High-level Drug Meeting Focuses On Afghanistan

Published February 16, 2012 8:27AM (EST)

VIENNA (AP) — Representatives from dozens of nations are supposed to focus on the menace of drugs in Afghanistan when they meet Thursday in Vienna. But with powerful foreign ministers among those attending, Syria is expected to dominate talks on the sidelines.

Named for the agreement that created it nine years ago, the Paris Pact meeting is meant to review steps taken to reduce production and trafficking of opiates from Afghanistan. It will look at ways to block financial flows from the illicit drug trade, choke the flow of chemicals used to make heroin and strengthen local initiatives to help combat drug abuse by Afghans.

"We want to primarily fight the basic causes of this evil, that is the production of narcotics in Afghanistan," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters ahead of the meeting. "We have to bring the Afghanistan leaders to commit to this ... to destroy the opium fields and the laboratories where heroin is produced."

But the meeting has no enforcing powers, and international attempts to reduce the Afghan drug problem have had little success.

A January report by the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime said revenue from opium production in Afghanistan soared by 133 percent last year to about $1.4 billion, or about one-tenth of the country's GDP, after the crop recovered from a 2010 blight and returned to previous levels.

A copy of the Vienna meeting's final declaration obtained in advance by The Associated Press reflects realities, saying that Afghanistan's drug problem "continues to be a serious concern."

"Illicit traffic in opiates, including heroin, is a growing problem," says the document, adding that revenues it generates fuel "corruption, organized crime and in some cases ... terrorist activities and insurgency."

Some high-level delegates have already announced that they will huddle on ways to end Syria's violence on the sidelines of the drug meeting.

Lavrov told reporters Wednesday that he will meet with French counterpart Alain Juppe to be briefed on a French plan to set up humanitarian corridors in Syria that are free of violence. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is also attending the conference, along with government ministers from Iran and Afghanistan.

The United States will be represented by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

By Salon Staff

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