President Hamid Karzai has put a brave face on President Barack Obama's decision to start pulling out troops in mid-2011, telling The Associated Press in his first public response that it will push Afghans to take control of their own destiny.
But he blamed the United States for stalling peace overtures in the past and offered to talk directly with the Taliban's top leader.
Karzai appeared relaxed and confident throughout the exclusive AP interview -- the Afghan president's first remarks since Obama's announcement on Tuesday that he will send 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan by next fall with the anticipation that they would start coming home in July 2011.
Karzai said the deadline, just 18 months away, is "not a concern for us -- it is rather an impetus."
"For Afghans it's good that we are facing a deadline," he said. "We must begin to stand on our own feet. Even if it is with our own meager means - whatever those means may be. And we must begin to defend our own country.
"If we, the Afghan people, cannot defend our country, ourselves, against an aggressor from within or without, then no matter what the rest of the world does with us, it will not produce the desired results," he said during the one-hour interview at the turreted brick palace in the heavily guarded heart of the Afghan capital, Kabul.