Kabul: Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Sunday finally met each other after the cancellation of press conference.
The two of them met at a dinner in the Afghan capital on Sunday in an attempt to smooth over the latest dispute in the already strained relationship between the two allies.
Sunday, after a weekend bombing in Kabul that killed at least nine people, Karzai said there are “ongoing daily talks between Taliban, American and foreigners in Europe and in the Gulf states” and that Saturday’s attack shows “that Taliban want longer presence of foreigners — not their departure from Afghanistan.”
Speaking to media representatives, Hagel said that he tried to reassure Karzai that the United States had no unilateral back-channel talks with the Taliban and said Washington is still on track to wind up its 11-year combat mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
“The fact is, any prospect for peace or political settlements — that has to be led by the Afghans. That has to come from the Afghan side,” Hagel said. “Obviously, the United States will support efforts if they are led by the Afghans to come to some possible resolution.”
Hagel, a former senator who took the helm at the Pentagon last month, is making his first trip to Afghanistan as defense secretary. Karzai, meanwhile, has been increasingly critical of American forces in recent months.
“I know these are difficult issues for President Karzai and the Afghan people,” Hagel said after the meeting. “I was once a politician, so I can understand the kind of pressures that especially leaders of countries are always under. I would hope, again, that we can move forward, and I have confidence that we can and will deal with these issues.”