White House troubled by Karzai remarks
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House expressed further frustration on Monday about recent anti-Western remarks made by Afghan President Hamid Karzai but said a May meeting between him and President Barack Obama was still scheduled.
"The remarks are genuinely troubling. The substance of the remarks, as have been looked into by many, are obviously not true," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Obama visited Karzai in Kabul last week during his first visit to Afghanistan since he took office 15 months ago. Days later, Karzai accused foreigners of perpetrating election fraud, bribing officials and trying to weaken his government, prompting Washington to ask him for clarification about his comments.
On Sunday, despite a conciliatory call to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday, Karzai again distanced himself from his Western backers by telling tribal elders Afghans need to see their leaders are not "puppets" and that government officials should not let "foreigners" meddle in their work.
Gibbs said Obama's May 12 meeting with Karzai was still on and that Washington will continue to work with him, but has set benchmarks for his government.
"President Karzai is the elected leader of Afghanistan," he said. "We have outlined, as I said, a series of things that President Karzai has to do and that -- and others throughout all levels of government have to do."
Gibbs said he did not expect Karzai's comments to affect the U.S. Congress' consideration of the Obama administration's budget request for Afghan war funding.
"What our military is doing there in order to stamp out extremism and to ensure that the Taliban and its extremist allies are incapable of coming back to Afghanistan and setting up a safe haven by which to plan further attacks on the United States -- preventing that from happening is strongly in our national interest," Gibbs said.
When asked if the White House was concerned that Karzai's comments could erode public support for the war, Gibbs expressed further frustration.
"On behalf of the American people, we're frustrated with the remarks."
Karzai on Monday stood by his accusations that the West was responsible for election fraud in Afghanistan. "What I said about the election was all true, I won't repeat it, but it was all true," Karzai told Britain's BBC television.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)
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