Hillary Clinton meets Afghan, Pakistani leaders

Sun Jan 14, 2007 12:07pm EST


(adds meeting with Pakistan's Musharraf)

KABUL, Jan 14 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Afghanistan on Sunday for talks with President Hamid Karzai as the latest in a wave of suicide bombers struck in a southern town, killing himself and wounding a passer-by.

Clinton, who is expected to be a White House contender, met Karzai at the heavily guarded presidential palace in Kabul. Clinton also met a group of Afghan women on her day-trip, a U.S. embassy spokeswoman said.

Clinton, part of a three-member U.S. delegation, was among a group of prominent American women who first raised concern in the West over rights issues in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in the late 1990s.

The Senator and her delegation arrived early on Sunday.

She later flew into Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore and met President Pervez Musharraf.

"President Musharraf reiterated Pakistan's commitment to continue its support and cooperation with the world community in the fight against terrorism and to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan," the official Associated Press of Pakistan said.

Clinton's visit comes at a time of deteriorating relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, two important U.S. allies, over the Afghan war.

Last year, a resurgent Taliban brought the worst violence to Afghanistan since the hardline Islamists were ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The violence has raised concern about a country that was generally seen as a success in the war on terrorism. About 40,000 foreign troops, half of them American, are in Afghanistan, the most since 2001.

The violence has also led to rising Afghan anger over Taliban sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border. Pakistan says it has done more than any other country in the war on terror.

U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte said on Thursday it was necessary to eliminate Taliban safe havens in Pakistan's tribal areas to end the Afghan insurgency. Pakistan took strong exception to the comments while Afghanistan welcomed them.

In the latest violence, a suicide car-bomber attacked a convoy of Afghan troops and foreign contractors in the southern town of Qalat. The bomber was killed and a passer-by wounded, police said.

Clinton is a Democrat from New York. Also in the delegation was Senator Evan Bayh, a Democrat from Indiana, and John McHugh, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from New York. (Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider in ISLAMABAD)



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