The US has rejected President Hamid Karzai’s anti-foreigner outburst as “troubling” and “preposterous,” prompting a hurried effort by the Afghan leader to make amends.
Officials said Karzai did not specifically apologize during a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday, but expressed “surprise” at the furor over his claim that foreigners orchestrated election fraud.
The row came just a few days after US President Barack Obama made a secret trip to Kabul to press Karzai on tackling corruption and to demand progress on good governance, as his troop surge strategy unfolds against the Taliban.
The new confrontation will only raise doubts about the fragile relationship between the Obama administration and Karzai, whom Washington is forced to consider a partner, despite distaste for his political record.
In the first public signs of several hours of intensified talks between Washington and Kabul, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs called Karzai’s comments “cause for real and genuine concern.”
“We are seeking clarification from President Karzai about the nature of some of his remarks,” Gibbs said, noting the huge US military and political resources — and sacrifices — committed to Afghanistan.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley meanwhile described Karzai’s intervention as “preposterous.”
US ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry also met with Karzai in person to seek the clarification that Washington demanded.
The Afghan leader then asked to speak to Clinton, a US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
“During the call, he expressed surprise that his comments had created what he called a stir,” the official said. “Generally we were happy with the call and we’re moving on.”
Crowley called the conversation a “constructive” one.
“President Karzai reaffirmed his commitment to the partnership between our two countries, and expressed his appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices of the international community,” he said, adding that Karzai and Clinton “pledged to continue working together in a spirit of partnership.”
The Afghan leader drew fierce global condemnation for his speech on Thursday blaming foreigners for massive fraud in elections that brought him back to power last year and accused other countries of interfering in his country’s domestic affairs.
He went so far as to claim that such moves risked the 126,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan being seen as “invaders” — terminology used by the Taliban — and their nine-year insurgency becoming viewed as “a national resistance.”
Afghan analysts suggested Karzai had lost control when he made his staggering remarks after being criticized by Obama and angered by the Afghan parliament, and noted the statements could signal a shift in foreign policy.
Karzai let his frustration boil over after Afghan lawmakers voted against his amendments to a law banning non-Afghans from the UN-backed watchdog that was integral to exposing last year’s fraud.
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