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Karzai Calls Clinton to Clarify Critical Remarks

The State Department says Afghan President Hamid Karzai called U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday in an effort to defuse a controversy over his remarks accusing Western governments of being behind election fraud in Afghanistan last year. A senior U.S. official called the gesture constructive.

State Department officials are giving few details of the 25-minute conversation initiated by Mr. Karzai.

But they indicate the gesture went a considerable way toward easing a public rift spawned by comments Mr. Karzai made earlier this week.

In a speech in Kabul Thursday, the Afghan leader alleged that the widespread fraud in the elections last year that returned him to power was the work not of Afghans, but foreigners including Western diplomats in Kabul who were trying to weaken his government.

The remarks triggered strong U.S. criticism with the White House saying it was troubled by the Karzai comments and the State Department calling them preposterous.

In a written statement late Friday, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said Mr. Karzai called Clinton to clarify his remarks, and that in the course of a constructive conversation, he reaffirmed the partnership between the two countries and expressed appreciation for the contribution and sacrifices of the U.S. and allies in Afghanistan.

Only hours before, Crowley had expressed strong indignation over Mr. Karzai's suggestion that the Western role in Afghanistan was unhelpful. "We are actively working to strengthen government institutions at all levels. This is not about us. It's ultimately about the relationship between the Afghan government and the Afghan people. But suggestions that somehow the international community was responsible for irregularities in the recent election is preposterous," he said.

A senior State Department official said that in the call, placed to Secretary Clinton at her home in New York, Mr. Karzai expressed surprise that his Thursday remarks had created such a stir, while suggesting they had been taken out of context in media reports.

The official said pointedly that the U.S. side was not blaming the media for the controversy, but none-the-less is looking beyond the affair and ready to focus on the work ahead.

The Obama administration has had a difficult relationship with Mr. Karzai in the aftermath of the disputed election, and over recurring reports of large-scale corruption in his government.

President Obama, who paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan last weekend, is understood to have urged Mr. Karzai to crack down on corruption and assure independent monitoring of parliamentary elections set for September.