Karzai's Fresh Start With Obama Administration Afghan President Hamid Karzai wrapped up talks with the Obama administration and visiting officials from Pakistan Friday, sounding confident that all three governments will work better together to counter extremism. Karzai came to power during the Bush administration and was initially given a cold shoulder by many members of President Obama's team. But Karzai says that's changing.
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Karzai's Fresh Start With Obama Administration

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Karzai's Fresh Start With Obama Administration

Karzai's Fresh Start With Obama Administration

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai ended talks in Washington, D.C. yesterday sounding confident that the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan will work together to counter extremism. President Karzai came to power during the Bush administration. He was not considered an early favorite of members of President Obama's team, but Mr. Karzai says that's changing.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Sitting down for breakfast with reporters in his posh hotel at the end of an intense several days of meetings, Karzai said his message in Washington was simple: money can't buy you love, and force can't buy you obedience.

President HAMID KARZAI (Afghanistan): Success in the war on terror requires more than money and force. It requires a cause and a much higher moral platform on which we should stand as better people than the terrorists, as a lot more better human beings than the bad guys who come and affect us all.

KELEMEN: One particularly deadly incident in western Afghanistan this past week clouded Karzai's visit here. He said he was pleased that both President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed their sorrow and regret for the high civilian death toll, even though U.S. military officials sought to blame insurgents for some of that.

President Karzai says one thing is certain: U.S. airstrikes were partly responsible.

Pres. KARZAI: Let me be very clear here: there is no doubt there that the casualties were high and that some of these casualties were definitely caused by bombings.

KELEMEN: The Afghan president says that the way the U.S. has conducted the war and the high number of civilian casualties have caused tension in U.S./Afghan relations. But there are many other factors as well, including U.S. complaints about corruption in his government. When a journalist asked him about that yesterday, Karzai said only six of the $32 billion donated to his country have gone through his government, and he said he can account for all of that. He made a big show to bring in his finance minister to back him up.

Pres. KARZAI: Is here around? I'd like him here. If he's in the hotel, I'd like him here. Somebody get in touch with him.

KELEMEN: The official eventually rushed in, but only after Karzai was on to other topics. The Afghan president and his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, spent a great deal of time on Capitol Hill fielding some pointed questions about their governments and policies.

Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts said senators were impressed by the candor. But Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, says he found Karzai to be vague and at times flippant.

Senator BOB CORKER (Republican, Tennessee): We're in some dangerous territories, as we all know, with leaders that we're dependent upon to be our real partners there, and I don't want to create a picture of total disharmony, but I did not leave the meeting feeling very good about that situation.

KELEMEN: State Department spokesman Robert Wood says Karzai and Pakistani President Zardari now know how much skepticism they face from lawmakers.

Mr. ROBERT WOOD (State Department Spokesman): Pakistan and Afghanistan are going to have to do more and take the steps that are necessary to deal with these threats to alleviate some of the concerns that exist on Capitol Hill. That's just the reality of our democracy. And I think both the leaders are well aware of the mood on the Hill.

KELEMEN: President Karzai is also well aware of the mood in the White House, though he denied that the complaints he's been hearing from U.S. officials about the Afghan government have poisoned the well. He just says there's a lot going on between the two countries, so differences are understandable.

Pres. KARZAI: Between allies and between two countries engaged in such an intense exercise of high political risk, situations like that are bound to arise. We are mature people, grown-up structures. It has not fractured us. We have a good government-to-government relationship and also a personal relationship.

KELEMEN: He said Afghan and U.S. officials are learning how to handle their differences better, that tensions have eased and reality has set in. President Karzai seemed pleased with the administration's focus on Pakistan, and as he put it, on the sanctuaries and training grounds for al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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