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At RFE/RL, Karzai Spokesman Outlines Goals of U.S. Trip

Karzai spokesman Waheed Omer speaks at an RFE/RL briefing on Afghanistan press freedom, May 10, 2010.

Karzai spokesman Waheed Omer speaks at an RFE/RL briefing on Afghanistan press freedom, May 10, 2010.

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) Ahead of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's arrival in Washington today, his spokesman told reporters at RFE/RL's Washington office this morning to expect a series of "frank exchanges" between the Afghan president and the White House over the next four days. [TRANSCRIPT]

"However nice we can be, we will raise issues that we believe -- if addressed jointly by Afghanistan and the U.S. -- will help us strengthen this partnership and bring peace and security," said Karzai spokesman Waheed Omer. Two of the most important issues, he said, are Afghan concerns about civilian casualties and control over Afghan detention centers.

Karzai's trip comes during what Omer calls a "sensitive time." For weeks, the Obama Administration and Karzai have been publicly squabbling, most notably over allegations of corruption within the Afghan government.

Omer acknowledged that corruption will be discussed this week, but called the issue "overblown" by the media. He also said Karzai and Obama will discuss the thorny issue of "reconciliation" and "reintegration" with the Taliban.

Today's briefing also explored the challenges of developing a free press in Afghanistan. Freedom House Director of Studies, Christopher Walker, who oversees the annual Freedom of the Press Index, participated in the discussion. He said this year's report rates Afghanistan as "Not Free" and near the bottom of the list in terms of media freedom.

However, according to Walker, "When put in context, Afghanistan has made huge strides since the Taliban were in power."

"Ten years ago, Afghanistan's media environment was in the company of North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Libya," he said. "Within five years, it improved dramatically. Yet, it has been declining over the past several years as a result of increasing violence and restrictive and vague laws. Journalists don't know which laws will be enforced."

Omer conceded that "certain challenges remain," but was emphatic about the need to understand where the country is coming from.

"A decade ago, any depiction of a live being was illegal," he said. "I remember one journalist who was jailed under the Taliban for publishing a picture of a bird. When you think about that, we've made huge progress. I can't think of another country that has traveled so far, so fast." [TRANSCRIPT]

About Radio Azadi

RFE/RL's Afghan Service, known locally as Radio Azadi, is the most popular radio station in Afghanistan. Radio Azadi produces a variety of programming, including news, investigative features, political satire, literary programs and music. It is noted particularly for its numerous programs dedicated to women's rights, youth issues, and democracy. Over the years, Radio Azadi has received thousands of letters from listeners throughout the country and across the region.