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Karzai Vows to Stamp out Corruption in Afghanistan

November 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Secretary of State Clinton flew to Afghanistan today for the inauguration of President Karzai. And she called again for the Afghan government to reform itself and clean up corruption.

Karzai will be sworn in tomorrow for a second five-year term.

Gwen Ifill has our lead story report.

GWEN IFILL: Secretary Clinton arrived in Kabul today at a critical moment, what she called a window of opportunity for the U.S. and Afghanistan.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, secretary of state, U.S.: Hello, everybody.

GWEN IFILL: Clinton headed into a locked-down Afghan capital, where fear of inauguration-related Taliban strikes has closed roads and limited travel. There were other behind-the-scenes tensions as the secretary, joined by the U.S. ambassador and commanding general, greeted President Karzai and Afghan officials.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Congratulate you again on your reelection.

HAMID KARZAI, Afghanistan, president: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Speaking to U.S. Embassy staffers, Clinton made clear that Karzai faces tough new expectations.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: We stand at a critical moment for President Karzai and his government to make a new compact with the people of Afghanistan, to demonstrate clearly that we’re going to have accountability and tangible results that will improve the lives of the people who live throughout this magnificent country.

GWEN IFILL: Still, there was a fresh reminder this morning of the extent of official graft in Afghanistan. The Washington Post reported the minister of mines allegedly took a $30 million bribe to grant a Chinese mining company rights to a huge copper deposit.

On Monday, the Afghan government launched a new anti-corruption unit, the third in as many years. And at a news conference that day, the U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, said it was time for deeds, not words.

Karzai has insisted he understands the need for action. But, in an interview with the NewsHour last week, he also pushed back against Western officials who have pressed for big changes.

Tension over sending U.S. troops

HAMID KARZAI: Well, the West is not here primarily for the sake of Afghanistan. It is here to fight the war on terror. The United States and its allies came to Afghanistan after September 11. Afghanistan was troubled like hell before that, too. Nobody bothered about us.

GWEN IFILL: Afterward, published reports said those remarks rankled American officials, as they wrestle with sending more troops to Afghanistan.

President Obama has been weighing options for months. And, today, in China, he talked about it with CNN.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I will announce that decision certainly in the next several weeks.

The pieces involved, number one, making sure that the American people understand we do have a vital interest in making sure that al-Qaida can't attack us and that they can't use Afghanistan as a safe haven. We have a vital interest in making sure that Afghanistan is sufficiently stable that it can't infect the entire region with violent extremism.

GWEN IFILL: That decision will come as public support for the Afghan war continues to fall. A Washington Post/ABC News poll published today found 52 percent of Americans now believe the war has not been worth fighting.

Support for the war in other NATO member nations is lower still. But the alliance said today it plans a meeting next month to discuss sending in even more troops.

JIM LEHRER: Gwen will look at corruption in Afghanistan later in the program.