The Cable

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Inside the Karzai visit

It’s Afghanistan week in Washington, and yesterday at the State Department, dozens of officials met for a host of working-group meetings on the country and the U.S.-led war effort there throughout the day. But the real action, where the tough issues were really tackled, took place at the end of the day in a much ...

It's Afghanistan week in Washington, and yesterday at the State Department, dozens of officials met for a host of working-group meetings on the country and the U.S.-led war effort there throughout the day. But the real action, where the tough issues were really tackled, took place at the end of the day in a much more private session with only key people inside, sources told The Cable.

It’s Afghanistan week in Washington, and yesterday at the State Department, dozens of officials met for a host of working-group meetings on the country and the U.S.-led war effort there throughout the day. But the real action, where the tough issues were really tackled, took place at the end of the day in a much more private session with only key people inside, sources told The Cable.

The 90-minute evening meeting was billed as a bilateral session between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but several other key officials were in the room: Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, his deputy Paul Jones, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, National Security Council Special Assistant Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, and Clinton’s deputy chief of staff Jake Sullivan. On the Afghan side, other than Karzai, only National Security AdvisorRangin Dadfar Spanta and Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul attended.

The format matched almost exactly the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, where a high-level private meeting also was the forum for key differences to be aired and key decisions to be made. Yesterday’s meeting was the chance to discuss "all those things that both sides don’t want to discuss out in the open," reported one diplomatic source who was briefed on the session.

A State Department official told The Cable that inside the "business-like" meeting, "they went into significant depth on the core issues of the visit," including reconciliation, reintegration, security, the upcoming peace jirga, and the handover of U.S.-run detention centers such as the one in Bagram.

Karzai came to Washington with several demands, including that night raids and civilian casualties be reduced and that the detention centers be handed over to Afghan control at a date certain. The Obama administration hadn’t publicly announced when it would relinquish control of the Bagram prison, but then today President Obama announced it would be done by January.

The U.S. side delved deep to try to "understand what the Afghan plans were for the key events coming up including the peace jirga and Kabul conference," the State Department official said. State is looking hard to figure out when and how Karzai’s government can play a larger role and take the burden off of the U.S. military and civilians in Afghanistan.

"The overall context is: How do we begin to transfer civic responsibilities to the Afghans?," said the official.

At the reception immediately following the meeting in the State Department’s ornate Ben Franklin room, Clinton said the meeting was "an excellent exchange of views."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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