Relationship Between Karzai, U.S. Deteriorates Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Obama administration have had a tense relationship from the start. But it seems to be worsening, as Karzai lashes out against U.S. pressure on him, and the U.S. urges caution if he still wants to meet with President Obama in May.

Relationship Between Karzai, U.S. Deteriorates

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Obama administration have had a tense relationship from the start. But it seems to be getting much worse lately. Karzai has repeatedly lashed out at the U.S. over pressure to reform. And now the U.S. is warning Karzai to watch his words, if he still wants to come to Washington next month to meet with President Obama.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Just back from a trip to Afghanistan, Senator Ted Kaufman, a Delaware Democrat, said he found Karzai to be under a lot of stress. It's not just the pressure from the U.S. to crack down on corruption. Kaufman says Karzai is also trying balance all kinds of domestic pressures, and that could explain some of his recent behavior.

Senator TED KAUFMAN (Democrat, Delaware): And he can be very charming and he, you know, he can go for periods of time and be fine. But it's hard to maintain control or the illusion of control when there are so many things going on around Afghanistan, a country that has never really had a strong central government. And some of the things are really going to be bad for him.

KELEMEN: Take the U.S. military preparations to move into Kandahar.

Sen. KAUFMAN: He's got a lot friends down in Kandahar who have a very checkered past, and I think this is all going to be coming home to roost. As I said, it's a very complex matrix of all these different things. But one thing is, change is coming. And that's the one requirement: We have to have change.

KELEMEN: Because, Senator Kaufman says, so much of America's strategy in Afghanistan depends on having an effective government in place.

Sen. KAUFMAN: What we have to do is demonstrate to the people of Afghanistan not - it's not a choice between us and the Taliban. It's a choice between the Taliban and the government in Kabul.

KELEMEN: Karzai has been blaming the West for many of its troubles, and his comments have drawn sharp rebukes from the Obama administration and from other countries involved in the war. Canada's ambassador here, Gary Doer, says Karzai needs to be held to account for his rhetoric.

Ambassador GARY DOER (Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan): It's obviously extremely inflammatory when you consider the loss of life in Afghanistan and the investments that we're making - not only on the military side, but the investments we're making on the civil society side.

KELEMEN: While the Afghan leader was trading tough words with his international partners, one expert, Brian Katulis, found himself picking up a copy of a leaked memo that the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, wrote last year, soon after Karzai was re-elected.

Mr. BRIAN KATULIS (Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress): And he said pretty clearly: President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner. So we can't say we weren't warned. People were deeply concerned about this. And I think what we've seen is, I think, a very public airing of what has been a longstanding tug-of-war between Karzai, on the one hand, and the United States.

KELEMEN: Katulis is with the Center for American Progress, says while the Bush administration embraced Karzai, the Obama administration seems to be trying some tough love with a very complicated man.

Mr. KATULIS: We're trying to manage a relationship with a partner whose government structure is inherently unstable itself. So whether he's stable or not is only the tip of the iceberg.

KELEMEN: This week, State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley tried to cool tempers. He said the U.S. is concerned about some of the things Karzai has been saying, but the Obama administration also realizes there's much at stake.

Mr. P. J. Crowley (Spokesman, State Department): He is the president of Afghanistan. He is a figure that we respect and that we working closely with to see the emergence of an effective government at the national level. And we will continue to work with others in Afghanistan on effective government at the provincial and local level.

KELEMEN: And that raises one option for the U.S.: Working around Karzai, though Senator Kaufman of Delaware says U.S. officials do make a point of constantly consulting the Afghan leader.

Sen. KAUFMAN: He feels like we're working around him. I think we're just working with the provincial governors and with the district councils and the district governors. We're just working with everybody over there.

KELEMEN: A senior European diplomat here says the West has to continue to pressure Karzai to keep his promises for better governance, but the international community also accepted the results of last year's election after Karzai campaigned on a nationalist platform. So despite all the concerns about him, diplomats say it's time to cool things down.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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