By Sam Youngman - 05/12/10 04:55 PM EDT
President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Wednesday
their relationship has never been stronger, and reports of tension
between them are "overstated."
Obama, meeting with Karzai at the White House, said he is confident his strategy in Afghanistan "will succeed," even as he warned of "hard fighting" in the days and months ahead.
The president addressed the "perceived tensions" between Karzai and the U.S., saying "a lot of them were simply overstated."
Still, Obama conceded that "there are going to be tensions in such a complicated, difficult environment."
Both Karzai and Obama said their "frank" exchanges are evidence of a healthy relationship that is now in its tenth year.
"It's not an imaginary relationship," Karzai said in the East Room of the White House. "It is a real relationship. It is a relationship based on some very hard and difficult realities."
Obama went as far as to say that he is "very comfortable with the strong efforts President Karzai has made thus far."
Lawmakers have expressed skepticism about Karzai's ability to curb corruption in the Afghan government as they consider funding a supplemental to continue to fund Obama's war in Afghanistan.
While the issue of corruption was largely sidestepped at the White House, at least publicly, Karzai did thank Obama and the American people for the significant resources the U.S. has invested in the region.
Karzai, who visited wounded U.S. troops at Walter Reed Hospital on Tuesday and will visit Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday, said he and his government will "work with dedication and extreme care to have those resources spent well."
The Afghan president spoke of meeting one wounded soldier who lost both arms and both legs while fighting.
"It was heart-rendering," Karzai said, as he thanked the U.S. people and troops for their sacrifices.
Karzai was also asked whether his relationship with Ahmadinejad has complicated his relationship with the U.S.
Karzai portrayed his dealings with Ahmadinejad as that of a neighor and a "brother," but he said he has made it clear to Iran that Afghanistan is a friend of the U.S.
He also offered to help ease tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
"If there's anything we can do to make things better, call us," Karzai said.
Obama repeatedly spoke of his confidence in success in Afghanistan, but he also warned several times that there "are going to be setbacks."
Obama also warned that U.S. troops will not completely withdraw from the region in July 2011, but as part of his strategy, will begin to withdraw.
The president said U.S. military and, more importantly, civilian forces will be in the region for years to come as the two countries establish a long-term economic relationship.
"We are not suddenly in July of 2011 finished in Afghanistan," Obama said.
But the president did say he is confident that the U.S. will be in a position to begin to "reduce our troop strength" on schedule.
"We are steadily making progress," Obama said. "It's not overnight. It's not going to be instant."
Karzai agreed that Afghan security forces are "progressing steadily."
Karzai was scheduled to join Obama for lunch Wednesday afternoon.
This story was updated at 1:30 p.m.