Kerry praises plans for ‘safe’ Afghan elections

KABUL: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a show of unity Monday, shortly after the U.S. military ceded control of its last detention facility inAfghanistan, ending a longstanding irritant in relations between the two countries.

Kerry, in Afghanistan for an unannounced visit, said he and Karzai were “on the same page” when it comes to peace talks with theTaliban.

Karzai had infuriated U.S. officials by accusing Washington of colluding with Taliban insurgents to keep Afghanistan weak even as the Obama administration presses ahead with plans to hand off security responsibility to Afghan forces and end NATO’s combat mission by the end of next year.

But Kerry told a joint news conference that “I am confident (Karzai) does not believe the U.S. has any interest except to see the Taliban come to the table to make peace.”

“So we’re on the same page. I don’t think there is any disagreement between us and I am comfortable with his explanation,” Kerry said.

For his part, Karzai said “today was a very good day,” citing the turnover of the detention facility at the U.S.-run Bagram military base north of Kabul.

The two spoke at a joint news conference during which Kerry also praised what he said was Afghanistan’s commitment to “safe, secure” and transparent elections, scheduled for April 2014.

During Kerry’s 24-hour visit to the country — his sixth since President Barack Obama became president but his first as Obama’s secretary of State — Kerry also planned to meet with civic leaders and others to discuss continued U.S. assistance to the country and how to wean it from such aid as the international military operation winds down, and upcoming national elections.

U.S. officials accompanying Kerry said he did not plan to lecture Karzai on his earlier rhetoric, which the U.S. had seen as jeopardizing progress in the war against extremism.

Kerry, who arrived in Kabul from Amman, Jordan, had hoped also to travel to Pakistan on his trip to the region but put it off due to elections there. Instead, he met late Sunday in Amman with Pakistani army chief for Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, officials said.