Clinton reassures Afghans they have long-term support

By Robert Burns and Matthew Lee
Associated Press / May 12, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton conceded yesterday that US relations with Afghanistan are strained, but assured President Hamid Karzai that the United States will stand behind his country long after the last American soldier is gone.

A day before Karzai meets President Obama at the White House, Clinton and other senior administration officials gathered at the State Department with their Afghan counterparts for talks on how to force the Taliban to end their insurgency.

The backdrop to the meetings is a rocky relationship between the Obama administration and Karzai, and yesterday’s talks were designed to present at least the appearance of a partnership on the mend.

The Obama administration in the past criticized Karzai for tolerating corruption and drug trafficking in his government, while Karzai has accused Washington of failing to give him the support he needs to govern.

In opening remarks, Clinton and Karzai stressed the positive but acknowledged that sharp differences have complicated efforts to stabilize Afghanistan more than eight years after the Taliban regime was toppled.

“The ability to disagree on issues of importance to our respective countries and peoples is not an obstacle to achieving our shared objectives,’’ Clinton said. “Rather, it reflects a level of trust that is essential to any meaningful dialogue and enduring strategic partnership.’’

Karzai, with Clinton sitting at his side, also said it was natural for Kabul and Washington to see the situation differently, even while working together toward the same goals.

“As two mature nations and two mature governments — by now the Afghan government is mature, too — we will be having disagreements from time to time,’’ Karzai said.

The Afghan leader later visited wounded US soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In remarks afterward at the State Department, he spoke of his gratitude for US sacrifices.

“To see those young American soldiers, some with very young babies and children, one who just lost both legs, the other who lost both arms and legs, it is a really painful experience, an extremely painful wound for me,’’ Karzai said. “I wish that we will have no more people losing their lives and limbs like that.’’

Karzai has a planned visit Friday to Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 101st Airborne Division, which is deploying to Afghanistan over the next several weeks.

Clinton’s pledge of a long-term US commitment to Afghanistan reflects the administration’s realization that many Afghans see the war as a conflict pursued by the United States for its own interests — to forestall another terrorist attack on the United States.