- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

President Bush yesterday urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai to eliminate his country’s heroin trade, while Mr. Karzai said he was “sad” that U.S. troops had abused Afghan prisoners.

Despite these points of friction, the two leaders signed an agreement to increase cooperation on security, political and economic issues. The agreement, among other things, called for ending production of poppies in Afghanistan, the world’s leading producer of the raw material that is refined into heroin for the streets of the United States.

“There’s too much poppy cultivation in Afghanistan,” Mr. Bush said during an East Room press conference with Mr. Karzai. “I made it very clear to the president that we have got to work together to eradicate the poppy crop.”

Mr. Bush also impressed upon Mr. Karzai the importance of “bringing people to justice who are running drugs.”

Mr. Karzai made clear that he accepted the responsibility.

“Yes, Mr. President, indeed, Afghanistan is suffering from the cultivation of poppies, which is undermining our economy,” he said. “It’s giving us a bad name, worst of all.”

But he hastened to add that poppy production is on the decline.

“We are hoping that Afghanistan this year will have something between 20 to 30 percent reduction in poppies all over the country,” he said. “If this trend continues, we’ll have no poppies, hopefully, in Afghanistan in another five or six years.”

Mr. Karzai also spoke about U.S. troops abusing prisoners in Bagram, Afghanistan, where two detainees died in 2002.

“We are, of course, sad about that,” he said. “But let me make sure that you all know that that does not reflect on the American people.”

Mr. Karzai also met yesterday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, members of Congress and new World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz.

Before the White House meeting, Mr. Karzai said he would press the U.S. military to relinquish control of Afghan prisoners at Bagram. He failed in that effort yesterday, but he emphasized that Afghanistan is still heavily dependent on the U.S.

“Afghanistan will continue to need a lot of support,” he said.

Mr. Bush agreed.

“Part of the issue is to make sure there is a place where the prisoners can be held,” he said. “We want the people to be sent home, but we’ve got to make sure the facilities are there.”

Mr. Karzai also criticized Newsweek for publishing a story saying that U.S. interrogators of detainees flushed a Koran down a toilet in a prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Newsweek and the White House said the article contributed to riots in Afghanistan that killed 16 persons.

“We are, as Muslims, very much unhappy with Newsweek bringing a matter so serious in the gossip column,” he said. “It’s really something that one shouldn’t do, that responsible journalism shouldn’t do at all.”

But Mr. Karzai downplayed the effect of the story.

“Those demonstrations were, in reality, not related to the Newsweek story,” he said. “They were more against the elections in Afghanistan.”

The statement was cited by U.S. reporters who thought the administration has been too tough on Newsweek. But White House spokesman Scott McClellan refused to back down.

“The discredited report was damaging. It was used to incite violence,” he said. “There are some that want to continue to defend what is a discredited report that has been disavowed by Newsweek, and that’s their business.”

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