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Karzai Blocks U.S. Congressman From Kabul Visit

U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Republican-California)
U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher's office has confirmed that Afghan President Hamid Karzai forced him to cancel a visit to Kabul, saying he was not welcome in the country.

A statement from Rohrabacher’s office said he was to be a late addition to a U.S. delegation that met on April 22 with the ethnic Uzbek former Northern Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostum and other Afghan opposition leaders.

Rohrabacher, a Republican from California and 23-year veteran of Congress, is an outspoken critic of Karzai.

The lawmaker’s office said Karzai threatened to block entrance to the entire U.S. delegation if Rohrabacher was aboard the military plane that was transporting the group from Dubai to Kabul on April 20.

The statement said Karzai's demand was forwarded by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who "personally petitioned Dana not to continue on with the delegation."

Rohrabacher stayed behind in Dubai.

Earlier media reports said Rohrabacher had been refused an Afghan visa.

Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on April 23 that the Foreign Ministry can grant or deny a visa to any foreign national, but he did not comment specifically on Rohrabacher's case.

Rohrabacher, who chairs the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, has previously called for investigations into alleged Afghan government corruption.

He also angered Kabul in January when he led a small delegation of mainly Republican U.S. lawmakers to Berlin for meetings with Afghan opposition politicians.

Karzai Critic

There, he advocated a more decentralized form of government for the country, saying: "The overly centralized government power structure in Afghanistan is contrary to that country’s culture and has inhibited progress toward building a stable and democratic society."

In Berlin and elsewhere, Rohrabacher also has criticized the Karzai government's peace talks with the Taliban, calling them "a betrayal of those Americans who shed their blood in the last decade, as well as a sellout of the brave Afghans in the Northern Alliance who cast their lot with us after 9/11."

The U.S. State Department has distanced itself from Rohrabacher's stance on Afghanistan.

Commenting on his January trip to Berlin, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, "We believe it’s always best when our members of Congress can see a broad cross-section of Afghan political leaders, not just a slice."

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul released a statement on April 23 about the delegation's meeting that Rohrabacher did not attend. It said, "Members of Congress do not represent the State Department or any other part of the Executive branch. Their presence and views at this privately arranged event do not reflect the view of the President or the Administration."

Karzai's shunning of Rohrabacher comes at a sensitive time in the U.S.-Afghan relationship.

The future of international involvement in Afghanistan will top the agenda at next month's NATO summit in Chicago.

On April 22, Washington and Kabul initialed a draft for a long-term strategic partnership pact, which would see the United States provide military and financial support to Afghanistan for at least a decade beyond NATO's planned 2014 withdrawal of combat troops.

With additional reporting by the BBC

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