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Bush, Karzai Meet at Camp David

U.S. President George W. Bush and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, are holding talks at Camp David - the secluded U.S. presidential retreat in the mountains outside Washington. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports security matters are topping the agenda.

President Karzai makes clear more must be done to stabilize Afghanistan and help its people.

"The security situation in Afghanistan has definitely deteriorated over the last few years. There is no doubt about that," he said.

In an appearance on CNN's Late Edition program, taped prior to his departure for Washington, the Afghan leader spelled out his agenda for his talks with President Bush.

He said their two days of discussions at Camp David will cover fighting terror, combating the opium trade, strengthening the Afghan military and curbing civilian casualties.

Afghan officials have been complaining for some time that all too often Afghan men, women and children have been killed by coalition forces targeting terrorists and remnants of the ousted Taleban regime.

President Karzai indicated if nothing is done the coalition could lose the hearts and minds of the Afghan public.

"We have to do everything, everything that we can to reduce civilian casualties," he said. "They are allies in the war against terror and allies have to be protected."

The Afghan president was also asked about the hunt for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. He said the United States and its allies are no closer to finding bin Laden than they were a few years ago. He added he is sure bin Laden is no longer in Afghanistan, but refused to speculate on his precise whereabouts.

In the interview, President Karzai also appeared to go out of his way to downplay differences with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. In the past, the Afghan government has accused the Pakistanis of not doing enough to curb Taleban and terrorist infiltration along their common border. But this time, the Afghan leader stressed he will meet soon with President Musharraf to talk about the situation, adding everyone needs to do more to combat terrorism.

"I hope we can all speed up, increase and bring more effectiveness into the fight in this whole broader region, not in selected areas," he said. "If that happens, then we are on a good track."

Bush administration officials acknowledge there has been a resurgence of terrorist and Taleban activity across the Pakistani-Afghan border. And they say the meeting at Camp David will provide an opportunity for President Bush to reaffirm his support for the Karzai government.

Richard Boucher, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, told reporters Hamid Karzai is not just a partner in combating terror, but also a partner in efforts to stabilize a very strategic region for the United States.

"The session that we'll have with President Karzai and his team over the weekend is a strategy session," he explained. "It's a high-level discussion of strategy with and accomplishments and goals between two leaders of partner nations, nations that are strategically linked and that work very closely together."

Another issue that is sure to come up at Camp David is the fate of 21 South Korean hostages being held by the Taleban somewhere in Afghanistan. President Karzai has said he will do all he can to obtain their freedom, but told CNN he would not do anything that might ultimately result in more hostage-taking.