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Hamid Karzai: 'Smooth' transition for Afghanistan

Hamid Karzai
Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai is optimistic about his country's relationships with the rest of the world.  

(CNN) -- Interim leader Hamid Karzai is the first Afghan head of state to visit the United States in nearly 40 years. CNN's Wolf Blitzer sat down with Karzai on Sunday for his first television interview since arriving in Washington. He spoke about his vision for his country's future and the role he would like the United States to play in it. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

BLITZER: You are the first leader of Afghanistan in ... 39 years to be officially welcomed in Washington, D.C. What is going through your mind right now knowing you are representing your people here?

KARZAI: I'm glad. I'm very happy. It's an honor that the U.S. president, the U.S. government, the people, are welcoming me here. I have seen a good welcome so far.

In my mind, as I stay in Washington, as right now I'm talking to you, is only one thing -- how to make Afghanistan good again, how to make it strong against the reemergence of terrorism and bad people from around the world, and how to cooperate with America and the international community to finish terrorism forever and to make a nice, good, peaceful world.

BLITZER: When you say all the neighbors [specifically Iran and Pakistan] have been nice [and cooperative during this transitional period] so far ... let's go through those neighbors. First of all, Pakistan President [Pervez] Musharraf, is he supporting you? Are you confident that he is working to help Afghanistan?

KARZAI: Well, he was the first president of a country to call me, even when I was away from Kabul north of Kandahar in central Afghanistan. He called to congratulate me and to extend his cooperation and to say, Look, let's have the best of relations.

BLITZER: So [Pakistan's] previous support for the Taliban, you forgot about?

KARZAI: Yes. We have to be reasonable. We have to live in this part of the world. We have to be good with our neighbors. We have to have the best of relationships, trade and so on. From our side, there is the best of intentions. Based on our national interest, we will do that.

BLITZER: As you know, many American officials are very concerned about the Iranian role. Reports of troops, of arms shipments into Afghanistan. What exactly are the Iranians up to?

KARZAI: Iran, too, is a major neighbor of ours. We share history. We share culture. We share the same language. We are both Muslim countries. The Iranians have come and told us that they have the best intentions toward us. I spoke to the president of Iran, Mr. [Mohammad] Khatami. He gave me assurances.

Yes, we hear things happening in western parts of the country. But just a few days ago in Tokyo, the Iranian foreign ministry gave me a reassurance again and we take that as good. And if there is anything that is not done well by our neighbors, that we feel is not right, we will tell them straight. And we right now hope that everybody will be nice to us and we are nice to them. That's where I would like things to be.

BLITZER: As you know, Russia has a history in Afghanistan, not a very good history, [especially] the former Soviet Union. I have spoken to people who have been in Kabul recently [and they] say there are a lot of Russians running around Kabul right now. Are they playing a positive or a negative role, as far as you can tell?

KARZAI: I don't think there are so many Russians in Afghanistan right now. There were some that came from a medical unit. They have not displayed any such activity that should concern us, that should make us worried.

At this point now, today, I believe all of our neighbors are having a reasonable attitude. There are reports here and there. But that's not alarming at this point, not seriously alarming. So we can keep quiet about it, but we will follow the situation. ...

And we hope that everybody will be friendly and nice because it is tremendously in the interest of all in that region to have a moderate, reasonable approach to Afghanistan. Otherwise, terrorism, bad people, radicalism will find a place again and that's going to be disastrous for the region as a whole.

BLITZER: As you know, there was a report in Newsweek [magazine] when Secretary of State Powell was in Kabul that there was a plot against him. Was there?

KARZAI: I don't know of that. Was there?

BLITZER: I don't know. I'm asking you.

KARZAI: I have not heard -- the security has not told me. There were two days mentioned ... [January 15 and 16] that we had reports of some activities by terrorists or by whomever wants to [make] trouble -- but that did not happen. So if that's what you are referring to, yes, there was. Something against Mr. Powell directly, Secretary Powell directly, that I have not heard.

BLITZER: Do al Qaeda operatives still roam around Afghanistan?

KARZAI: In a hide-and-seek manner, yes. They were the government. They were ruling this country.

BLITZER: Who was ruling whom, the Taliban or al Qaeda, because, you know, there were a lot of conflicting reports. Who was really in charge?

KARZAI: I think as I saw the situation four months ago, as I saw the fighting machine of the Taliban, it was these al Qaeda people that were running the Taliban.

BLITZER: Really?

KARZAI: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: Do you want to share with us what you want [in terms of U.S. aid in establishing and training a national military force in Afghanistan]?

KARZAI: There are no specifics here. We want our army to be trained and trained well. And if the U.S. can give training to our people, good.

BLITZER: And you believe you have the basic support from the Bush administration and from Congress that will generate that kind of position?

KARZAI: I think we have that support, yes. I think there is a very nice feeling both in Afghanistan and in America for a joint cooperation. We must develop on that. We must build on that.

BLITZER: You have no reason to believe there will be anything but a smooth transition over the course of the next several months and indeed years?

KARZAI: It will be smooth. There may be problems here and there for a country like ours that's just coming out of the operation room ... the intensive care unit. You don't expect things to go very, very smoothly. There will be troubles. There will be skirmishes. There will be problems here and there. But the overall flow of things will be smooth, the overall national flow of things will be smooth, because the national sentiment is for stability in Afghanistan and we must deliver that.

BLITZER: And the exiled king, there are reports now he is going to be coming back earlier than previously thought.

KARZAI: Well, when I met with him ... in early December he wanted to come on the 21st of March, which is the first day of a new year in Afghanistan. And I said, Welcome. I'll make sure he comes back. That is his country. All Afghans are welcome to Afghanistan to come back and live in their country.

BLITZER: Will he come back in March at that time?

KARZAI: I think he will. I spoke to him the day before yesterday and he said yes, he wants come.

BLITZER: He's feeling all right?

KARZAI: He's feeling good.

BLITZER: He is not a young man.

KARZAI: But he is feeling good.

BLITZER: And he will have a powerful, symbolic role in any new government?

KARZAI: He has no desire to enter politics in Afghanistan. He has told me that very clear and loud, several, several times over the past many years. But he will be inaugurating the Afghan grand council, the Loya Jirga. And if the Loya Jirga asks him to do something, he may or may not accept. Otherwise, on his own, as a person, he has no desire for a political role. He has a desire to help Afghanistan get through difficult times, through better times.

BLITZER: I have been in Washington for many years, as you know. I have covered many visits by leaders from other countries to Washington. I must tell you the security surrounding you is as intense as I have seen for anyone. How concerned are you about your personal safety?

KARZAI: I think I'm very safe in Washington. If I walk or not in the streets of Georgetown, I will be very happy to walk on my own.

BLITZER: You want to give the Secret Service a nervous breakdown?

KARZAI: I won't like to give them the nervous breakdown, but they should be relaxed. There is nothing.

BLITZER: You're confident?

KARZAI: I am confident. God is great.

BLITZER: And you believe in God, that's going to take care of you?

KARZAI: Oh, so much. I have seen it in the past. God has helped me in the past.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, welcome to Washington.

KARZAI: Thank you very much. I'm happy to be here.

BLITZER: Good to have you.

KARZAI: Thank you. Thank you very much.




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