- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | President Hamid Karzai and President Obama’s special envoy said Sunday that Afghan officials will take part in a strategic U.S. review of the Afghanistan war, a hint of U.S.-Afghanistan cooperation in an otherwise awkward joint appearance.

Mr. Obama has said turning around the war in Afghanistan is one of his top priorities, but after almost four weeks in office he has yet to speak with the Afghan leader.

Instead, Mr. Karzai met with envoy Richard Holbrooke, and the two appeared together to announce the Afghan government’s participation in a U.S. review that will in large part determine how the war is fought. The decision, Mr. Holbrooke said, came at Mr. Karzai’s request in a letter to Mr. Obama.

Mr. Karzai acknowledged in an interview Friday that he has yet to speak with Mr. Obama, a clear signal from America’s leader of Mr. Karzai’s standing, given the fact the U.S. has 33,000 troops in the country and is contemplating sending up to 30,000 more.

That undercurrent hung over the first high-level U.S.-Afghanistan meeting since the inauguration and was perhaps one reason Mr. Karzai’s shoulders appeared heavy and his mood lifeless.

In an interview later Sunday with Afghanistan’s Tolo TV, Mr. Holbrooke was asked about the Karzai-Obama relationship. He said friends often disagree: “I don’t see the issue.”

“President Karzai is the democratically elected president of this country, and we respect that,” Mr. Holbrooke said. “And I deal with them, as I just did, without any friction, with honest discussions. There was no problem, no animosity, and President Karzai himself went out of his way to be gracious and supportive to our delegation.”

Earlier Sunday, only minutes before the joint appearance, there was a literal shuffling of chairs, podiums and personalities at Mr. Karzai’s presidential palace. Though the event was advertised as a news conference, Afghan officials decided at the last minute there would be no questions.

With Mr. Karzai seeking re-election later this year, the Obama administration must decide how much overt support to give him - or whether to seek another partner.

Mr. Obama said last Monday that Afghanistan’s government seems “very detached from what’s going on in the surrounding community,” a clear jab at Mr. Karzai. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently called Afghanistan a “narco-state.”

Mr. Karzai has shown increasing anger over civilian casualties, making public statements that have rubbed some U.S. officials the wrong way.

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