrations.
"This is something that I've even discussed while I was at Camp David with President Bush," Karzai said, referring to meetings with then-President George W Bush at the US presidential retreat outside Washington.
"It is not hidden," he said. "We are grateful for the Iranians' help in this regard. The United States is doing the same thing. They are providing cash to some of our offices."
Crowley said that Afghanistan receives donations from several governments and that the US government has systems of accountability in place to assure that the funds go to the intended recipients.
He acknowledged, however, that the "inflow of international assistance has added to the challenge of corruption."
Crowley also addressed the issue of foreign countries paying large sums to maintain private security contractors in Afghanistan, which Karzai has signalled he wishes to bring under Afghan control.
"We are supporting President Karzai in his decree on strengthening Afghan oversight of private security contractors for that very reason that we want to make sure that in the future this assistance is, both flows through the Afghan government and is clearly being used for the benefit of the Afghan people," Crowley said.
US officials said the money flowing from Tehran was further proof that Iran is playing a double game in Afghanistan - wooing the government while helping Taliban insurgents who are fighting US and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) forces.
Iran publicly opposed the US-led offensive that toppled the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, though its relations with the Taliban regime had been frosty.
Reports of Iranian money flowing into Afghanistan occurred as Iran appears to be gaining ground in competition with the US for influence in America's other battleground, Iraq.AP