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US pressured Karzai to accept runoff poll

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decision to fight for his job in a Nov 7 runoff election came after US officials lobbied him through personal meetings in Kabul and in telephone conversations, media reports here said.

Karzai announced Tuesday that he will take part in a presidential runoff vote in two weeks after the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission invalidated nearly a third of Karzai’s votes from the Aug 20 presidential election because of “clear and convincing evidence of fraud.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Karzai and with his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, State Department officials said. CNN cited one official as saying that in a phone call to Karzai on Friday, Clinton urged the Afghan president to “be a statesman.”

Clinton told him that she understood his concerns about how the process of establishing fraud in the election was carried out, this official said, but told him, “You can emerge stronger from this and cement your position as leader.”

Karzai feared that Pashtuns who had voted for him would feel disenfranchised. “Karzai needed to work through the internal politics of this,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying.

Clinton, as both a diplomat and a former politician, was able to use her experience to make her case with Karzai, the official said.

Clinton also held a series of discussions by phone with US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry and US special envoy Richard Holbrooke.

CNN cited sources with knowledge of events in Kabul as saying Kerry, who was in Afghanistan over the weekend, held a series of intensive discussions with Karzai at his palace in Kabul. Kerry’s efforts were in “absolutely close coordination” with Clinton, one senior official said.

Holbrooke briefed Kerry before the senator left on his trip to Afghanistan, CNN cited one source as saying, and “came up with a strategy of how to get to a second round of voting.”

Kerry met with Abdullah as well as with Karzai, the official said, explaining, “We were not trying to work out a deal, but we were urging them to work together.”

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama Tuesday welcomed Karzai’s “constructive action” in agreeing to the run off poll, while Clinton termed it as in the best interest of Afghanistan.

In a telephone call Obama assured Karzai that his administration will continue to work with international organisations as well as the Afghan government, to ensure that Afghanistan moves towards peace and security and prosperity.