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Bush Calls for Closer Ties with Afghanistan

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, left, and President Bush, laugh as they take questions from reporters during a joint news conference
President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have agreed to seek stronger political, economic, and security ties.

They met at a time of tension between their two countries. But in their public comments both men appeared to go out of their way to be congenial and focus on the long term.

Before the meeting, President Karzai said he wanted more Afghan control over U.S. military operations in his country. He also said all Afghan detainees held by American forces should be turned over to his government, and he called for more effective international help in eradicating opium poppies.

During a session with reporters, President Bush said the approximately 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will remain under American command. But he added they will take Afghan concerns into account as they seek out remaining al-Qaida terrorists

"Our relationship is one of cooperate and consult," said Mr. Bush. Of course our troops will respond to U.S. commanders. But our U.S. commanders and our diplomatic mission there has a consulting relationship with the government."

Mr. Bush went on to say the United States would like to transfer detainees held at the U.S. naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Afghan custody over time. But he added proper facilities need to be available to hold them when they return to Afghanistan.

"Our policy is one where we want the people to be sent home. But too, we have got to make sure there are facilities there, facilities where they can be housed and fed and guarded," said Mr. Bush.

There have been reports recently of severe mistreatment of the detainees at Guantanamo. President Karzai left no doubt he is very concerned about the matter, but added if there is abuse, it is the work of a few individuals and not a reflection on the American people.

He made the same point when asked about a recent item in Newsweek Magazine that incited violence in Afghanistan. The story, later retracted by Newsweek, spoke of desecration of the Koran.

"Newsweek's story is not America's story. That is what we understand in Afghanistan," said Mr. Karzai.

Under questioning from reporters, the Afghan president also stressed his determination to work with the United States to eradicate the production of the poppies that provide the opium paste used to make heroin. He said in parts of Afghanistan there has been a significant decline in the past year.

"If this trend continues, we will have no poppies, hopefully, in Afghanistan in another five or six years," he said.

President Karzai called the drug trade a curse that has given Afghanistan a bad name. He said the key to eradicating poppy cultivation is to provide farmers with alternative crops, while going after those who distribute the raw opium.