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Obama, Karzai Seek To Improve US-Afghan Ties

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U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai at the White House Wednesday. Both leaders are hoping to improve relations between their countries, after a period of tension.    

While the Obama administration is expected to urge Mr. Karzai to do more to fight corruption in his government, both leaders seem eager to use the Afghan leader's four-day visit to put their relations back on track.

After President Obama visited Afghanistan in March, Mr. Karzai criticized some U.S. and Western policies in his country.

Since arriving in Washington Monday, Mr. Karzai has met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and will meet with top U.S. lawmakers, to continue efforts to improve the atmosphere.

Mr. Obama will spend almost a full day with the Afghan president on Wednesday, including a lunch and a joint news conference.

However, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says the meetings are aimed at accomplishing specific goals in Afghanistan, not on personal relationships. "We have a job to do with a partner in the government and the country of Afghanistan.  That is what the president's focus is.  That is what the team's focus is.  We are not going to get bogged down in atmospherics or personalities," he said.

While in Washington, President Karzai wants more information on Mr. Obama's plans to begin the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by mid-2011.  He is also expected to convey his concerns about civilian casualties from the U.S. and NATO military mission in his country.

Some of Wednesday's discussions will address the development of Afghanistan's army and police, and joint operations to secure the southern city of Kandahar.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal, said this week cooperation in Kandahar is vital. "This effort is being led by the Afghans and will focus on the complex political and governance aspects of Kandahar.  These dimensions are at the heart of the problem, and their solution will ultimately be decisive," he said.

The Obama administration is still concerned about government corruption in Afghanistan.  But instead of criticizing the Karzai government, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says the U.S. will help Afghan leaders fight corruption. "We are going to laud them for the steps that they take, and we are going to work with them to do it as necessary to deal with the problems of governance, accountability and corruption," he said.

Gibbs says Mr. Karzai's government is making progress in fighting corruption and improving governance. "There are high-level corruption trials that are going on right now.  The High Office of Oversight now operates with a mission to increase its accountability.  And we are watching, as we will always, the implementation of that," he said.

The U.S.-Afghan relationship grew contentious when U.S. officials searched for a candidate to challenge President Karzai in elections last August.  Mr. Karzai won another five-year term amid allegations of fraud and criticism from Washington.

As the two sides work to improve relations, Robert Gibbs now refers to the U.S. relationship with the Karzai government as a partnership.

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