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Inside the Clinton-Karzai dinner

Inside the Clinton-Karzai dinner

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted an intimate working dinner Thursday night for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with several top administration officials in tow.

The dinner took place in the Monroe Room on the 8th floor of the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters, which is saved for special occasions. The Monroe Room allows for a more personal atmosphere than the larger Benjamin Franklin Room, where most official meals for visiting dignitaries take place.

Clinton sat at the center of the U.S. side of the table, flanked by defense Secretary Leon Panetta and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham. Also on the U.S. side were acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan David Pearce, acting CIA Director Mike Morell, Deputy Chief of Staff and Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan, and Deputy SRAP James Warlick, who leads the U.S. side of negotiations over a U.S.-Afghan bilateral security agreement.

Karzai was at the center of the Afghan side of the table, flanked by Defense Minister Bismellah Mohammadin and Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul. The other officials on the Afghan side were Karzai’s senior advisor Dr. Ashraf Ghani, National Security Advisor Rangin Spanta, head of the High Peace Council Salahuddin Rabbani, and Afghanistan’s ambassador to Washington Eklil Hakimi, who is the Afghan lead on the BSA negotiations.

As the guests settled into their seats, Clinton and Karzai were discussing Panetta’s plans to leave his post. Clinton said that Panetta, "after all his years of public service, is at heart a walnut farmer," which brought laughter from both sides of the table, one administration official who was in the room told The Cable. Olive-crusted black cod was the main course.

Clinton also attended Karzai’s Friday meeting with President Barack Obama, but didn’t stay for the Karzai-Obama press conference afterwards.

On Wednesday night, Karzai had an unannounced dinner with several former officials at Blair House, where he has been staying. The guest list at that dinner included recently retired Sen. Joe Lieberman, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, former Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, former ISAF Commander Lt. Gen. Dave Barno (ret.), and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Karzai also met with four senators Wednesday in the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). In addition to McConnell, at the meeting were Senate Foreign Relations Middle East subcommittee Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) and freshman Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE). (The light attendance was due to so many senators being out of town in their home districts or on congressional delegations abroad.)

"This was an opportunity for a bipartisan group of senators to hear first-hand about regional threats and conditions within Afghanistan. The meeting focused on topics related to the Bilateral Security Agreement," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told The Cable.