Karzai, Clinton iron out differences between US and Afghan government

President Hamid Karzai and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attempted to put recent differences between the U.S. and Afghan governments behind them Tuesday, saying that while they may have policy disagreements, such disputes do not reflect instability in the overall bilateral relationship.

The last time Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, was in Washington—a year ago—he had to share the spotlight with his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, who got the bulk of the attention from the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton even made a personal, unscheduled visit to huddle with Mr. Zardari at his hotel.

It is a far, far different visit this time around, reflecting the Obama administration’s decision to abandon the publicly tough approach it tried to use to pressure Mr. Karzai to tackle corruption and drug trafficking in his government. Administration officials concluded that the strategy had backfired, making Mr. Karzai more resentful and resistant.

This time, the Americans are pulling out all the stops for Mr. Karzai as part of a new charm offensive. Mrs. Clinton, one of the few people in the administration with a good rapport with him, has invited him for a stroll through the grounds of a private enclave in Georgetown. Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to the region, was dispatched to Andrews Air Force Base at 7 a.m. on Monday to personally greet Mr. Karzai. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be Mr. Karzai’s host for a private dinner at the vice president’s mansion.

Notably, Mrs. Clinton mentioned corruption issues in Mr. Karzai’s government only briefly, and then only to praise the Afghan president’s efforts to fight graft, including his strengthening of the Afghan government’s High Office of Oversight.

Speaking at the formal opening of a three-day summit in Washington for Mr. Karzai and a large delegation of Afghan ministers, Mrs. Clinton sought to reassure Afghans that the U.S. was committed to the country’s long-term development, saying the Obama administration would not abandon Mr. Karzai’s government once U.S. troops begin withdrawing next year.

And Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, the ambassador to Afghanistan, who personally escorted Mr. Karzai on the flight from Kabul to Washington, was sent off to assure reporters at the White House that he now had faith in the Afghan president’s determination to succeed, a position that stands in contrast to his diplomatic cable last fall denouncing Mr. Karzai as “not an adequate strategic partner.”

The new warmth is oozing all the way to the Oval Office. President Obama, in an unusual show of hospitality and presidential attention toward a visiting foreign delegation, will be host to Mr. Karzai and others in his government for almost a full day at the White House, including a lunch on Wednesday followed by a rare joint news conference.

Thus far during Mr. Karzai’s stay, which began Monday, U.S. officials have noticeably resisted criticism in a move that current and former U.S. officials said is an intentional effort to patch up recent disputes, which spiraled into a public swapping of accusations last month, with Mr. Karzai accusing the West of fraud and the White House intimating it might cancel this visit to Washington altogether.

In her remarks, Mrs. Clinton said disagreements were normal in any relationship between allies.

“President Obama and President Karzai both understand that the ability to disagree on issues of importance … is not an obstacle to achieving our shared objectives,” Mrs. Clinton said. “Rather, it reflects a level of trust that is essential to any meaningful dialogue and enduring strategic partnership.”

Mr. Karzai agreed with Mrs. Clinton, saying disagreements were a sign of a “matured relationship.”

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