Allauddin Khan/AP Photo
Afghan President Hamid Karzai surrounded by body guards in Kandahar city, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, April 5, 2010.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai surrounded by body guards in Kandahar city, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, April 5, 2010. Allauddin Khan/AP Photo
There was a newsworthy exchange between White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and reporters Tuesday as President Barack Obama's spokesman said Afghan President Hamid Karzai's invitation to visit the White House May 12 could be withdrawn given the Afghan's recent comments, including one in which he openly mused about joining the Taliban.
Gibbs also steadfastly refused to call Karzai a U.S. ally. He would only call Karzai the "democratically elected leader of Afghanistan."
The exchange came during Gibbs' daily briefing with the White House press corps. Here's the relevant bit:
REPORTER: On Karzai, are you considering canceling this May 12th meeting?
MR. GIBBS: We certainly would evaluate whatever continued or further remarks President Karzai makes as to whether that's constructive to have such a meeting, sure.
REPORTER: Sort of, three strikes you're out? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I've not seen the form that one fills out to cancel the meeting.
REPORTER: But what are the consequences for those remarks? I mean, he's been pretty defiant. He kind of doubled down on those remarks after a call from Secretary Clinton.
MR. GIBBS: I can't speak to why he said those things.
REPORTER: I was asking if there are consequences from —
MR. GIBBS: Let me — I mean, they're troubling, they're confusing; they've been investigated and they've been found to be untruthful. So whether there's some domestic political benefit that he's trying to gain, I can't say.
We are in Afghanistan, and our young men and women are in Afghanistan because of the threat that al Qaeda and its extremist allies pose, and posed on September 11th when attacks planned in that area came to New York and just outside of Washington, D.C. So we are there to — for the safety and security of our country. And we understand, and we think that President Karzai needs to understand, that the safety and security of his country is not going to be gained simply by rooting out or moving extremist threats in certain areas that isn't ultimately then filled with good governance. The President has been clear with President Karzai, going back to last fall, and in numerous meetings and videoconferences since.
REPORTER: Robert, can I do a quick follow of that? Is Karzai our ally?
MR. GIBBS: Karzai is the democratically elected leader of Afghanistan.
REPORTER: But that's not what I asked. Is he our ally? Is he the ally of the United States?
MR. GIBBS: There are times in which the actions that he takes are constructive to governance. I would say that the remarks he's made — I can't imagine that anybody in this country found them anything other than troubling.
So our position on this, Jake, is that when the Afghan leaders take steps to improve governance and root out corruption, then the President will say kind words. When leaders need to hear stern language from this administration about the consequences of not acting, we'll do that as well.
REPORTER: If I could follow on Jake's follow, which is — (laughter)
MR. GIBBS: Little early for Wimbledon.
REPORTER: Peter Galbraith was on MSNBC this morning saying that Karzai was mentally unstable and suggesting that he was on drugs. Following up on Jake, is he a credible partner to the U.S.?
MR. GIBBS: Again, he is the democratically elected leader of Afghanistan. And as I just said to Jake, we will not hesitate to ensure that the remarkable investment that our men and women are making is met with the type of governance that has to in place in order to secure parts of a dangerous country.
We'll continue to speak out again if need be. And we want to see President Karzai fulfill the commitments that he enunciated both at his inaugural address and at a donors conference in London — those commitments he made not just to his people but to the international community that have invested in ensuring the security of his country.