The White House isn’t just turning the other cheek to Hamid Karzai, though they’re not yet throwing counter-punches either. Following the Afghan president’s allegations of dastardly foreign meddling and fraud, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told a gaggle of reporters in his office this morning that the administration wants Karzai to explain himself:
“Obviously some of the comments of President Karzai troubling. They’re cause for real and genuine concern … We are seeking clarification from President Karzai about the nature of some of his remarks. And I think the president was quite clear with President Karzai over the weekend of the necessary steps that have to be taken to improve governance and corruption in order to deal with the problems that we face there. Understanding the tremendous sacrifice that our men and women in uniform make each and every day and the security gains that are ultimately made … those security gains are only going to be solidified if there is confident governance in those areas once the Taliban is pushed out.”
The meeting in May in Washington is, “as of now,” still on, he added. But the White House seems poised to react with more than requests for elaboration if the “clarification” (which would need to look an awful lot like back-peddling) doesn’t pan out.
When asked whether the White House believed the fraud allegations specifically leveled at Peter Galbraith, the former U.S. ambassador and U.N. envoy, to be false, Gibbs kept his response general:
“There were allegations of fraud. Allegations were looked into. Ballots for a number of candidates were thrown out … but the Afghans elected President Karzai. That’s all been dealt with. The focus has to be on moving forward on the type of credible governance that is necessary to stabilize that country. Again, without a doubt, these are troubling comments.”
Galbraith, who lost his job over pressing for a tougher stance against election fraud, meanwhile denied the allegations and took the gallows-humor approach: “I sometimes wonder if Karzai is a little too enthusiastic about Afghanistan’s most popular export,” he told the Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman.