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US, Afghanistan Reaffirm Partnership After Discord


Senior U.S. and Afghan officials have reaffirmed partnership ties in a Washington dialogue aimed at repairing a strained relationship. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday.

President Karzai was given a lavish welcome at the State Department in an effort by the Obama administration to rebuild a relationship strained by several months of acrimonious exchanges between the two governments.

The United States had been critical of alleged high-level corruption in the Afghan government and fraud charges that marred Mr. Karzai's re-election last year.

The Afghan side, meanwhile, has complained of civilian casualties in U.S.-led military operations against the Taliban. And there has been concern in Kabul that the goal of beginning a U.S. troop withdrawal by July of next year might mean the abandonment of the Karzai government.

But at a welcoming event and gala reception marking the end of Tuesday's talks at the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan is enduring and will continue long after combat operations end.

In closing remarks at the dialogue that made no mention of the recent discord, Clinton said real strides and wartime sacrifices by the Karzai government have not gone unnoticed.

"I believe strongly that the story of what has happened in Afghanistan in the last several years is such a positive one," said Secretary Clinton. "The people of Afghanistan have endured conditions that over decades seemed almost insurmountable. And we know that there must be a concerted commitment that we are willing to undertake - patience, persistence, partnership."

President Karzai, mindful of U.S. public opinion polls indicating sagging American support for the Afghan war, stressed his country's gratitude for U.S. military and financial support.

That was underlined by a midday visit by the Afghan leader, along with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center to see American soldiers who have been wounded in Afghan combat.

Mr. Karzai said the experience left him at a loss for words.

"I did not know at the moment how to describe my feelings in the appropriate words of gratitude, of recognition and of appreciation, and, indeed, of what it takes to succeed against an enemy that is not only the enemy of soldiers, but of our children, our teachers and society as a whole," said President Karzai.

Mr. Karzai said the Afghanistan - U.S. relationship is at times "difficult and quarrelsome," but also steady and strong.

Clinton said the two countries are working on plans to finalize a "strategic partnership declaration" later this year that will put U.S. relations with Afghanistan on the same footing with other key allies.

At the White House on Wednesday, President Karzai and President Obama are expected to discuss, among other things, Afghanistan's plans for a national peace assembly, or loya jirga, later this month.

It is aimed at reintegrating lower-level Taliban soldiers and officers into national security forces. Secretary Clinton says participants need to renounce violence and abide by the Afghan constitution, including support for women's rights.

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