From NBC's Scott Foster
On the eve of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to Washington, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry told White House reporters today that he expects the talks will lead to a "better alignment" in what's become a frayed relationship between the two countries.
Eikenberry, who made headlines last November when secret memos he penned were leaked expressing concerns about the build-up of American forces there and Karzai's leadership abilities as a strategic partner, declined to say today whether those concerns about Karzai have been eased.
Eikenberry told reporters, "President Karzai is the -- he's the elected president of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a close friend and ally. Of course, I highly respect President Karzai in that capacity."
The U.S.-Afghan relationship has been strained lately over Afghan concerns about American military attacks that have resulted in civilian casualties, as well as accusations by the United States that the Afghan government isn't doing enough to fight corruption.
Ambassador Eikenberry, a retired three-star Army general who served two tours in Afghanistan, sought to downplay the apparent diplomatic rift, saying that all relationships "experience ups and downs." He added, "But what measures true partnership is the ability, when the stakes are as high as they are for Afghanistan and the United States of America to be able to work our way through our difficulties."
Reporters pounced on his less-than-ringing endorsement of Karzai, but Eikenberry declined to respond to a follow-up question over whether his specific concerns about Karzai have been allayed.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who also attended the press briefing, interjected, saying: "I think he answered."
With parliamentary elections in Afghanistan later this year, Eikenberry said he expects "serious dialogues" focused on strengthening Afghan security forces and judicial institutions.
Eikenberry and Karzai, along with numerous top Afghan government officials shared a flight to Washington from Afghanistan earlier today.
President Obama and Karzai are set to have talks at the White House on Wednesday.