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 today, 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."
"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."
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.
At the White House, spokes-man 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 Afghan-istan 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.