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Karzai Says US War Strategy 'Better Than Expected'

The presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan welcomed the Obama administration's new plan for the conflict in the region on Saturday, with each highlighting key parts of the strategy for praise.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has come under strong international criticism in recent months for running a weak and corrupt central government. Some critics have included former U.S. officials, who accuse members of his family of profiting from the opium trade.

But the Afghan leader also has had harsh words for international forces operating in his country, condemning airstrikes and nighttime raids that kill civilians.

Despite those tensions, Mr. Karzai was full of praise on Saturday for the new U.S. strategy, saying it turned out better than he expected.

"I am in full agreement with the new strategy announced," he said. "It is exactly what the Afghan people were hoping for and were seeking, therefore it has our full support and backing."

The Afghan leader said the plan identifies crucial problems such as improving Afghan institutions and reconstruction efforts, targeting terrorist sanctuaries and including more countries in the region, such as Iran, in discussing the situation.

Mr. Karzai also identified government corruption as an area that needs attention, but he did not elaborate.

The Obama plan advocates boosting troop levels as well as increasing foreign aid and sending in hundreds of civilians to help improve government institutions. The plan also calls for reconciliation efforts that could include holding talks with Taliban factions willing to abandon the insurgency.

President Karzai said to create the right environment for reconciliation, the United Nations should remove some Afghans named on its terrorist blacklist. Those on the list are banned from international travel and may have their foreign bank accounts and assets frozen.

"The right environment means, first of all, looking at the list with the United Nations and removing names that are not part of al Qaida, that are not part of a terrorist network, that are just there because somebody decided to put them in," said the Afghan leader.

While most of the new resources and troops in President Obama's strategy are headed for Afghanistan, his announcement focused on problems in Pakistan, especially in the tribal border region. There, terrorist sanctuaries and alleged links between militant groups and state intelligence and military branches have drawn widespread concern about the government's ability to take on the threat.

President Obama said Friday that multiple intelligence estimates have warned al Qaida is actively planning attacks on American territory from safe-havens in Pakistan.

President Asif Zardari, addressing Pakistan's parliament, said the government is addressing the problem.

"The government will not allow the use of its soil for terrorist activities against any other country," he said. "We will also not allow anyone to violate our sovereignty. The sovereignty of Pakistan must be protected at all costs - it will be."

Unmanned American drone planes that strike suspected terrorist targets in Pakistan's tribal areas are routinely denounced as violations of Pakistan's sovereignty. The operations are highly unpopular among Pakistanis, but are believed to occur with the tacit consent of the government.

Nearly all of Mr. Zardari's speech before parliament addressed domestic concerns. He only spoke briefly about the new U.S. plans for the region but said President Obama's policies represent "positive change."

"I welcome President Obama's call to the congress to pass the bill for $1.5 billion aid to Pakistan every year," said Mr. Zardari. "The U.S. presidency now approaches and presents a positive change. It is an endorsement of our call for economic, social uplifts as a means of fighting extremism."

The new U.S. strategy calls for regular high level meetings among U.S., Afghan and Pakistani leaders. Special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, is scheduled to visit Pakistan next week for talks.