In speech, Karzai, expresses satisfaction with outcome of Washington visit

Trying to convince Americans that his regime is worth fighting and dying for, Afghanistan's president visited Arlington National Cemetery Thursday and held private talks with top lawmakers. AP's Sagar Meghani. (May 13)
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2010

If the Obama administration and Afghan President Hamid Karzai did not settle all of their differences during Karzai's four-day visit here this week, they made a good show Thursday of acting as if they had.

Among the achievements he will carry home, Karzai said at a United States Institute of Peace (USIP) presentation winding up his visit, was an administration pledge to transfer to Afghan control all detention centers operated by U.S. and NATO forces, beginning in January with the major U.S. prison at Bagram air base. The administration, he said, also reiterated its promise to continue to try its utmost to limit Afghan civilian casualties and voiced its support for the Afghan-led peace process he has proposed.

Most important, Karzai said, was a U.S. commitment to Afghanistan that will extend "beyond the military activity right now . . . into the future, long after we have retired, and perhaps into our grandsons' and great-grandsons' -- and great-granddaughters' -- generations."

"This is something the Afghan people have been seeking for a long, long time," he said. Before the visit, Karzai's government had expressed concern over President Obama's plans to begin withdrawing U.S. combat troops by July 2011.

"In short," Karzai said, "the trip was meaningful, substantive and had all the right tones and objectives."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who spoke alongside Karzai at the USIP event, concurred with that assessment. The two governments, she said, plan to negotiate a new, long-term strategic agreement by the end of the year, replacing the one signed by Karzai and President George W. Bush in 2005.

Adding a subtle caveat, Clinton noted that the Afghan government's progress on a range of issues would be monitored according to an "implementation schedule" drawn up at an international conference to be held in Kabul in July. "It is critical that we go into this with our eyes open," she said.

Among the challenges for the administration are concerns about Afghan governance, rule of law and corruption. Karzai and the cabinet ministers accompanying him promised to do better.

Later, Clinton and Karzai took a walk alone in the garden at Dumbarton Oaks.

Karzai began his fourth day in Washington with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, accompanied by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. Karzai then visited congressional leaders on Capitol Hill and held a private meeting with Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who escorted him to the Senate floor -- a rare event for a foreign leader.

Kerry, who spent hours in Kabul with Karzai last fall during the political crisis that resulted in his reelection, said that during the trip here, the Afghan leader "wanted to make sure that our perceptions and aspirations" for Afghanistan "and his are in sync." Karzai, he said, "felt very positive about his meetings" with Obama on Wednesday, his dinner Wednesday night with Vice President Biden and other sessions.

Among the issues he discussed with Obama, Karzai said at USIP, was the role of his brother in southern Afghanistan. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the elected head of the provincial council in Kandahar, is alleged by U.S. officials to be involved in massive corruption and is seen as a major impediment to U.S. military plans to rout the Taliban from Kandahar this year and install a competent civilian government.

"The president did not raise the issue of my brother in Kandahar," Karzai said of Obama. "I raised it with him, and to the satisfaction of both sides." Referring to U.S. appeals to remove his brother from power, Karzai said he was in no position to fire a democratically elected official.

Karzai also sought additional U.S. assurances that the Kandahar push would not be a classic military operation potentially involving many casualties and extensive damage. In response to such concerns, the administration has repeatedly stressed the plan's civilian elements.

McChrystal told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday that in Kandahar, unlike in parts of next-door Helmand province that were recently targeted by NATO offensives, "it's not a case of having to recapture an area under enemy control." Although Taliban forces are present in large numbers in districts around the main city, the main problems in Kandahar, U.S. officials have said, are corruption and lack of good governance and policing.

At the Pentagon, and in a later interview on "PBS NewsHour," McChrystal said this year would be decisive for the outcome of the war. Although insurgent momentum has been stopped, he said, "nobody is winning at this point."

Staff writer Craig Whitlock contributed to this report.

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