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WH congratulates Karzai, wants reforms

From NBC's Athena Jones
President Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to congratulate him on being named the winner of that country's election, and urged him to work to improve governance and end corruption there.

Karzai was named the victor when his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of a runoff election scheduled for Nov. 7. The second round was called after allegations of fraud -- backed up by international monitors -- marred the August vote. But Abdullah argued that not enough protections had been put in place to avoid a repeat of the earlier problems.

President Hamid Karzai won a second term after the Afghan election commission canceled the scheduled runoff race. How will this affect President Obama's decision on troop deployment to the region?

Administration officials have consistently contended the United States must have a credible, legitimate partner heading the government in Afghanistan in order to accomplish America's chief national security goals of denying Al Qaeda a safe haven in the country and preventing the Taliban from taking over there.

Obama's remarks echoed those of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who told reporters earlier in the day that Karzai was the country's legitimate leader, but stopped short of calling him a credible partner. The president said Afghanistan's electoral was "messy," but that the final outcome was in line with Afghanistan's constitution.

"I did emphasize to President Karzai that the American people and the international community as a whole want to continue to partner with him and his government in achieving prosperity and security in Afghanistan," Obama said. "But I emphasized this has to be a point in time in which we begin to write a new chapter based on improved governance, a much more serious effort to eradicate corruption, joint efforts to accelerate the training of Afghan security forces so that the Afghan people can provide for their own security."

Karzai's government has faced widespread charges of corruption, and his brother has been accused of involvement in the country's lucrative drug trade, which helps fund insurgents.

The war in Afghanistan has grown increasingly unpopular in America as casualties rise and former officials from the region question the U.S. mission there. Some argue the mere presence of foreign troops in the country -- and the U.S. backing of a government seen as ineffective and illegitimate -- is what is fueling the insurgency.

Obama said he had called on Karzai to "move boldly and forcefully" to initiate reforms.

"That has to be one of our highest priorities," the president said. "[Karzai] assured me that he understood the importance of this moment. But as I indicated to him, the proof is not going to be in words; it's gonna be in deeds. And we are looking forward to consulting closely with his government in the weeks and months to come to ensure that the Afghan people are actually seeing progress on ground."

The president and his national security team continue their deliberations about whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan. The White House has said that a decision on strategy is still "weeks away" -- a phrase they have been using repeatedly for at least a month. Some Republican critics say Obama is dragging his feet.