Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has recently referred to the U.S. military as “occupiers” in his country and even suggested he could envision joining the Taliban. The White House has said the remarks are “genuinely troubling”. I asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates if such comments made his blood boil, but he said it’s the U.S. that needs to be “sensitive” in its comments about Karzai. In my “This Week” interview, Gates said the U.S. military has a “very positive relationship” with Karzai. The Defense Secretary added, “The Afghans are very concerned about their sovereignty."
Gates suggested Karzai’s comments need to be looked at in a political context. “This is a man who’s first of all a political leader. He has domestic audiences as well as foreign audiences,” Gates told me. “I think we frankly have to be sensitive in our own comments about President Karzai in terms of being mindful that he is the embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan also in the way we treat him,” Gates said.
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TAPPER: Secretary Gates, turning to Afghanistan, when you hear President Karzai refer to the 87,000 troops under your command when you -- as occupiers, and suggest that he could envision joining the Taliban, how does that affect you? Does it make your blood boil? GATES: Well I think, you know, this is a -- a man who's first of all a political leader. He has domestic audiences as well as foreign audiences. What I can tell you is that General McChrystal continues to meet with him regularly. They have a very positive relationship. He gets very good cooperation out of President Karzai. I think that the -- the Afghans are very concerned about their sovereignty. And they are very concerned that -- that it be clear who -- who is the president of Afghanistan. And -- and that he be treated with respect, because he is the representative of the people of Afghanistan and their sovereignty. And I think that -- I think that that kind of cooperative relationship, certainly that he has with -- I can only speak for General McChrystal's side of it. But I think General McChrystal feels that this is a man he can work easily with. And -- and he has taken him to Kandahar. He has indicated he's willing to go to Kandahar repeatedly for the Shuras as the Kandahar campaign gets underway. So I think that the -- that the day to day working relationship, certainly on the military side, and -- and between General McChrystal and President Karzai is -- is working well. And I think -- I think we frankly have to be sensitive in our own comments about President Karzai in terms of being mindful that he is the embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan also in the way we treat him.