Mr. Karzai Goes to WashingtonMay 10, 2010 - 7:29 PM | by: Justin Fishel
Washington D.C. — Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Washington D.C. Monday morning for a week long visit with members of the Obama administration following tense exchanges between the two governments that at one point left the entire visit in doubt.
In early April President Karzai was accused of telling Afghan lawmakers during a closed-door meeting that he would consider joining the Taliban if the U.S. continued to pressure his government on reform. Those comments, which he later denied making, came shortly after he blamed the west of interfering in the Afghan election last year. Karzai won that election amid complaints of voter fraud and Taliban threats in the south that reduced voter turnout.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responded in a press briefing on April 6th, saying he found Karzai’s remarks “troubling and untruthful” and that the White House would need to reevaluate whether the May visit should take place. Karzai’s controversial comments also led to direct phone conversations with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which he tried to “clarify” his statements, according to officials at the State Department.
The rhetoric from Monday’s briefing at the White House with General Stanley McChrystal, the top general in Afghanistan, and Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, showed signs that the wounds that had yet to heal.
“As you know, every relationship, every bilateral relationship, especially one as close as we have with Afghanistan, they experience ups and downs,” Einkenberry said.
When pressed on his confidence in the Karzai government Eikenberry described the country of Afghanistan as an ally, but not Karzai himself. “President Karzai is the — is the elected president of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a close friend and ally. And, of course, I highly respect President Karzai in that — in that capacity.” The White House has been criticized in the past for not referring to Karzai as an ally.
Karzai’s visit formally begins at the State Department on Tuesday, where Secretary Clinton will host an opening ceremony. A hot topic of discussion among the two is expected to be Taliban reconciliation and an upcoming peace Jirga in Kabul later this month. Karzai will push the U.S. to accept some levels of reconciliation and sees it as a critical step towards lasting peace in Afghanistan.
Today at the White House Ambassador Eikenberry laid out precise conditions for any reformed extremists looking to hold talks. “Anybody who would come back to the fold of Afghan society… would have to renounce the use of violence, they would have to have severed any ties with Al Qaeda, and international terrorists, and they would have to have respect for the Afghan constitution.”
General McChrystal said that in order for reconciliation to work it’s important to “first get an Afghan solution, crafted by Afghans” and that it be “inclusive and it feel fair to everyone” so that “everybody has the opportunity to reintegrate… or rejoin the political process.”
Corruption is likely to be the most sensitive topic of discussion between the two governments. U.S. officials are unlikely to agree to integrate former enemies into the Afghan government if Karzai cant first reduce the current level of corruption. But it was the pressure Obama put on Karzai originally to control this problem that some say caused Karzai to lash out. Finding a way to balance these issues will be key to the success of this visit.