Obama to meet Karzai, to discuss transition

Washington: US President Barack Obama would meet visiting Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, for crucial talks, that are expected to determine the nature and scope of US presence in Afghanistan after a 2014 troop drawdown.

"The President looks forward to welcoming the Afghan delegation to Washington and discussing our continued transition in Afghanistan and our shared vision of an enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan," the White House said on the eve of the crucial meeting.

According to White House, Obama and Karzai talks would begin with an "expanded bilateral" meeting following which the two leaders would hold another round of bilateral talks in the Oval Office. Obama would then host Karzai for lunch at the Old Family Dining Room of the White House. Soon thereafter the two leaders are scheduled to address a press conference.

Karzai on Thursday met Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

"We want to have an Afghan partner that is capable of standing on its own with our support in denying safe haven and having the capability to take the lead for its own security and for the future of the Afghan people."

"And that goal of restoring Afghan sovereignty and denying a safe haven to al Qaeda is one that we share with our NATO and ISAF allies and with the government of Afghanistan," Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, told reporters during a conference call early this week.

"As we'll be discussing the 2013 transition, the two leaders will be discussing any potential support for Afghanistan from the United States beyond 2014. We are currently in discussions about a bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan," he said.

"The nature of US support for Afghanistan beyond 2014 will be focused on two precise missions: training and equipping of Afghan security forces and continued efforts on counter- terrorism front against al Qaeda and their affiliates."

"But this is not a visit during which President Obama will be making decisions about US troop levels in the immediate future or beyond 2014. It's a visit where the two leaders will be able to consult about those issues, and then in the coming months, President Obama will be able to make those decisions in consultation with his national security team," Rhodes said.

He said the 2013 transition, the bilateral security agreement, political and economic transition, reconciliation and regional stability will feature in the talks.

The two Presidents would talk about post-2014 planning which is ongoing in both capitals, said Dough Lute, the Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for South Asia.

"Since the two Presidents last met, the Afghans have produced a roadmap, which is a very detailed five-phase approach to reconciliation. They've shared this roadmap with the Pakistanis. They've shared it with us. They've gotten feedback. So we really have, in a way, a clear path towards Afghan-led peace talks than we've had in the past. And I think this will be a topic that they discuss," Lute said.