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U.S. Welcomes Afghan Election Result


Now to more reaction from the U.S.,. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, American officials seem to be breathing a sigh of relief, but they have their own concerns about whether the Karzai government will appear legitimate.

MICHELE KELEMEN: As President Obama considers a request to send more troops to Afghanistan, one thing most of his aides can agree on is that they need a credible partner on the ground. Today, the president called Hamid Karzai to congratulate him on winning a second term.

President BARACK OBAMA: Although the process was messy, I'm pleased to say that the final outcome was determined in accordance with Afghan law.

KELEMEN: President Obama says he's ready to work with Karzai, but wants to write a new chapter in this relationship.

Pres. OBAMA: After some difficult years in which there's been some drift that, in fact, he's going to move boldly and forcefully forward and take advantage of the international community's interest in his country to initiate reforms internally. That has to be one of our highest priorities.

KELEMEN: The decision to forgo the runoff should also clear the air for President Obama to make some decisions about his strategy there, that's according to Alex Thier of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Mr. ALEX THIER (Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Institute of Peace): It's a combination of relief and dismay. The last two-plus months of election turmoil in Afghanistan, I think, have been difficult for everybody.

KELEMEN: Tensions mounted between Karzai and the Obama administration. And Thier says now everyone will have to take a step back and figure out how to work as partners.

Mr. THIER: From the U.S. perspective, we need to really apply higher standards of accountability to the Karzai government. And we need to also help give them the tools, as well as other Afghan institutions, the tools to enforce the rule of law and to deal with impunity and corruption.

KELEMEN: He says that means helping Afghanistan create an independent and robust anti-corruption body, and make sure senior government officials are properly vetted. A former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, agrees that the U.S. will have to work hard to keep bad actors out of the Afghan government. But he adds the U.S. also has to remember that Karzai has some political debts to pay.

Mr. RONALD NEUMANN (Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan): We can't succeed in reforming everything in Afghanistan in a rapid time after years and years of war. So, we have to focus on certain things that really matter to us and we've also got to be willing to deal with him. He has political issues. He has political pain. He has allies he has to square, and we also have to leave him some flexibility.

KELEMEN: Neumann, author of the book �The Other War: Winning and Losing in Afghanistan,� says President Karzai is realistic and understands that this is his last chance, his second and final term. Another former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the U.S. needs to keep reminding Karzai of that to make sure he puts a good team in place.

Mr. ZALMAY KHALILZAD (Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan): America's success in Afghanistan is very much hinged with Karzai's performance. So, now the challenge of how to get Karzai to be an effective leader, to address the key issues confronting Afghanistan, is front and center, in terms of American strategy. And it will not be easy.

KELEMEN: Khalilzad says U.S. aid going forward should be tightly tied to how Karzai is doing.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.