Karzai stands by vote fraud claims against West

President Hamid Karzai said he stood behind accusations that the West was responsible for election fraud in Afghanistan, despite having incurred the White House's anger over the comments.

His remarks appeared to intensify the quarrel, by directly blaming Washington for what he has described as "massive fraud" aimed at weakening him and his government.

"What I said about the election was all true, I won't repeat it, but it was all true," Karzai told the BBC.

"That the US carried out the fraud?" the BBC correspondent asked.

"That's exactly what happened; I mentioned the elements who did it," Karzai said.

He added: "We have partnership, we want to continue this alliance and partnership with the United States and the rest of the world, in the interest of both of us. But this has to be understood by all that Afghanistan is a sovereign country."

Karzai levelled the accusations that the West was behind election fraud in a speech on Thursday, prompting the White House to demand an explanation and the US State Department to call the claims "preposterous".

The White House expressed further frustration on Monday about recent anti-Western remarks made by Afghan President Hamid Karzai but said a May meeting between him and President Barack Obama was still scheduled.

"The remarks are genuinely troubling. The substance of the remarks, as have been looked into by many, are obviously not true," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

In his speech on Thursday, Karzai said foreigners had bribed and threatened election workers to carry out fraud in last year's presidential election. He singled out the former deputy head of the UN mission in Kabul - American diplomat Peter Galbraith - as well as the French head of a European Union monitoring team.

While he did not single out the United States explicitly in his comments last week, he said: "The votes of the Afghan nation were in the control of an embassy."

Washington has by far the largest embassy in Kabul.

On Sunday, despite a conciliatory call to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday, Karzai again distanced himself from his Western backers by telling tribal elders Afghans need to see their leaders are not "puppets" and that government officials should not let "foreigners" meddle in their work.

Gibbs said Obama's 12 May meeting with Karzai was still on and that Washington will continue to work with him, but has set benchmarks for his government.

"President Karzai is the elected leader of Afghanistan," he said. "We have outlined, as I said, a series of things that President Karzai has to do and that - and others throughout all levels of government have to do."

Gibbs said he did not expect Karzai's comments to affect the US Congress' consideration of the Obama administration's budget request for Afghan war funding.

"What our military is doing there in order to stamp out extremism and to ensure that the Taliban and its extremist allies are incapable of coming back to Afghanistan and setting up a safe haven by which to plan further attacks on the United States - preventing that from happening is strongly in our national interest," Gibbs said.

When asked if the White House was concerned that Karzai's comments could erode public support for the war, Gibbs expressed further frustration.

"On behalf of the American people, we're frustrated with the remarks."

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