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Afghan Leader Attempts To Repair U.S. Ties After Controversial Comments

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accused foreign embassies of perpetrating election fraud in Afghanistan, bribing and threatening election officials, and seeking to weaken him and his government.
(RFE/RL) -- Hamid Karzai has sought to repair ties with the United States after a strident anti-Western speech he delivered in Kabul sparked dismay in Washington.

Karzai telephoned U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April 2 to soothe concerns over his controversial speech, which the administration of President Barack Obama has described as "troubling" and a cause for "real and genuine concern."

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Karzai used the 25-minute phone call to reaffirm his commitment to the U.S.-Afghan partnership and express his "appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices of the international community."

The spokesman said Karzai and Clinton had pledged to continue working together "in a spirit of partnership."

Karzai's own spokesman, Wahid Omer, has also sought to play down the scandal, saying parts of Karzai's remarks had been misunderstood and that the Afghan leader simply "wanted the international community to pay attention to the concerns of the Afghan people and the Afghan government."

In unprecedentedly strident remarks April 1, Karzai accused foreign embassies in Kabul of orchestrating vast fraud and bribery during last year's presidential and provincial elections in a bid to weaken his rule.

"The reason why [foreigners] were doing all this is a different issue -- they wanted to have a puppet regime, they wanted to have a servant government, or they wanted to bring [about] a different situation in this country," Karzai said.

"Thankfully, God sent blessings on us and our nation was aware, and the commission was patriotic, the high-ranking members and other members of the commission were patriots."

Election Complaints

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission declared Karzai the winner of the August 20 election, but the UN-supported Electoral Complaints Commission then forced him into a runoff with challenger Abdullah Abdullah over massive voting irregularities. Abdullah later withdrew from the race, citing concerns over fraud.

In his April 1 speech, Karzai singled out the former UN deputy head of mission, Peter Galbraith, who was fired in a dispute with his boss on how to handle voting irregularities, as well as the head of the EU election observation mission, Philippe Morillon.

Galbraith previously said as many as 30 percent of Karzai's votes were fraudulent. The Electoral Complaints Commission nullified nearly a million votes counted in Karzai's favor.

Washington was quick to dismiss Karzai's accusations.

"We do not accept that judgment," State Department spokesman Crowley said just hours after the controversial speech. "We want to see effective governance all levels, at the national level, and a government led by President Karzai."

Crowley added that the United States had no interest in seeing Afghanistan "poorly led or weakly led."

The row came just days after Obama paid a surprise trip to Kabul to press Karzai on tackling corruption.

Karzai's relationship with the Obama administration has been chilly from the start and further deteriorated following last year's fraud-ridden elections.

with agency reports