A senior State Department official said Thursday that the United States is concerned about reported links between one of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's vice presidential running mates and the country's illegal drug trade.  The New York Times newspaper reported on Thursday that Mohammad Qasim Fahim could face U.S. sanctions if the Karzai slate is elected.  
The Obama administration maintains that it is strictly neutral in the multi-candidate Afghan presidential race.

But a senior official here says the United States does have concerns about the reported drug connections of former Afghan Defense Minister Fahim - one of two of Mr. Karzai's running mates - and that it has raised those concerns with Kabul authorities.

The comments follow a New York Times report that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned President Karzai that running with Fahim would damage his standing with the United States and other countries.

The Times report said that if Fahim took office, the United States probably would treat him like other foreign officials suspected of corruption and impose sanctions against him, such as a U.S. travel ban.

The senior official, who spoke on terms he not be identified, said the United States has concerns about several Afghan political figures who are suspected of corruption and having links to the illegal drug trade, and that it has communicated its concerns about them.

Asked whether that included Fahim, the official replied in the affirmative and said that if Fahim becomes vice president then, in his words, "We will have to take that into account," while noting that his assumption of office is by no means guaranteed.

At a news briefing, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, P.J. Crowley was less specific, saying that the United States has long been having discussions with Afghan authorities about the need for the Kabul government to perform effectively and deal with the issue of corruption.

"We are working hard with the international community, with the sitting Afghan government, to create institutions that will meet the needs of the Afghan people, who want to see an Afghan government that progresses, that deals with the issue of corruption, that deals with the issue of narcotics, that is able to build a government that the people can have confidence in, that can build an economy that is legal and legitimate," said P.J. Crowley. "These are significant issues.  They are issues that we are going to continue to address with the new Afghan government.  But I don't want to prejudge who will be the leader of that government and who will be the various ministers."

Earlier this month, the State Department expressed "serious concerns"  about the return to Afghanistan of exiled warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic-Uzbek leader accused of involvement in Afghan war crimes.

Dostum, who returned from Turkey and endorsed the re-election of President Karzai, is alleged to be at least partly responsible for the massacre of some 2,000 Taliban prisoners after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

President Barack Obama recently asked his national security team to investigate Dostum's background.  His return to Afghanistan was widely seen as a bid by Mr. Karzai for ethnic-Uzbek voter support.