Iran has reinforced its call for the exit of foreign forces from Afghanistan ahead of a key meeting of NATO leaders that is being held in Lisbon from Friday.

Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Monday that the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan was a major source of insecurity in the country. He added in the presence of Zalmay Rassoul, the visiting foreign minister of Afghanistan, that participation of regional countries in Afghanistan could show better results.

"Regional countries can show better cooperation in fighting insecurity, terrorism and extremism with stronger commitment," Mr. Mottaki said.

In a separate meeting with Mr. Rassoul, Speaker of Iran’s Parliament, Ali Larijani, called upon the Afghan government to “pave the way for the withdrawal of the alien forces from the country,” Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported. Elsewhere, Mr. Larijani said that presence of external forces in the region was the root cause of growth of extremism and terrorism. "Growth of extremism in the region is outcome of strategic cooperation of international powers and some of their regional allies," he said.

Mr. Rassoul’s visit to Tehran comes ahead of the two-day meeting, beginning Friday of NATO leaders, where the situation in Afghanistan is on the top of the agenda. During the Lisbon summit, participants will consider a plan to begin handover of security responsibility to Afghan troops from next year and accelerate that process till the Afghans are in the lead in looking after themselves by 2014. Analysts point out NATO countries facing budget cuts on account of the economic slowdown and a hostile public opinion are keen to lighten their military footprint in Afghanistan.

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