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Asia-pacific

Karzai and Cameron agree to strengthen Afghan-UK ties

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-16

Prime Minister David Cameron and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed Saturday to strengthen ties between London and Kabul in the first meeting between the new British premier and a foreign leader.

AFP - David Cameron agreed his new government had to strengthen Britain's ties with Kabul as he met Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday in his first meeting with a foreign leader as prime minister.

Karzai, on his way home from Washington, stopped off in Britain to meet Cameron, whose new government has put Afghanistan top of its foreign policy agenda.

The visit was the first to Britain by an international leader since Cameron's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took office on Tuesday, following the May 6 general election.

"President Karzai is visiting the United Kingdom and clearly wants to meet the prime minister as one of his early meetings," a Downing Street spokeswoman told AFP.

"Clearly it's an important meeting for the prime minister to meet President Karzai considering the importance of the Afghan mission and our involvement there in the campaign."

The meeting came the day after Britain's new Foreign Secretary William Hague met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington for talks dominated by Afghanistan.

The president is to hold a "peace jirga" meeting of Afghanistan's tribal and community leaders at the end of the month.

Karzai and Cameron met at Chequers, the prime minister's country residence, northwest of London.

"The prime minister was delighted to invite President Karzai to Chequers, the first formal visit by an international leader since the election," a spokesman for Downing Street said.

"They discussed President Karzai's very successful visit to Washington, and the prospects for the peace jirga in Afghanistan at the end of May.

"Both the president and prime minister agreed that the relationship between Afghanistan and Britain should be further strengthened.

"The president and the prime minister expressed their admiration for the courage and skill of the British military in Afghanistan, and the sacrifices that British forces have made."

Britain has around 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, largely battling Taliban insurgents in southern Helmand Province. It has lost 285 personnel since operations began in late 2001.

Following the Karzai meeting, Cameron was to hold further discussions with with Defence Secretary Liam Fox, national security adviser Sir Peter Ricketts and service chiefs.

Earlier, Fox indicated he would be putting pressure on allies to play a greater part in Afghanistan and refused to commit to a timetable for withdrawal.

"It is unreasonable to expect Britain to carry such a full burden inside the NATO alliance. We need to find better ways of burden sharing," he told The Sun newspaper.

"Other countries haven't been pulling their weight, that's not in question. They have made contributions, but they are disproportionate when compared to what countries like the UK and the United States have done -- with some very honourable exceptions."

It is the first time Cameron has been to Chequers -- a 16th century mansion in Buckinghamshire that has been a country retreat for prime ministers since 1917 -- since taking office.

 

Date created : 2010-05-15

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