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Bush apologizes to Karzai for Senate panel treatment

Afghan leader was grilled on country's progress

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, left, talked with Sen. Joseph Biden at the February 26 Senate hearing.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, left, talked with Sen. Joseph Biden at the February 26 Senate hearing.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush has apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for what the administration believes was mistreatment by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Karzai appeared before it last month, the White House confirmed Tuesday.

"There is a long-standing tradition of foreign leaders who testify to receive a level of decorum, and the president thought that an apology was warranted in this matter," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Bush phone Karzai on Saturday.

Karzai was invited to the committee to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the needs of his government. At that February 26 hearing, he was asked about progress in Afghanistan, with questions about the status of women, education and the war on terrorism.

"It turned into more of a grilling," said a senior Democratic committee aide. "The atmospherics were bad."

With cameras rolling, Karzai was pressed on the state of Afghanistan and put in what the congressional aide said was "clearly an uncomfortable position."

During the hearing, several senators cautioned Karzai to give a blunt and realistic assessment in his private discussions with Bush and administration figures, saying it would be a mistake not to fully acknowledge all of the problems and challenges the country faces.

"If you leave an impression that everything is going well...the next time you come back, your credibility will be in question," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska.

When a White House aide described the call to reporters on Saturday, he said only that the president "congratulated (Karzai) on the success of the recent visit to the U.S.," and that the two discussed their mutual commitment to the war on terror.

Andrew Fisher, a spokesman for Sen. Richard Lugar -- the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- said Afghan officials knew in advance the format of the hearing and that Karzai had handled well all of the questions posed to him.

"The intent was to keep the Afghan situation in front of the American people," Fisher said of the hearing. "It seems to have been a success."

CNN.Com Producer Sean Loughlin contributed to this report.

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