US rejects Karzai’s vote fraud allegation
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The US rejected a new anti-foreigner outburst by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, saying that his remarks were "troubling" and "not true". Karzai has said that foreigners organized fraud in Afghan elections, sparking tensions with the US.
AFP - The United States Friday rejected President Hamid Karzai's anti-foreigner outburst as "troubling" and "preposterous," prompting a hurried effort by the Afghan leader to make amends.
Officials said Karzai did not specifically apologize during a telephone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but expressed "surprise" at the furor over his claim that foreigners orchestrated election fraud.
The row came just a few days after President Barack Obama made a secret trip to Kabul to press Karzai on tackling corruption and to demand progress on good governance, as his troop surge strategy unfolds against the Taliban.
The new confrontation will only raise doubts about the fragile relationship between the Obama administration and Karzai, whom Washington is forced to consider a partner, despite distaste for his political record.
The first public signs of several hours of intense US-Afghanistan diplomacy Friday first emerged when Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs called Karzai's comments "cause for real and genuine concern."
"We are seeking clarification from President Karzai about the nature of some of his remarks," Gibbs said, noting the huge US military and political resources and sacrifices that the United States had committed to Afghanistan.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley meanwhile described Karzai's intervention as "preposterous."
Soon, it emerged that US ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry went to see Karzai in person to seek the clarification that Washington demanded.
Following the meeting, Karzai asked to speak to Clinton, a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"During the call, he expressed surprise that his comments had created what he called a stir," the official said. "Generally we were happy with the call and we're moving on."
Crowley meanwhile said Clinton and Karzai had a "constructive" conversation.
"President Karzai reaffirmed his commitment to the partnership between our two countries, and expressed his appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices of the international community," he said, adding that Karzai and Clinton "pledged to continue working together in a spirit of partnership."
The Afghan leader drew fierce global condemnation for his speech on Thursday.
"There was fraud in presidential and provincial council elections -- no doubt that there was a very widespread fraud, very widespread," Karzai told Afghan election commission workers in Kabul.
"But Afghans did not do this fraud. The foreigners did this fraud," he said, accusing other countries of interfering in his country's domestic affairs.
He went so far as to claim that such moves risked the 126,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan being seen as "invaders" -- terminology used by the Taliban -- and their nine-year insurgency becoming viewed as "a national resistance."
Afghan analysts suggested that Karzai had lost control when he made his staggering remarks after being criticized by Obama and angered by the Afghan parliament, and could signal a shift in foreign policy.
There were suggestions that Karzai let his frustration boil over after Afghan lawmakers voted against his amendments to a law banning non-Afghans from the UN-backed watchdog that was integral to exposing last year's fraud.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled in Afghanistan in September and some Afghans believe Karzai is galled by the prospect of having to make embarrassing concessions to secure vital foreign funds.
Karzai was declared re-elected in November by his own officials after his challenger Abdullah Abdullah abandoned a run-off.
On Thursday he accused "embassies" of trying to bribe electoral members, and former UN deputy head of mission Peter Galbraith, and the head of the EU election observer mission, France's Philippe Morillon, of orchestrating the fraud.
Galbraith was sacked after arguing the UN was turning a blind eye to the electoral chicanery. At the time, he said that as much as 30 percent of the Karzai vote in the August election was fraudulent.
Interviewed by AFP, Galbraith said Karzai's comments were "absurd and preposterous" and showed Karzai was not taking Obama's warnings seriously.