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Bush, Karzai Formalize Partnership Focused on Afghan Progress

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2005 – The presidents of the United States and Afghanistan today signed an agreement that establishes a long-term relationship designed to promote ongoing progress in Afghanistan.

President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced the new strategic partnership agreement during a joint news conference at the White House.

The agreement establishes regular, high-level exchanges between the two countries and reaffirms U.S. support for Afghanistan's reconstruction, economic development and education programs as it builds its government and civic institutions, Bush explained.

The agreement extends support to Afghanistan beyond the timeframe covered by the Bonn Agreement, an international agreement to support Afghanistan through its parliamentary elections in September.

Karzai acknowledged today that even with the standup of the Afghan parliament and the completion of the Bonn process, "Afghanistan will not suddenly stand on its own feet" and "will continue to need a lot of support."

He thanked the people of the United States for their past support of Afghanistan and expressed appreciation for their new, long-term commitment, particularly in terms of reconstruction assistance and training for Afghanistan's military and police.

These efforts, Karzai said, "will enable Afghanistan to stand on its own feet eventually and be a good, active member of the region, contributing to peace and stability in the region."

Bush praised Karzai's leadership, calling him "a fine inspiration" to the Afghan people who is "showing the countries in your neighborhood what's possible."

Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists and has become a key partner in the global war on terror, Bush said.

"Increasing numbers of low-level Taliban are getting that message that Afghan society is peaceful and optimistic" about their country's future, Bush said. "Democracy is flourishing."

He vowed that U.S. troops "will continue to fight side by side" with their Afghan counterparts "to defeat the few who want to stop the ambitions of many."

U.S. troops in Afghanistan "will respond to U.S. commanders," the president emphasized, but their activities will continue to reflect close cooperation and coordination with the Afghan government. "(The Afghan government) invited us in, and we'll consult with them in terms of how to achieve mutual goals," Bush said.

Bush and Karzai discussed ongoing challenges in Afghanistan, including poppy cultivation, which Karzai said "is undermining our economy and giving us a bad name."

The Afghan president reaffirmed his government's commitment to reduce poppy growth by 20 to 30 percent this year and to eradicate it altogether within five or six years. "Hold us accountable to that," he told Bush.

This effort hinges largely on encouraging farmers to cultivate substitute crops, such as wheat, corn, pomegranates and honeydew melons, he said.

Asked about allegations of U.S. abuse against Afghan prisoners, Karzai said these reflect individual acts and not American society as a whole. He compared the acts to an Afghan man's recent kidnapping of an Italian man.

"The Afghan people are grateful very, very much to the American people and recognize that individual acts do not reflect either on governments or on societies," Karzai said. "These things happen everywhere."

Karzai said recent demonstrations in Afghanistan were aimed against democratic progress in the country, not a since-retracted Newsweek article claiming disrespect for the Koran at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"We are, as Muslims, very much unhappy with Newsweek bringing a matter so serious in the gossip column," he said. "It's really something that one shouldn't do, that responsible journalism shouldn't do at all.

"But Newsweek's story is not America's story," Karzai continued. "That's what we understand in Afghanistan."

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