Karzai, Obama Talk for First Time Since Inauguration

February 18, 2009 - 10:15 AM
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Kabul (AP) - Presidents Hamid Karzai and Barack Obama spoke on the phone for the first time exactly four weeks after Obama's inauguration, Karzai's office said Wednesday.
 
The two presidents spoke about security issues and Afghanistan's presidential elections in August, Karzai's office said. Obama called the Afghan leader Tuesday, the same day Obama announced he was deploying an additional 17,000 U.S. forces to Afghanistan to bolster the 33,000 already in the country.
 
Karzai admitted last week that close to a month after Obama's inauguration he still had not spoken with the U.S. leader. Karzai spoke with former President George W. Bush regularly, fueling speculation that Obama was sending a clear signal that Karzai's standing with him was much lower.
 
The Afghan president also said there was tension in the U.S.-Afghan relationship, mostly over civilian casualties.
 
But last weekend Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, met with Karzai for talks in Kabul, and Karzai spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said those discussions were a big step toward a strengthening of relations.
 
Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan under Bush, told The Associated Press this week that he thought the Obama administration was thinking through its policy approach to Afghanistan before opening dialogue with Karzai.
 
"Not wanting to get pinned down prematurely by difficult questions would be consistent with such an approach, as would the early comment that I saw somewhere that Holbrooke was going 'to listen' and would come back to report," Neumann said.
 
"Many had the sense that Bush engaged too often and pre-empted a more structured policy debate," Bush's former ambassador said. "Holding off on a presidential call may be no more than a sensible decision to wait until the president really knows what he wants to say on crucial issues."
 
Obama's decision to send 17,000 more troops answers commanders' requests for more forces to battle an increasingly violent Taliban insurgency. Militants attacks have spiked the last three years and insurgents now control wide swaths of countryside.