Karzai attempts to repair relations with US

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, called Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, on Friday to try to repair his relationship with Washington after delivering a speech harshly critical of the west.

Mr Karzai launched a stinging attack on his allies on Thursday just four days after Barack Obama, the US president, made a trip to Afghanistan to urge him to do more to tackle corruption that is fuelling the insurgency.

The timing of the remarks underscored the difficulty that the US and its allies face in exerting influence over Mr Karzai in spite of the more than 100,000 troops and billions of dollars they have committed to protect his government against the Taliban.

Philip J. Crowley, a spokesman for the US state department, said Mr Karzai had made a 25-minute call to Mrs Clinton to clarify his remarks.

“President Karzai reaffirmed his commitment to the partnership between our two countries, and expressed his appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices of the international community,” Mr Crowley said.

Waheed Omer, Mr Karzai’s spokesman, said that parts of the speech had been misunderstood and that the president had expressed Afghanistan’s gratitude for the support of the international community.

“Obviously there is a difference of opinion on certain issues between Afghanistan and its international partners, but the president wanted the international community to pay attention to the concerns of the Afghan people and the Afghan government,” Mr Omer told Reuters.

Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, had said earlier on Friday that Mr Karzai’s remarks were troubling and that the Obama administration was seeking clarification.

Mr Karzai has repeatedly sought to blame Afghanistan’s problems on foreigners, in part to boost his domestic appeal while asserting his independence from western backers.

He has often criticised Nato forces for causing civilian casualties, but his allegations that western countries and the United Nations were involved in electoral fraud and were seeking to undermine his government revealed a new level of vitriol.

The fresh strains in Mr Karzai’s relationship with his allies will renew doubts over his ability to serve as an adequate partner for fighting the insurgents ahead of a Nato offensive planned for Kandahar province this summer that will serve as a critical test of the US strategy for reversing the Taliban’s gains.

Mr Karzai’s speech to lawmakers in Kabul followed their rejection of his effort to seize control of a UN-backed election watchdog that uncovered ballot-stuffing at the August polls.

“No doubt, there was huge fraud. There was vast fraud. The fraud is not by the Afghans. This fraud has been done by the foreigners,” Mr Karzai said.

He blamed UN officials, the European Union and unnamed embassies in Kabul.

“Everybody is in a state of shock over Karzai’s remarks,” said Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “He’s reinforced everything that the Taliban’s been saying. He’s given credibility to the idea that we’re there as occupiers.”

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