- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A senior Republican lawmaker yesterday accused the Bush administration of having primed Afghan President Hamid Karzai to present a rosy picture of the progress his country has made since U.S.-led forces threw out the Taliban in 2001.
"My guess is he has been told by U.S. government officials he needs to put a very positive face on what's going on," said Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to reporters after Mr. Karzai testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
At first, lawmakers effusively greeted Mr. Karzai, who swept into the room wearing his traditional long-sleeve, green-and-white striped cape.
Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, welcomed him as someone who "personifies the optimism, the rich cultural heritage and the heroic determination of the Afghan people."
But as Mr. Karzai, seated alone at a table facing the senators with members of his government and staff seated in rows behind him, consistently responded to lawmakers' questions with glowing reports, U.S. lawmakers grew concerned.
"You know, there aren't many more chances here," Mr. Hagel told the Afghan leader, advising Mr. Karzai to be more forceful in his upcoming meeting with President Bush.
"If you leave the impression all is going well, your credibility will be in question," Mr. Hagel warned, a recommendation echoed by Democratic Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut.
When Mr. Karzai insisted his country was bustling economically and was not considering the expansion of the 21-nation International Security Assistance Force, which patrols Kabul, lawmakers held back.
"I think he was coached on that a little bit," Mr. Hagel said to reporters afterward. "I do know there was some advising there."
As Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, noted during the 90-minute hearing, Mr. Karzai seemed aware that he was not only "a symbol of hope for your community, you are a symbol of hope for our country, especially after 9/11."
And with the war looming in Iraq, Afghan and U.S. commitment to the country is particularly relevant.
"Frankly, failure is not an option for many of us on this committee," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat.
Not only that, Mr. Hagel said given the negative state of the U.S. economy, Mr. Karzai had to be careful not to come across to the U.S. public as someone ungrateful for the financial aid the country gave Afghanistan.
Since October 2001, Washington has granted Kabul some $600 million in aid, and in December, Mr. Bush signed the Afghan Freedom Support Act, authorizing another $3.3 billion over the next four years.
"He's in a delicate spot," said Mr. Hagel, adding nevertheless that Mr. Karzai "needs to be clear as to what his needs are."


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