His Excellency Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, arrived Monday in Washington for a week-long series of official meetings with American officials, his first such visit since President Obama was inaugurated in January of 2009. President Karzai is accompanied by a delegation including fifteen Cabinet Ministers and other high-ranking officials, who will meet with their counterparts throughout the week.
In a press conference on Monday (see full text here), General Karl Eikenberry, American Ambassador to Kabul, and General Stanley McChrystal, head of the international military effort in Afghanistan, both forecasted the tone of the week by expressing both commitment and optimism for the future. That same optimism and friendly spirit has been felt throughout the visit thus far, as both President Karzai and his American hosts have stated a clear commitment to a strong and enduring friendship and partnership between Afghanistan and the American people, in both coming years and afterwards.
Tuesday – Reviewing and Renewing the Strategic Partnership at the State Department
The official program began on Tuesday with a full day of meetings at the State Department to discuss the future and dimensions of the American-Afghan strategic partnership. In the morning, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton officially welcomed President Karzai at a press conference, where she forcefully reiterated the United States’ vision of a long-term strategic partnership and recalled the substantial progress that has been achieved in the past nine years, despite the challenges and obstacles that remain. “We know that the security of the United States and Afghanistan is shared,” she said, “But more than that, we know that our futures are shared.” President Karzai responded by thanking the United States for its efforts, and for the sacrifices of its sons and daughters, and emphasizing the ongoing importance of efforts to avoid civilian casualties. President Karzai and Secretary Clinton also foreshadowed the weeks’ discussions by outlining the priorities they see going forward, President Karzai promising to share his “vision for the future,” including development and reconstruction, security, and institution-building, “so Afghanistan can, in a few years time, not be anymore a burden on your shoulders, so Afghanistan can stand on its own feet, so Afghanistan can defend its country, so Afghanistan can feed its people with its own income, so we can pay for what – for our life from our own pockets.” (see full remarks and video here)
The Afghan and American delegations then broke up into smaller groups and spent the day in detailed discussions with their counterparts, in groups and one-on-one. President Karzai also made a visit to Walter Reed Memorial Hospital, where he met with American soldiers wounded in Afghanistan and thanked them for their dedication and sacrifice on behalf of the Afghan people.
The day ended with a welcome reception in honor of President Karzai and the Afghan delegation, hosted by Secretary Clinton at the Benjamin Franklin Room in the State Department. President Karzai referred to the emotion of seeing the young American veterans at Walter Reed Memorial Hospital earlier in the day, and the awareness of the magnitude of what would be needed to “succeed against an enemy that is not only the enemy of soldiers, but of our children, of our teachers, of the society as a whole.” Both President Karzai and Secretary Clinton reflected on the day’s meetings, and stressed the ongoing commitment of the two countries to the security and stability of Afghanistan. Secretary Clinton stressed, in particular, that “the United States will be there as a partner and a friend long after the combat troops have left.” “Afghanistan…will not forget a friend,” President Karzai replied. (see full remarks and video here).
Wednesday – President Obama and President Karzai Reaffirm A Close and Friendly Partnership with Shared Priorities
Wednesday began with a morning meeting between President Karzai and President Obama in the Oval Office, which was followed by a press conference in which both Presidents emphasized the continuing partnership and friendship between the two countries and the two peoples. President Karzai emphasized that despite continued shortcomings, Afghanistan now has a voice in the world, and that this is in large part thanks to the efforts of the United States and other partners and friends, and that with their help Afghanistan will succeed. He assured President Obama that Afghanistan would take the right steps towards giving the Afghan people a better government and situation, and reiterated the commitment of his government to a transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces before the end of his term. President Obama, for his part, reiterated that the United States and Afghanistan “share a broad strategy,” and mentioned that he hoped to have this strategy memorialized in a joint declaration before the end of the year.
The two Presidents then responded to questions from both American and Afghan media, regarding the recent perceived tensions, on civilian casualties, on the reconciliation and reintegration process, and on the June 2011 timeline for beginning to draw down the American military presence. Both President Obama and President Karzai reiterated yesterday’s position that, while tensions had been overstated, there would be natural differences of opinion and natural high and low points in the ongoing partnership between Afghanistan and the United States which, and President Karzai pointed out, is now entering its tenth year with no sign of weakening. Both Presidents described the natural differences and tensions as the sign of a friendly, open partnership where both parties could be honest and frank with one another. President Obama also made personal and emotional remarks about civilian casualties, expressing his feeling that he, as President, and General McChrystal, among others, were each responsible for every civilian that died, and that the need to reduce civilian casualties was therefore not a mere political convenience. (see full transcript here and video here)
President Karzai and President Obama met further in the afternoon, and concluded their meetings by issuing a Joint Statement reaffirming their “shared commitment to the solid broad, and enduring strategic partnership between the governments and peoples of the United States and Afghanistan…based on shared interests and objectives, as well as mutual respect.” The two Presidents laid out their thoughts on a variety of issues of mutual concern, including governance, capacity, institution-building, security, regional cooperation, development, the peace process, and upcoming events including the Peace Jirga, the Kabul Conference and the Parliamentary Elections. In particular, President Karzai reiterate his gratitude towards President Obama and the United States for their generous support in these areas. President Karzai praised the improvements in military strategy brought by General Stanley McChrystal that have resulted in fewer casualties, and both Presidents committed themselves to further reducing civilian casualties. Additionaly, the two Presidents mentioned a decision to begin transfer of detainees to Afghan authority in January 2011. The two Presidents also endorsed NATO’s recent decision to work with Afghan authorities to create a strategy that will allow transition of security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces in a responsible manner, while continuing the long-term project to train, equip and resource the Afghan forces, and reiterated their mutual commitment to a strong, friendly partnership that would last far beyond the military presence in the country (full text here).
The afternoon’s program also included meetings between the members of the Afghan delegation and their American counterparts. President Karzai also met with Congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Representative John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The day was concluded with a dinner, hosted by Vice President Joseph Biden at the Naval Observatory, in honor of the visiting delegation.
President Karzai and his delegation will spend Thursday in meetings with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and top military officials, along with Senate and House leaders, before returning to Kabul on Friday.
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