- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

UPDATED:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here on an unannounced visit Wednesday to attend President Hamid Karzai’s Thursday inauguration and to convey directly to him the Obama administration’s serious concerns about his rule.

“This is a specific opportunity for everyone to take stock of where we are and to determine how we are going forward together,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters flying with her to Kabul from Beijing, where she accompanied President Obama on his trip to Asia.

“I will be both talking and listening a lot to President Karzai and others to make sure that they understand our concerns and we understand their concerns,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton has been to Afghanistan before while a U.S. senator from New York but is on her first trip here as chief diplomat. She “will meet with Afghanistan’s leadership, international partners and allies, U.S. troops, staff in Provincial Reconstruction Teams and embassy staff,” said State Department spokesman Ian C. Kelly.

Shortly after her arrival, Mrs. Clinton met with the two generals who have given Mr. Obama different advice regarding sending more troops to the war-torn country Gen. Stanley McCrystal, the commanding U.S. general here, and Karl Eikenberry, a former commander and currently U.S. ambassador to Kabul.

Gen. McCrystal is pushing for 40,000 additional troops to be deployed, while Mr. Eikenberry argued in cables to Mr. Obama that more forces will only prop up a corrupt and weak government.

Later, Mrs. Clinton had dinner and a frank conversation with Mr. Karzai about the Obama administration’s expectation about his new term in office. The administration has repeatedly expressed concerns about the Afghan election in August, which international observers said was marred by massive fraud in favor of Mr. Karzai.

A runoff was scheduled for earlier this month, but Mr. Karzai’s main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out and Mr. Karzai was automatically declared winner.

Mrs. Clinton said “one of the principal requests we make” will be the establishment of “a anti-corruption governmental entity” to fight widespread corruption in all parts of Afghan society. “They have done some work on that, but in our view not nearly enough,” she said.

At the same time, the secretary said that Mr. Karzai “has demonstrated a vision and commitment,” and “there is no doubt of his passion and patriotism about what he would like to see happen in Afghanistan.”

“If you are looking at social indicators, well-being of people, opportunities for women it’s not all a one-sided negative story,” she said. “If we don’t recognize the progress that they believe has occurred, then we lose credibility in their eyes.”

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