Official: Karzai, U.S. envoy have ‘sharp exchanges’

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, right, and Richard Holbrooke at a meeting in Kabul on February 15.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai had "sharp exchanges" about the nation’s recent election with Richard Holbrooke, America’s top diplomat to the region, a senior administration official told CNN.

“There was a back and forth over particular issues,” the official said, “We’re not going to deny that.” The meeting came in the midst of opposition candidates accusing the Karzai campaign of rigging the election. Early election results released Tuesday by Afghan election officials showed a slim margin separating Karzai and his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah. Nevertheless, a Cabinet minister in Karzai’s government said Monday night that Karzai had won with 68 percent of the vote, according to several media reports. Abdullah, who was foreign minister under Karzai, has accused the incumbent of rigging the August 20 elections in his favor. Six other presidential candidates have also called for an investigation into “widespread fraud and intimidation” that they said could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the vote. But unlike Abdullah, they did not accuse Karzai of having a role in the alleged fraud.

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The Obama administration official described the session with Karzai as a “difficult meeting” and “very tough,” but denied media reports that Holbrooke “stormed out.” The discussion took place during a meal and it ended “amicably,” according to the official who said there were follow-up meetings between Holbrooke and Karzai. The official also denied media reports that Holbrooke tried to dictate to Karzai that there must be a runoff election. Holbrooke, the official said, underscored that the election process should be respected and that all sides should let it “play itself out.”

“If that means it moves to a second ballot,” the official said Holbrooke told them, “then so be it.” Full results are expected to be released in mid-September. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff — most likely in mid-October.