Yuli Vorontsov, deputy Soviet foreign minister and ambassador to Afghanistan, met with former Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah to discuss a faster pullout of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, Italian officials said Saturday.
The meeting in the ex-king's walled villa on the northern outskirts of Rome was Zahir's first known direct contact with a senior Soviet official since he was deposed in July 1973 by a communist-supported coup.Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti said Vorontsov's meeting with Zahir centered on the Soviet offer of a cease-fire and efforts to arrange an interim government in Kabul so that Soviet troops can be withdrawn before a Feb. 15 deadline mediated by the United Nations.
"The present effort is to obtain an immediate cease-fire and the formation of a consultative body that can manage the transition and the formation of a new government," Andreotti said.
Andreotti, who met with Vorontsov after the Soviet met with Zahir, said the Soviet envoy brought "some more elements" that stemmed from his meeting earlier this month with Afghan rebels.
That meeting, held in Saudi Arabia, was the first time the rebels have negotiated directly with a Kremlin official since Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 to support an embattled Marxist government.
Gen. Abdul Wali, Zahir's son-in-law and spokesman, said the deposed monarch's meeting was arranged at Vorontsov's request.