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Afghan President Meets with Bush

Afghan President Hamid Karzai Thursday meets with President Bush at the White House, where he is expected to urge the administration not to abandon Afghanistan if there is a U.S. led war against Iraq.

President Karzai was blunt as he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a rare appearance by a foreign leader at a congressional hearing. "Don't forget us if [war against] Iraq happens," he said.

Mr. Karzai, who warned that Afghanistan could once again become a terrorist haven if the United States abandons the country, is to underscore the appeal during his White House meeting. He told lawmakers that President Bush promised him in a phone call last month that Afghanistan would not be forgotten if the United States engages in other parts of the world. The Afghan President says he expects Mr. Bush to repeat that pledge.

Nearly a year and a half after U.S. led military action against al-Qaida terrorist targets and the ruling Taleban in Afghanistan, renewed clashes between U.S. troops and remnants of al-Qaida have prompted new concerns about the security situation in the country.

But Mr. Karzai disputed news reports that depicted a dire picture of life in his country. He noted that small businesses are flourishing, women are entering the workforce, girls are again getting educated, and political structures are being established.

But a skeptical Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, pressed Mr. Karzai to be more candid. "If you leave an impression that everything is going well, and the problems, challenges are minimal but they are all manageable, and that may be pushing the boundaries a bit if that is the case, the next time you come back your credibility will be in question," said Senator Hagel.

Mr. Karzai acknowledged that more must be done to prevent terrorists from crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan. "The only area where we have to concentrate is preventing radical forces and al-Qaida and terrorist elements from grouping either on the Pakistani side of the border, or crossing into our border, or vice-versa."

Mr. Karzai says he will discuss the issue with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf next month.

The Afghan President avoided pressing for an expansion of the U.N.-mandated peacekeeping, which is limited to Kabul, to other parts of the country. He noted reluctance to the idea on the part of some member nations of the force.

Instead, he appealed for stepped up international efforts to retrain the Afghan army, which eventually is expected to take over the work of the peacekeepers.