By Karen DeYoung and Joshua Partlow
Saturday, April 10, 2010; A18
President Obama moved this week to close a growing breach with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, sending him a letter reaffirming their close ties and reiterating an invitation to visit Washington next month.
The letter, delivered Thursday by U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry in Kabul, thanked Karzai for organizing Obama's visit there late last month on short notice and "recommitted" the United States "to the success of our operation and our partnership," national security adviser James L. Jones said.
Jones, who spoke to reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday as Obama returned from signing a U.S.-Russia nuclear arms accord in Prague, dismissed persistent reports that Karzai is unstable and unwilling or unable to end the official corruption that the United States believes is undercutting its efforts in Afghanistan.
Jones said Karzai "did not intend to create any damage to the relationship" with speeches, made after Obama's visit, in which he charged that Western "interference" in Afghanistan risked turning the Taliban into a legitimate resistance movement that he might join himself.
Shaida Mohammed Abdali, Afghanistan's deputy national security adviser, said in an interview that Karzai's remarks had been misinterpreted. Instead of attacking the West, he said, Karzai was warning that a deteriorating security situation, and problems such as those in last year's presidential election, could damage both Afghan and U.S. interests.
Abdali said Karzai was worried the Taliban could gain points with Afghans if they see the United States as acting like an occupier.
Jones said reports that Obama had chastised and lectured Karzai about corruption and poor governance were overblown. "The conversation between the two was very respectful, very friendly; it was direct and frank," he said.
But it was Jones who told reporters en route to the Afghan capital last month that Obama intended to speak about corruption and had been "very clear" with Karzai about what the Afghan leader had to do "so that this whole thing works."
On Friday, Jones said both sides "ought to calm the rhetoric and engage as strategic partners intent on bringing about peace and security. . . . And that's what we're doing."
As recently as Tuesday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declined to call Karzai a U.S. ally and indicated doubt over whether Karzai's May 12 visit to the White House would proceed as planned.
Asked Friday whether the visit would take place, National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, also flying aboard Air Force One, said: "Absolutely."
Partlow reported from Kabul.