Kerry: Crucial For Karzai To Act Against Corruption

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) met Tuesday with Afghan President Karzai in Kabul. After Karzai won re-election last year, in what most considered a fraudulent election, relations with the U.S. were severely strained. It was a visit from Kerry that was credited with reviving ties. This time Kerry brought a different message: Patience is running out back home.

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A man that Afghan President Hamid Karzai apparently trusts is bringing a serious message to Kabul. Senator John Kerry met last night with Afghan president. When relations with the U.S. were severely strained after last year's elections, it was Senator Kerry who worked to revise ties between the two countries. This time he brought a different message, saying that patience is running out back home.

Here's NPRs Quil Lawrence.

Senator Kerry met with Karzai on arrival in Kabul, and later had a second one-on-one meeting with the president. Between that and many other appointments, he sat down to lunch with foreign journalists. Kerry said its a crucial moment for Karzai to show his people and the American people that he will act against corruption.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): I believe President Karzai wants to do that, but my belief that he wants to do it is not going to be enough. Now, Im not going to stand up and defend for one instant a policy that is based on supporting a completely, a corrupt government, if thats what it wound up being. But thats the test right now, thats why Im here.

LAWRENCE: But even before Kerrys arrival, Karzai was frustrating his international allies with a surprise decree that all private security companies must cease operations in just four months. The concept wasnt surprising, but the deadline blindsided the Americans. Also, Karzai recently announced an investigation into the two most aggressive anti-corruption arms of the Afghan government. The move came after an arrest related to millions of dollars in cash that Afghan government officials have been allegedly hand-carrying out of Kabuls airport.

Kerrys trip was in large part to see if Karzai intends to whitewash corruption in his government, and also to make sure Karzai is aware of the mood on Capitol Hill.

Sen. KERRY: I think he knows from our conversation earlier today, he reads the newspapers; he gets reports on whats happening in America, hes well aware that this test is an important one for him and for the government. And he knows that there are people on both sides of the aisle in Congress who are anxious about whats happening and not happening here. Hes certainly picked that up.

LAWRENCE: In the past, Kerry has acted as an unofficial envoy from the Obama administration - when both Vice President Joe Biden and the official envoy, Richard Holbrooke, had offended Karzai with forceful charges of corruption. This time Kerry appeared to be as much an envoy for the Democratic Party, which has shown serious misgivings about President Obamas Afghanistan policy. But Kerry stressed that for the first time in eight years, the U.S. has a strategy for Afghanistan and the resources to make it work. If it still hasnt turned around by next summer, said Kerry, it may be time to pull back.

Sen. KERRY: But were not there right now. And Ill fight that in my own party. I think it would be - have disastrous implications to move too rapidly from this sort of moment that weve created to try to make something work.

LAWRENCE: Almost four decades ago, Kerry returned from Vietnam and famously asked the U.S. Senate how it could ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake. In the same speech, he said American soldiers in Vietnam had watched U.S. tax dollars support what he called a corrupt, dictatorial regime. Kerry said he has faith in Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but hes also clearly worried about echoes from the past.

Sen. KERRY: I led an anti-war movement years ago, and Ive been involved in fighting a war and fighting against it. And Im as sensitive as any person in our country about not having a soldier be lost because were making a mistake at the public level.

LAWRENCE: Kerry continued from Kabul on to Islamabad, another U.S. ally that inspires just as many doubts back in Washington.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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