April 7th, 2010
05:55 PM ET

U.S., Afghanistan deny Obama-Karzai rift

WASHINGTON — The Afghan and U.S. governments played down their political differences Wednesday, rejecting reports of a major dispute between the Obama administration and President Hamid Karzai.

Supportive statements by the U.S. State Department and Karzai's spokesman followed a week of increasing tension between the governments. On Tuesday, the White House indicated it could call off a scheduled May 12 visit by Karzai to Washington.

The tone was different Wednesday, with State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley calling Karzai an ally in a shared struggle.

"We're committed to this partnership," Crowley said, adding: "We share President Karzai's desire to lead Afghanistan to greater sovereignty, and we support the goals he has laid out from his inauguration speech until today."

Karzai was re-elected president last year in voting marred by irregularities that required a runoff. Since then, the Obama administration has publicly pressured Karzai to eliminate corruption in his government and improve
delivery of services to his people.

Last week, Karzai irritated U.S. officials when he blamed the election irregularities on foreigners who want a "puppet government" in Afghanistan.

He further aggravated Washington, his biggest backer, on Sunday when he told a gathering of tribal leaders that the U.S.-led alliance will not move against Taliban fighters in Kandahar "until you say we can."

At the same time, media reports have included harsh criticism of Karzai by a former U.N. diplomat, as well as claims that Karzai said he would consider joining the Taliban insurgency being fought by the U.S.-led NATO mission and Afghan forces.

On Wednesday, Karzai's spokesman described the report that Karzai threatened to join the Taliban as laughable.

"That was I think a funny thing in the media," said the spokesman, Waheed Omar, who added that the report shocked the Afghan government.

Omar said Karzai and the government were committed to fighting the Taliban and international terrorism. He also said that Afghanistan would continue to seek stronger ties with the United States and that the only differences between them involved last year's election.

In Washington, Crowley rejected what he called "outrageous allegations" against Karzai by the former U.N. diplomat, Peter Galbraith, who suggested that Karzai may have been using drugs. The United States had no concerns about Karzai's behavior, Crowley said.

"To the extent we have differences with President Karzai, we will work through them constructively in the spirit of the long-term partnership we have established with Afghanistan," he said.

He also downplayed the suggestion Tuesday by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs that the U.S. invitation for Karzai to visit Washington next month could be rescinded.

"The visit is still on, and there has been no change," Crowley said.

"Will we see eye-to-eye on every step? No, we don't," he said. "And where we have concerns, we will respectfully engage the government - not just the president, but others - and work through these in a spirit of respect and partnership."

Crowley also suggested that some of Karzai's comments may be aimed at politicians in Afghanistan, rather than in Washington.

"We have concerns about some of the things he has said, just as I think that probably President Karzai and others may take issue with some of the things that are said in this country," Crowley said.

"We do understand that there is a political process that has emerged in Afghanistan," he continued. "That's a good thing. And politicians in Afghanistan and around the world sometimes will feel a need to say things of
importance to their own populations and that may cause us some discomfort."

- CNN's Charley Keyes and Mati Matiullah contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Karzai • Obama • White House
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