Afghan officials said the United States needs a swift, transparent investigation into the burning of Korans and the killing of civilians, in order to restore public confidence in the NATO-led security force there. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Wednesday with Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul.
Secretary Clinton said it has been a difficult period in U.S.-Afghan relations following the burning of Korans at a U.S. air base and the suspected killing of 16 civilians by U.S. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales near Kandahar.
“This has been very personally painful to me and to the president. It does not represent who the United States is, who the American people are, and we appreciate the understanding and response of the Afghan government and the Afghan people.”
Foreign Minister Rassoul said Afghans expect a credible inquiry into the violence as a way to improve relations between Kabul and Washington.
“We are awaiting the swift and transparent investigation of this case and the punishment of anyone involved," Rassoul said. "That will greatly reinforce the Afghan people's confidence in the existing strong friendship and partnership with the United States.”
Clinton and Rassoul discussed the state of ongoing negotiations on a strategic partnership agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, including the issue of night raids by U.S. troops.
The Afghan foreign minister said he is confident that an agreement can be concluded despite recent setbacks.
“The great shared sacrifices in blood and treasure that the American and Afghan people have given in Afghanistan in the past decade in the fight against terrorism and for the country's peace development and young democracy have created solid foundation for a close, long-term friendship and partnership between our two government and two nations," Rassoul added. "I have no doubt about that.”
The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Marine Corps General John Allen, told U.S. lawmakers this week that coalition forces remain on track to deny al-Qaida safe haven in the country.
General Allen says he will not recommend any further reductions of U.S. troops in Afghanistan until late this year. All American forces are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2014.