NEWS | May 5, 2010

Top-level Afghan delegation to visit Washington

By Donna Miles , American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (May 6, 2010) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai and several members of his   Cabinet will visit Washington next week for several days of sessions focused   on ensuring success of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and strengthening the   two countries' long-term partnership, defense officials confirmed today.

The visit will begin with an opening ceremony at the State Department on May 11, and will include a meeting hosted by President Barack Obama at the White House the next day. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to participate in most of the sessions and will host a bilateral meeting at the Pentagon with Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahmin Wardak, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.

The sessions will address themes critical toward achieving joint objectives implementing the Afghan government's London Conference commitments, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But both Flournoy and Morrell emphasized that the discussions will go beyond immediate security issues.

"Meetings with President Obama and U.S Cabinet officials will reinforce the long-term and vital partnership between our two countries in areas ranging from security to governance and economic development," Flournoy said.

"We will make it clear ... that we wish this relationship to be based on far more than our mutual security concerns," Morrell added. "And so, much of the conversation to take place will be, 'How do we grow the rest of the relationship over the long term?' as we wish this to be an enduring partnership that outlasts the war we are currently fighting together."

Among topics on the table will be a strengthened U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Declaration, to be finalized later this year, Flournoy said. "This is a shared priority for the Afghans and for us, and we believe it will add confidence and clarity to our long-term partnership with Afghanistan," she told the Senate committee.

Morrell suggested several means that could be discussed to expand the bilateral relationship, including educational and cultural exchanges, economic development efforts and security assistance beyond a large military presence.

In addition to fostering a long-term relationship between the two countries, these efforts will offer the Afghans assurance of the enduring U.S. commitment there, Morrell said.

"We are not going to turn our backs on Afghanistan as we did after the defeat of the Soviets," he said. "We are not going to abandon this cause. We are very much there for the long run."

The hope is this recognition will give the Afghanistan government the confidence "to take on some of the hard issues that it needs to in the years to come – knowing that we are going to be there to back them up; we are going to be there in support for the long run," Morrell said.