Karzai Visits Washington, With Smiles All Around

Karzai Visits Washington, With Smiles All Around
# 12 May 2010 18:16 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Beneath twinkling chandeliers and amid tables of pastry and crudités, the Obama administration set out Tuesday to charm President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, rounding up cabinet members and other V.I.P.’s to welcome him and his ministers at a State Department reception, APA reports quoting “The New York Times”.
The party capped a day of meetings meant to showcase the breadth and durability of the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan — one that is more often characterized by the testy back-and-forth between this administration and the mercurial Afghan leader.
“We have told President Karzai that the United States will be there as a partner and a friend long after the combat troops have left,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared, with Mr. Karzai smiling at her side. “Our commitment is one that is enduring and durable.”
Mr. Karzai returned the sentiment, describing Afghanistan as a “friend and an ally” of the United States. He spoke with emotion of his visit earlier in the day to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he met with American soldiers wounded in the war — some who had “lost arms and legs” — and said he found it difficult to summon up the right words to express his gratitude.
The Afghan president brought a delegation of 15 cabinet ministers with him to Washington for three days of meetings, which the administration clearly hopes will put the relationship between the United States and the Afghan government on a better footing after weeks of sniping.
At one point, relations were so bad that Mr. Karzai accused the West last year of manipulating Afghanistan’s presidential elections, which were widely considered to have been riddled with fraud. He was quoted as threatening to join the Taliban if the United States did not stop pressuring him.
On Tuesday, there was a lot of talk about “strategic partnership,” and no one interviewed at the reception veered from the upbeat script. “I feel very welcomed,” said the defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak.
Jacob J. Lew, the deputy secretary of state, said he took part in a meeting with Afghanistan’s ministers of finance and mining, in which the Afghans discussed how the United States could help boost the competence and efficiency of the government in Kabul. The issue of corruption came up, Mr. Lew said, but in the relatively narrow context of keeping officials in these ministries accountable.
Administration officials said in advance that they did not plan to hector Mr. Karzai about corruption during this visit, concluding that their earlier “tough love” approach had only made him resentful. Several Afghan officials appeared to be thrilled by the velvet glove treatment.
“There has been a profound listening on the part of the United States,” said Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and former presidential candidate who is now a senior adviser to the government on economic issues. “Today made the strategic plans more concrete. Now the ball is in the Afghan court.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Karzai will spend much of the day at the White House, where President Obama plans to accord him a rare joint news conference.
Mrs. Clinton referred obliquely to the tense days after the Afghan presidential election, acknowledging that the United States and the Afghan governments will not always agree. But she tried to cast those disputes in a positive light.
“The ability to disagree on issues of importance to our respective countries and peoples is not an obstacle to achieving our shared objectives,” she said. “Rather, it reflects a level of trust that is essential to any meaningful dialogue and enduring strategic partnership.”
Mrs. Clinton ticked off a list of accomplishments in Afghanistan under Mr. Karzai, including the fact that Kabul now has its own American Chamber of Commerce. She lamented that these achievements are not reported as widely as Afghanistan’s well-known problems.
Mr. Karzai picked up on that, saying, “Perhaps we should do a better job of talking to the media, or — if I may say — of managing the media.”