Obama to press Karzai on corruption fight – US aides

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Aides to US President Barack Obama made clear yesterday he would keep pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai next week to do more to root out corruption but was not likely to push Karzai to sideline his controversial half-brother.

Previewing Obama’s White House talks with Karzai, US officials played down tensions that flared last month between Kabul and Washington and insisted Wednesday’s talks would focus on “shared objectives” in the eight-year-old Afghan war.

The issue of corruption will be on the meeting agenda. US criticism that Karzai had not done enough to fight corruption triggered rebukes from the Afghan leader last month, and the Obama administration is now trying to smooth over relations.

“More needs to be done in certain areas,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters.

“This visit is an opportunity to move forward and to, again, reinforce the positive steps that have been taken, but also to point to the additional steps that continue to need to be taken in order to improve governance for the Afghan people,” he said.

Obama’s aides signalled, however, he was unlikely to press Karzai about his half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, a businessman and political power broker in Kandahar who has long denied persistent reports of links to Afghanistan’s drug trade.

Douglas Lute, an Obama adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Washington had “no intelligence that leads us to believe that he’s … criminally involved.”

“We have made a commitment that if such evidence is developed that we’ll share it with appropriate Afghan authorities,” he told reporters.

Criticism of Karzai’s half-brother, who heads Kandahar’s provincial council, was widely believed to have helped stoke the Afghan leader’s recent anti-Western outbursts.

Ahmad Wali Karzai has been widely accused of amassing a vast fortune from the drug trade, intimidating rivals and having links to the CIA, charges he strongly denies.

With US-led forces planning a major offensive in coming months against Kandahar’s Taliban stronghold, US officials have said he complicates efforts to win over the population by reforming how the province is governed. Yet they also acknowledge he is unlikely to be removed.

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