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US Assures Afghan Leader of Continued Support Despite Possible War With Iraq - 2003-02-28

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he has received assurances U.S. support for his country will not be interrupted or diverted by a possible war with Iraq. Mr. Karzai held talks with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

Mr. Karzai says his talks with the Defense Secretary and other top Bush administration officials were fruitful and reassuring.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, the Afghan leader said most reassuring was the U.S. promise that a war with Iraq will not diminish support for his country. "We have received assurances that the United States will continue to support Afghanistan, that the attention there will be focused and continuous and that Iraq will not reduce attention from Afghanistan or the amount of help given to Afghanistan," he said.

Mr. Karzai's comment comes as more U.S. forces are being sent to the Gulf region for a possible war with Iraq, including a sixth aircraft carrier battle group and B-2 stealth bombers. More than 200,000 American military personnel are already poised in the region to strike at Iraq when called upon to do so.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said Baghdad's time to meet international demands for its disarmament is quickly running out. "The purpose of flowing forces is to demonstrate the seriousness of purpose of the international community and I think that is exactly what is taking place," he said.

In an exchange with reporters, Mr. Rumsfeld was asked about Iraq's reported agreement in principle to destroy Al-Samoud missiles that violate United Nations limits on their range.

He dismisses the move as more treachery on the part of Baghdad. "This is exactly what's been going on for years," he said. "They refuse to cooperate, don't cooperate, drag it out, wait till someone finally nails them with one little piece of the whole puzzle and refuse to do anything about it and then finally when they see the pressure building, they say, 'well, maybe we'll do some of that.'"

The Defense Secretary and the Afghan President were joined at their news conference by U.S. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson. Mr. Thompson announced that with the Pentagon's help, a clinic will open next month in Kabul to promote maternal and child health. He said there are plans to build additional maternal and child health clinics around the country.