Clinton arrives in Kabul for Afghanistan summit, meets with Karzai

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed that the U.S. and its allies will stand by Afghanistan even as fears are growing about the course of the nearly 9-year-old war.

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By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post staff writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

KABUL -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here Monday night to participate in a conference at which Afghan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to present concrete plans for improving governance, combating corruption, and beginning a peace process with both low-level Taliban fighters and their leaders.

The largest international gathering in Kabul in decades, including delegations from more than 70 countries, is to convene Tuesday morning amid high security concerns. Clinton was met at the airport by U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, then was whisked to the U.S. Embassy compound a few miles away by helicopter, rather than risk a road convoy.

Three Afghans were killed in a suicide bombing in the capital on Sunday, and the Afghan government, which is holding the conference with the United Nations, has ordered many roads closed in the central part of the city.

Clinton will spend less than 24 hours in Kabul. She met with Karzai on Monday night for dinner with their senior advisers and a one-on-one session that lasted late into the evening.

A State Department official described their private talk as "deeply substantive" and said it included discussion of the gradual transition to Afghan security control as U.S. troops begin to depart in July 2011, reintegration of Taliban fighters and regional issues.

Karzai greeted Clinton in front of the presidential palace and thanked her for "getting us this very good transit agreement with Pakistan." The long-negotiated accord, signed by the two governments on Sunday in Islamabad after a strong U.S. push, regulates customs and permits, and allows Afghans and Pakistanis to transport goods within and through each other's territory.

As she left Islamabad on Monday afternoon, Clinton told reporters aboard her plane that she "could feel a change" in Pakistani public opinion toward the United States during her two-day visit, but that she did not want to overstate her perception that anti-American feeling had decreased.

Opinion surveys indicate little positive movement toward the Obama administration and ongoing suspicions over its intentions, despite a tripling of U.S. non-military aid and an energetic effort by the U.S. Embassy to counter negative stories in Pakistan's feisty media.

But unlike her last visit, in October, when Clinton was bombarded with hostile questions from a belligerent Pakistani public, no one asked about U.S. drone attacks, the CIA or U.S. military designs on Pakistani territory.

Although security is still an important part of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Clinton told a news conference after a morning-long meeting with senior Pakistani officials to discuss $500 million worth of new U.S. economic and development assistance this year, they had moved "beyond security" into a long-term partnership in which the United States was building trust by responding to Pakistan's domestic needs.

With maps showing new dams to be built and lists of hospitals to be renovated, she pitched the plans with all the zeal of a local politician. Pakistanis said they needed more clean water, she said, and the United States listened. They said they needed to improve their agricultural production and the administration was responding, Clinton said.

While security cooperation would continue, she said, "the United States had to ask ourselves: How can we be a better partner?"

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