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President Karzai Meets President Obama in Washington

President Hamid Karzai traveled to Washington, D.C. on May 4-8 for an official visit during which he and a senior delegation of ministers met with their U.S. and Pakistani counterparts as part of a trilateral summit to discuss U.S. policy towards the region. During his visit, President Karzai met with President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials, spoke to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, engaged with members of the U.S. Congress, and spoke at a think tank and to the media.

The trilateral summit was part of the continuing consultations on the new U.S. strategy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan that was announced by President Obama in late March 2009. Prior to the announcement of the strategy, a delegation of senior Afghan officials led by Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin D. Spanta traveled to Washington to offer input and insight on the then-evolving strategy. This round of trilateral discussions was meant to identify ways to implement the strategy by bringing together key government officials from different ministries and institutions, including those dealing with agriculture, interior affairs and finance.

Joining President Karzai in Washington were Foreign Minister Dr. Spanta, Minister of Defense General Abdul Rahim Wardak, Minister of Interior Mohammad Hanif Atmar, Minister of Finance Dr. Omar Zakhilwal, Minister of Commerce and Industries Wahidullah Shahrani, Minister of Agriculture Mohammad Asif Rahimi, National Security Advisor Dr. Zalmay Rassoul, Director of National Intelligence Amrullah Saleh and Ambassador Said T. Jawad.

President Karzai participated in a number of high-level meetings, including a bilateral discussion with President Obama on May 6 at the White House and a trilateral discussion with President Obama and President Zardari. After their meetings, President Karzai joined President Zardari in the Grand Foyer of the White House for remarks by President Obama. In his speech, President Obama outlined the importance of working together to fight terrorism in the region. "We meet today as three sovereign nations joined by a common goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their ability to operate in either country in the future," he said.

President Obama also praised the "unprecedented cooperation" between the three countries, called for continuing consultations on the new U.S. strategy, and outlined different initiatives to promote security and development in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also pledged his commitment to the region. "So we are here today in the midst of a great challenge.  But no matter what happens, we will not be deterred.  The aspirations of all our people - for security, for opportunity and for justice - are far more powerful than any enemy.  Those are the hopes that we hold in common for all of our children," he stated.

Earlier in the day, President Karzai and his delegation attended a number of meetings at the State Department, including a bilateral discussion with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a Trilateral Plenary Session in the ornate Benjamin Franklin Room attended by senior officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S. At that session, Secretary Clinton stressed the importance of specific measures to address security and development concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We'll be talking today about the concrete initiatives to expand economic opportunities and trade, to bolster the agricultural sector as an essential source of revenue and jobs in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, to help build up the industrial sector in Pakistan again so that it is creating more jobs and opportunities for people, and to improve our joint cooperation on security," she said. She was joined by a number of senior U.S. officials, including FBI Director Robert Mueller, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Special Envoy Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, Acting USAID Administrator Alonzo Fulgham, Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy and CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus.

Secretary Clinton also took the opportunity to express her regrets for incidents of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. "I wish to express my personal regret and certainly the sympathy of our Administration on the loss of civilian life in Afghanistan. We deeply regret it," she said.

That night, President Karzai, President Zardari and their respective delegations joined Vice President Joe Biden at his residence for a trilateral dinner.

President Karzai and his delegation also met with senior members of Congress and a number of congressional committees to discuss U.S. policy towards Afghanistan. On May 5, President Karzai met with Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Oh.) and other members of the House leadership. He also met with the Senate Armed Services Committee and members of the Senate leadership, including Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

On May 7 President Karzai and the delegation joined Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) for a luncheon with President Zardari and his delegation and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. During the lunch various senators posed questions to President Karzai and President Zardari about how to overcome security and development challenges in the two countries.

President Karzai also met privately with Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), chairwoman of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

In public engagements, President Karzai spoke at the Brookings Institute on May 5 in an event titled "Governance, Growth and Development in Afghanistan." In his speech, he outlined the progress that had been made in Afghanistan since 2001 and pointed towards the future for the country. "Afghanistan wants to continue the journey it has began of building democratic institutions, of building a country that has a better standard of living, where not only we save 85,000 lives of infants and children per year, but where we build ourselves into a country that's counted as the first world," he said.

President Karzai also outlined the steps he saw necessary to effectively make the new U.S. strategy work. Amongst those are a civilian surge, through which U.S. civilian experts are sent to Afghanistan to help build local capacity and allow the government to better deliver services and provide protection. He also stressed the importance of limiting civilian casualties and fighting the war on terror from a "higher platform of morality."

He also addressed the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for August 2009. Calling them the "future of democracy," President Karzai argued for the importance of seeing them carried out freely and fairly. "For me, as the President of Afghanistan today, there will be no greater accomplishment, no greater accomplishment but one in which I am either elected in a fair election or defeated in a fair election," he said.

President Karzai also appeared in a number of interviews, including NBC's "Meet the Press" with David Gregory, CNN's "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer and in a joint appearance with President Zardari on PBS's "Charlie Rose." On May 8 he sat down with a small group of journalists to discuss the trilateral summit, how to move forward in Afghanistan and U.S. policy towards the country.

On May 7 the senior Afghan ministers attended trilateral discussions at the State Department, where they discussed specific issues with their Pakistani and U.S. counterparts. There were four thematic sessions - agriculture, interior affairs, economic policy, and foreign affairs - where the various ministers discussed specific issues relevant to the new U.S. strategy. Those included agricultural trade corridors, police training and coordination, anti-corruption, transit trade agreements, reconstruction opportunity zones, bilateral engagement, border coordination centers, and regional relationships.

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