Bush, Karzai disagree on Iran's role
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG The New York Times | August 07,2007
CAMP DAVID — President Bush and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan found much to agree on during their two-day summit here, with one major exception: the role of Iran in Afghanistan.
Karzai characterized Iran as "a helper and a solution" in a CNN television interview broadcast on Sunday. But when the two men greeted reporters here Monday, Bush pointedly disagreed with Karzai's assessment, saying, "I would be very cautious about whether the Iranian influence in Afghanistan is a positive force."
Bush, who has long regarded Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, said it is "up to Iran to prove to the world that they are a stabilizing force as opposed to a destabilizing force."
The talks with Karzai, which focused heavily on the security of Afghanistan, came just a few weeks after the Bush administration released a national intelligence estimate concluding that al-Qaida's leadership had reconstituted itself in the mountainous border territory between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Bush was asked if he would seek permission from Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, before striking inside Pakistan to pursue "actionable intelligence" about al-Qaida. He declined to say.
"I'm confident, with real actionable intelligence, we will get this job done," he said.
On the eve of his Camp David meeting with Bush, Karzai painted a bleak picture of life in his country, saying that security had worsened and the United States and its allies were no closer to catching Osama bin Laden than they were a few years ago.
"The security situation in Afghanistan over the past two years has definitely deteriorated," Karzai said on the CNN program "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," in an interview that was taped in Kabul on Saturday. It was broadcast Sunday while Karzai was on his way to Camp David for a two-day meeting with Bush.
"The Afghan people have suffered," Karzai said. "Terrorists have killed our schoolchildren. They have burned our schools. They have killed international helpers. "
As for catching bin Laden, Karzai said: "We are not closer, we are not further away from it. We are where we were a few years ago."
The White House had hoped to use the meeting to showcase what Gordon D. Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, called both the "progress and challenges" in Afghanistan.
Karzai is trying to rebuild his war-torn country and strengthen his fragile government while confronting a resurgent Taliban, a booming opium trade, government corruption and mounting civilian deaths.
In the interview on Sunday, Karzai avoided saying whether he believed that Musharraf was doing enough to track down terrorist leaders. But he suggested — without exactly saying so — that bin Laden must be on the Pakistan side of the border.
"I can't talk about that, whether he is in Afghanistan or in Pakistan," Karzai said, "but I definitely know that he cannot be in Afghanistan. "