Obama pushes back on Karzai criticism
Sunday, November 21, 2010
LISBON - President Obama said Saturday he was confident that a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would begin in July and that "the objective assessment is that we have made progress" in the war effort.
"We are in a better place now than we were a year ago," Obama said in anticipation of next month's promised White House review of the surge strategy he announced last December. He said Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led coalition, had begun "planning and mapping" areas where security conditions would allow a drawdown.
Obama spoke at the end of a two-day NATO summit at which the coalition agreed to start turning parts of Afghanistan over to Afghan security control this spring, in a transition to be completed by the end of 2014, and secured Russia's promise to cooperate in a Europe-based missile-defense program.
NATO and Afghan President Hamid Karzai also signed a long-term agreement guaranteeing the alliance's indefinite cooperation on security. "As Afghans stand up and take the lead" for their own security, Obama said at a news conference, "they will not stand alone."
But Obama responded sharply to Karzai's recent criticism of some U.S. military actions in Afghanistan. Partnership, he said, was a "two-way street," adding of Karzai: "We have to listen and learn. But he's got to listen to us, as well."
Overall, the NATO gathering seemed to serve as a tonic for Obama, who returned from a 10-day trip to Asia earlier this month with a number of his goals unmet, only to face Republican foot-dragging on approval of the U.S.-Russia nuclear weapons treaty.
In addition to the Afghan and missile-defense agreements, NATO approved its first mission statement in more than a decade, designed to cut costs, improve cooperation and face new 21st-century threats. Obama cited the achievements as administration successes resulting from "the work that we've done over the last two years."
Alliance unity, he said, was "a direct result of American efforts and American sacrifice."
Obama has been criticized in the past for neglecting Europe as he sought new partnerships in Asia and elsewhere. In Lisbon, he went out of his way to affirm that relations with Europe were "the cornerstone of our engagement with the world."
Before his departure for Washington, he held a separate economic "summit" late Saturday with European Union officials, designed to smooth over differences between the administration's focus on job creation and stimulus and Europe's move toward sharp spending cuts and deep structural reform.
Several European leaders, including from NATO's newest members in Eastern Europe, pledged their support for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, calling it vital to their own security and issuing what Obama called "umprompted" public urgings for early Senate ratification.
In a bilateral meeting here with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whom he saw two weeks ago at the Group of 20 gathering in Seoul, Obama again said he would make ratification a top priority. Failure "would be very unpleasant," Medvedev later told reporters, adding that he remained confident that "common sense will prevail."