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Obama hails ‘strong’ Afghan partnership

Discussion in 'International Forum' started by MziziMkavu, May 12, 2010.

  1. MziziMkavu

    MziziMkavu JF-Expert Member

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    White House appears to abandon publicly tough approach to Karzai

    [​IMG]Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
    U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai hold a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C.

    WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama reaffirmed the United States' commitment to Afghanistan after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the White House on Wednesday, hailing a "strong partnership based on mutual respect." The U.S. president said the two countries have a "shared goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida."
    "We will sustain a robust commitment to Afghanistan going forward," he said speaking at a press conference.
    Karzai's red-carpet treatment sealed the Obama administration's abandonment of a publicly tough approach to the Afghan leader, widely believed to have backfired and made Karzai more resistant to U.S. pressure.
    At the news conference, Obama called reports of friction with Afghanistan "simply overstated."
    Talks with Obama, the centerpiece of Karzai's four-day visit, followed meetings with other top U.S. officials to patch over differences at a pivotal time in the nearly nine-year-old war in Afghanistan.
    Washington criticized Karzai openly in recent months for tolerating government corruption and the Afghan leader lashed back with a series of anti-Western diatribes.
    At the press conference, Obama noted progress toward better governance in Afghanistan, but said he and Karzai agree there is "much, much more that has to be done."
    Washington is mindful that alienating Karzai would risk the support they need from Afghans to make the U.S. war strategy work.

    In assessing the U.S. military effort in the country, Obama said that "we've begun to reverse the momentum" of the militant Taliban insurgency.

    And she pointedly said at an evening reception at the State Department, with Karzai at her side, that the enormous sums of military and humanitarian assistance offered to Afghanistan by a wide range of nations and international organizations are a "great vote of confidence in you" — and in his government.
    "As we look toward a responsible, orderly transition in the international combat mission in Afghanistan, we will not abandon the Afghan people," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Karzai on Tuesday.
    Clinton's pledge of a long-term U.S. commitment to Afghanistan addresses one of Kabul's major concerns. Many Afghans see the war as a conflict pursued by Washington for its own interests — to forestall another terrorist attack on the U.S. Afghans fear the U.S. will abandon them once they achieve their objectives.

    Both countries see extremist elements like the Taliban as a threat, but they have starkly different views of how to deal with them. The Obama administration intends to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next year but is wary of any peace deal that includes unrepentant Taliban leaders.
    Karzai, meanwhile, sees reconciliation with militants as his country's best hope for a lasting peace and worries that the U.S. and its NATO allies will leave Afghanistan to fend for itself once any deal is struck.
    It's not clear how far apart the U.S. and Afghan positions remain, but the Obama administration has shown no sign that it is ready to make peace with top Taliban leadership.
    Stressing the positive
    Clinton and Karzai on Tuesday both stressed the positive but acknowledged that sharp differences have complicated efforts to stabilize Afghanistan more than eight years after the Taliban regime was toppled.
    "The ability to disagree on issues of importance to our respective countries and peoples is not an obstacle to achieving our shared objectives," Clinton said in opening remarks Tuesday. "Rather, it reflects a level of trust that is essential to any meaningful dialogue and enduring strategic partnership."
    Karzai agreed it was natural for Kabul and Washington to see the situation differently while working together toward the same goals.
    "As two mature nations and two mature governments — by now the Afghan government is mature, too — we will be having disagreements from time to time," Karzai said.
    As he seeks to rebuild trust with Karzai, Obama's challenge will be to forge a closer personal relationship. He broke with the chummier style of his predecessor, George W. Bush, and opted for an arms-length approach.
    The contrast was on full display last May when Karzai had to share the White House spotlight with his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, and again in March when Obama paid a brief, subdued visit to Kabul to lecture Karzai on corruption.
    Karzai's second visit to the Obama White House is expected to be a markedly different story.
    Obama will host Karzai for much of the day, including a joint news conference at the White House, an honor reserved for the most trusted U.S. allies.

    While there will be public handshakes and smiles, Obama's aides said he would make clear to Karzai behind closed doors that more needs to be done to tackle corruption. Anticipating the pressure, Karzai said on Tuesday his government would do its part to "build its institutions."
    Karzai's recent outbursts were seen as calculated in part to show the Afghan public he is no U.S. puppet. He is expected to press Obama on civilian casualties which have undermined public trust in foreign forces in Afghanistan.
    Visiting wounded soldiers
    The Afghan leader also visited wounded U.S. soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In remarks afterward at the State Department, he spoke in emotional terms of his gratitude for U.S. sacrifices.
    "To see those young American soldiers, some with very young babies and children, one who just lost both legs, the other who lost both arms and legs, it is really painful experience, an extremely painful wound for me," Karzai said. "I wish that we will have no more people losing their lives and limbs like that."

    Karzai also plans a visit Friday to Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 101st Airborne Division, which is deploying to Afghanistan over the next several weeks.