Obama asks officials to treat Karzai with more respect: Report
Washington: Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Washington on Monday, seeking to show a united front with the United States during a pivotal time in the nine-year war.
Karzai will get the red-carpet treatment during his four-day visit, including a Rose Garden news conference with President Barack Obama on Wednesday when the two are expected to exchange smiles and warm handshakes.
In private, however, the message from Obama is expected to be firm -- that Washington wants to start pulling out US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 and Karzai must do a better job on governance issues and tackling corruption.
The White House concedes there have been ups and downs in the relationship, referring to recent testy exchanges with Karzai following anti-Western comments he made, including putting much of the blame for corruption on foreign donors.
But experts said it was important to show recent tensions were behind them as both sides need each other and US public opinion flags ahead of November congressional elections.
"I am confident both presidents have it within them to take that deep breath and to use this visit to move forward as partners," said former US Ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq Ryan Crocker.
A new Washington Post and ABC News poll on Sunday showed a little more than half of Americans did not think it was a war worth fighting, with 52 percent critical of the war effort.
In an editorial in The Washington Post on Sunday, Karzai also said there had been "our share of disagreements" but sought to set a positive tone for his visit.
"What has kept us together is an overriding strategic vision of an Afghanistan whose peace and stability can guarantee the safety of the Afghan and the American peoples," Karzai wrote.
Karzai, who arrived at Andrews Air Force base early on Monday and was greeting by special representative Richard Holbrooke, also said good governance and rooting out corruption were among his top priorities, promising to "do more" -- a demand lawmakers will press when he visits Capitol Hill.
His first official function will be a dinner hosted by Secretary of State Clinton at Blair House on Monday, followed by a day of meetings at the State Department on Tuesday.
Karzai is expected to push for more help training security forces, raise the issue of civilian casualties as well as a growing worry among many Afghans that US commitment to the country will wane quickly once it starts withdrawing troops.
Nearly all of Karzai`s Cabinet is in Washington for the four days of meetings -- emulating the strategic dialogue held in March with Pakistan that was aimed at showing deeper, long-term ties between the two countries.
Karzai`s visit comes at an important juncture in the war, with 30,000 additional US troops expected there by the end of August and an upcoming military offensive to take full control of Kandahar, the spiritual hub of the Taliban in the South.
More immediately, there will be a so-called grand council of Afghans, or peace "jirga," planned in Kabul starting May 29 to discuss how to make peace with the insurgents and Obama is looking for more details on how that will pan out.
The United States has made clear that only those senior Taliban leaders who renounce violence and ties to al Qaeda should be brought in and would prefer for there to be more gains on the battlefield before then.
A draft peace proposal by the Afghan government indicates Taliban leaders may be offered exile overseas in third countries in an effort to persuade insurgents to end the war.
Another focus will be on planning for an international conference on Afghanistan due in Kabul in late July as well as September parliamentary elections.
In addition, Karzai will be looking for greater action against sanctuaries for insurgents in neighboring Pakistan.
Washington has been putting more pressure on Islamabad to tackle sanctuaries both for the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban, the group suspected of being behind a foiled attack on Times Square this month.
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