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Karzai Gets Promise of Expanded U.S. Aid

February 28, 2003|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged the Bush administration Thursday to increase assistance for his country's reconstruction and reported after a White House meeting that the U.S. promised to expand its aid to help repair electrical and irrigation systems.

"The reception was good," Karzai said, adding that he and President Bush did not discuss specific amounts of aid.

Karzai, completing a second day in Washington, defended the upbeat reports that he has been delivering to audiences in the capital.

He told reporters that compared "with life in Basel, Switzerland, or Honolulu," his accounts of life in Afghanistan may not seem to be rosy. But compared with conditions before the fall of the fundamentalist Taliban regime at the end of 2001, the improvements are considerable, he said.

However, reflecting Washington's shifting focus, he acknowledged that if the United States goes to war in Iraq, the amount of attention the U.S. government can give to Afghanistan may shrink -- but that the dollar amounts would not.

The budget measure Bush signed this month includes $3.3 billion in aid to Afghanistan over four years, primarily for reconstruction and security.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said, "The United States is providing assistance to Afghanistan. We will continue to do so. Private-sector assistance can grow, and there are other forms of assistance from nongovernmental organizations that are available too."

During a picture session with Bush, Karzai singled out American assistance over the past year that has helped open schools for 3 million Afghan children and create a national army that now has 3,000 recruits.

The United States has also taken a lead in building a highway from Kabul, the capital, to Kandahar, a major city that was a Taliban stronghold.

He thanked Bush for the support, adding, "I'm also here to ask you to do more for us in making the life of the Afghan people better, more stable, more peaceful."

In addition to his private session with Bush, Karzai met at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Also during the day, he conducted two news conferences and, in the evening, he was presented with the 2003 Freedom Award by the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit group that seeks to promote democracy around the world.

He had spent much of Wednesday on Capitol Hill, meeting with lawmakers.

Karzai said Thursday that in addition to talking about the need to rebuild Afghanistan's electrical system and its dams and canals, he and Bush reviewed the continuing effort to build a national army beyond its fledgling units.

Outside experts repeatedly cite the need to establish a nationwide security force to combat warlords as one of Afghanistan's most pressing needs on the road to stability and improved economic health.

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