- Associated Press - Monday, March 25, 2013

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a show of unity Monday, shortly after the U.S. military ceded control of its last detention facility in Afghanistan, ending a longstanding irritant in relations between the two countries.

Mr. Kerry, in Afghanistan for an unannounced visit, said he and Mr. Karzai were “on the same page” when it comes to peace talks with the Taliban.


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Mr. Karzai has infuriated U.S. officials by accusing Washington of colluding with Taliban insurgents to keep Afghanistan weak even as the Obama administration pressed ahead with plans to hand off security responsibility to Afghan forces and end NATO’s combat mission by the end of next year.

But Mr. Kerry told a joint news conference, “I am confident (Mr. Karzai) does not believe the U.S. has any interest except to see the Taliban come to the table to make peace.”


“So we’re on the same page. I don’t think there is any disagreement between us, and I am comfortable with his explanation,” Mr. Kerry said.

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry (center) shakes hands with a member of the U.S. Air Force's 816 Expeditionary Airlift Squadron aboard a C-17 aircraft en route to Baghdad from Amman, Jordan, on Sunday, March 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Jason Reed, Pool)
U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry (center) shakes hands with a ... more >

For his part, Mr. Karzai said that “today was a very good day,” citing the turnover of the detention facility at the U.S.-run Bagram military base north of Kabul.

The two spoke at a joint news conference during which Mr. Kerry also praised what he said was Afghanistan’s commitment to “safe, secure” and transparent elections, scheduled for April 2014.

During Mr. Kerry’s 24-hour visit to the country — his sixth since President Obama became president but his first as secretary of state — Mr. Kerry also planned to meet with civic leaders and others to discuss continued U.S. assistance to the country and how to wean it from such aid as the international military operation winds down, as well as upcoming national elections.

Mr. Karzai has infuriated U.S. officials by accusing Washington of colluding with Taliban insurgents to keep Afghanistan weak even as the Obama administration presses ahead with plans to hand off security responsibility to Afghan forces and end NATO’s combat mission by the end of next year.

Earlier, U.S. officials accompanying Mr. Kerry said he did not plan to lecture Mr. Karzai or dwell on the apparent animosity but would make clear once again that the U.S. did not take such allegations lightly. They said he would press Mr. Karzai on the need for the April 2014 elections to meet international standards and continue to stress the importance of Afghan reconciliation and U.S. support for a Taliban office in Qatar where talks could occur.

Mr. Karzai is expected to travel to Qatar within the week, and some movement on the opening of an office is likely then.

Mr. Kerry, who arrived in Kabul from Amman, Jordan, had hoped also to travel to Pakistan on his trip to the region but put it off because of elections there. Instead, he met late Sunday in Amman with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani army chief, officials said.

The pair had a private dinner at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Jordan as Pakistan continued to seethe in the aftermath of the return from exile to the country of former President Pervez Musharraf, himself a former army chief.

Earlier Monday, the U.S. military ceded control of the Parwan detention facility near the U.S.-run Bagram military base north of Kabul, a year after the two sides initially agreed on the transfer. Mr. Karzai demanded control of Parwan as a matter of national sovereignty.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., handed over Parwan at a ceremony there after signing an agreement with Afghan Defense Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi.

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