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Obama tells aides not to be distracted on Afghanistan

With Hamid Karzai arriving in the US capital on Monday, President Barack Obama has told key members of his team not to be "distracted" by public spats with Afghanistan's president but to focus on shared common goals.

world Updated: May 10, 2010 08:05 IST


With Hamid Karzai arriving in the US capital on Monday, President Barack Obama has told key members of his team not to be "distracted" by public spats with Afghanistan's president but to focus on shared common goals.

A US official signaled on the eve of the four-day Karzai visit that the United States wanted to overcome the "ups and downs" of its relationship with him and refocus on the fight against the Taliban.

The talks are seen by both sides as a chance to put damaging public rows between Washington and Kabul to rest, though Obama is also expected to privately press Karzai to do more to crack down on corruption.

Obama will offer Karzai all the trappings of a head of state, including Oval Office talks, a joint press conference and a White House luncheon on Wednesday.

The visit comes as the US military gears up for a crucial new stage of Obama's strategy to surge 30,000 extra troops into Afghanistan, in a bid to defeat the Taliban and allow US forces to start coming home next year.

The Washington Post first reported on Sunday that Obama told his key foreign policy aides to treat Karzai with more public respect, after the Afghan leader reacted badly to criticisms of him in the press by key officials.

The newspaper said Obama sought to impose discipline on his administration during a White House meeting last month.

"I wouldn't say he ordered people to desist," an administration official later told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"He did tell his administration that we need to be focused on working on a collaborative basis with our Afghan partners, and to stay focused on that effort rather than getting distracted.

"Any partnership will have ups and downs, but the important thing is to stay focused on our shared goals."

Obama's talks Wednesday with Karzai will be the first since the Afghan leader infuriated the White House with outspoken outbursts claiming that foreign nations were behind fraud in 2009 elections that returned him to power.

It has long been known that some key figures in the Obama administration have mistrusted Karzai and doubt his capacity to crack down on corruption and provide good governance in a stable Afghan government.

In one reported comment, which Washington later said was taken out of context, Karzai threatened to join the Taliban, just days after Obama concluded his first presidential trip to Kabul in late March.

Karzai grew bitter after receiving a copy of comments made by Obama's national security adviser James Jones on the way to Kabul that struck him as insulting, the Post said.

Days later, Karzai read in a newspaper article that an unidentified US official was threatening to put Ahmed Wali Karzai, his half-brother, on the military's kill-or-capture list, the paper noted.

"There has been a rough patch," the Post quoted a senior administration official as saying.

"Frankly, some of what Karzai said needed to be responded to. But the bottom line is that there has been an improvement since then in the atmospherics and in the substance of our dealings with President Karzai and his team."

While embracing Karzai, the administration is also stressing it will be conducting sweeping engagement this week with much of the Afghan cabinet.

The choreography of the visit appears to be an effort to show that Washington's ties with Afghanistan are not defined by its volatile relationship with Karzai alone.

Karzai, seen as a bright hope in Washington after the US-led war to depose the Taliban following the September 11 attacks in 2001, is now viewed with widespread mistrust, especially in Congress.

After he arrives on Monday, Karzai attends a dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before sitting down for talks with her on Tuesday, to set the stage for his talks with Obama the next day.

On Thursday, Karzai will wrap up his stay with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where many of the US war dead from the Afghan conflict are buried.

First Published: May 10, 2010 08:03 IST

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