KABUL (TIP): In their latest disconnect, Afghan President Hamid Karzai declined an offer to meet Barack Obama when the US President landed at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul on an unannounced visit, American media reported on May 30.
American officials travelling with Obama said Karzai, who is currently in New Delhi to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi, was given the opportunity to join Obama at the sprawling Bagram base, but the Afghan leader turned it down. “As we said, we weren’t planning for a bilateral meeting with President Karzai or a trip to the palace, as this trip is focused on thanking our troops,” the official said. “We did offer him the opportunity to come to Bagram, but we’re not surprised that it didn’t work on short notice,” the official said.
But a statement from Karzai’s office was terse about the last minute invitation: “The president of Afghanistan said that he was ready to warmly welcome the president of the United States in accordance with Afghan traditions,” it said, “but had no intention of meeting him at Bagram,” The New York Times reported. Obama, 52, and Karzai, 56, have a frosty relationship and the White House has repeatedly expressed frustration over Karzai’s refusal to ink a bilateral security agreement that would allow the US to keep some forces in the war-torn country to train Afghans and launch counter-terrorism operations even after the drawdown of US troops later this year.
Obama has been considering keeping up to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan and is expected to announce his plans shortly. But US officials told reporters that Obama did talk by phone to Karzai for 15 to 20 minutes before leaving Afghanistan.
They said Obama praised Karzai for progress being made by the Afghan security forces and for the recent presidential voting in the country. “The President will likely be speaking by phone with President Karzai in the days to come, and also looks forward to working with Afghanistan’s next President after the election is complete,” the US official said.
Obama, in his remarks to troops in Afghanistan yesterday, made it clear that he still wanted the bilateral security deal signed, allowing the United States to keep a small military force in Afghanistan beyond 2014. “Once Afghanistan has sworn in its new president, I’m hopeful we will sign a bilateral security agreement that lets us move forward,” Obama said.