Page last updated at 19:17 GMT, Wednesday, 12 May 2010 20:17 UK

US President Obama backs Afghanistan's Taliban effort

Barack Obama on the "shared goal" to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda

US President Barack Obama has backed Afghan efforts to "open the door" to Taliban militants who renounce violence and cut ties with al-Qaeda.

He was speaking after talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington.

Mr Karzai is in the US for four days of meetings aimed at repairing rocky relations between Kabul and Washington.

But Mr Obama said "perceived tensions" were "simply overstated". He added that the US-led troops had begun to "reverse the momentum of the insurgency".

On Tuesday, Mr Karzai met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who told him that the US would remain committed to Afghanistan long after troops left.

President Karzai also paid an emotional visit to US troops who were injured in his country, thanking them for their sacrifice.

Lyse Doucet
Lyse Doucet, BBC News, Washington

On a warm sunny day, the talk from the US and Afghan teams was about a warm reception, a positive visit.

The presidents conveyed the same messages at their White House press conference. Each nodded firmly when the other spoke.

When President Obama was asked about tensions over President Karzai's anti-American diatribes last month, he chose his words slowly and carefully. Both leaders said there would be disagreements, but their partnership was solid.

Remember that expression "too big to fail", when it came to rescuing the banks? Mr Obama emphasised it "was absolutely critical we succeed in this mission". Finding a better way to deal with Mr Karzai is part of that.

Public criticism didn't work. Washington needs him to take tough decisions on pressing issues and hopes a better relationship will make that happen. It doesn't make the challenges any less daunting. But Mr Karzai will return home a more confident, if still unpredictable, leader.

Speaking at a joint news conference at the White House, Mr Obama said he supported Kabul's efforts to "open the door to Taliban, who cut their ties with al-Qaeda and renounced violence".

He was apparently referring to recent efforts by the Karzai government to reach out to Taliban militants who agree to lay down their weapons.

Mr Karzai has said he plans to introduce a scheme to attract Taliban fighters back to normal life by offering money and jobs.

In Washington, President Obama also reiterated Washington's pledge to turn Afghanistan into a "stable and prosperous" country.

In his turn, Mr Karzai admitted that Afghanistan still had its "shortcomings", but he promised to work for a better government with help from the US.

In the course of his visit, the Afghan leader is also expected to meet Senate and House leaders.

Stark contrast

Mr Karzai's trip comes at a crucial time in his country.

Nato is preparing for an assault against militants in the southern province of Kandahar, and Afghan officials are preparing for a meeting of tribal leaders, who will discuss how to promote peace.

The US hopes to start pulling out troops from July 2011 but Afghanistan has seen a marked increase in violence over the past year.

Mark Mardell
As for the less-than-special relationship between Presidents Obama and Karzai, the two men today fell over themselves to be nice
Mark Mardell
BBC North America editor

The red-carpet treatment for Mr Karzai in Washington is a stark contrast to some of the acrimony in US-Afghan ties over the past few months, correspondents say.

Relations reached a low point last year after Mr Karzai won an election widely condemned for fraud.

In March, the Obama administration publicly accused President Karzai of tolerating corruption and drug trafficking.

The Afghan leader accused the West of undermining him, and at one point even reportedly joked that he might join the Taliban.

What is changing now is the way US officials broach these difficult issues, says the BBC's Lyse Doucet in Washington.

US officials are not going to lecture President Karzai in public, says our correspondent.

She says they are going to try to deal with him - as they say - in a more respectful manner, because the other approach did not work.

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