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Karzai pleads with Afghan expatriates to return

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One day before his scheduled meeting with President Bush, Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai called on expatriates to return home and help rebuild their shattered homeland.

"You are the ones who are trained. You are the ones who are academics. You are the ones who have professional training," Karzai told an audience of Afghan expatriates and officials at Washington's Georgetown University on Sunday night.

"Come back to your country, and we will welcome you."

The speech marked the official start of the Afghan leader's first trip to the United States, where he will meet with U.S. leaders, speak at the United Nations, talk to World Bank officials and visit Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

The White House said the visit provides an opportunity for the United States to forge ties with the central Asian country to build a stable Afghanistan. It also will give Karzai a chance to solicit assistance for his war-torn country.

Karzai expressed optimism about his country's future Sunday, pledging to build a country "where all people are looked at equally."

"I promise you that from difficult times, we are walking toward good times, positive times, hopeful times," Karzai said. "The people want it now. That's why I'm sure."

'Urbane and savvy'

Karzai is the first Afghan leader to go to Washington since King Zahir Shah, who was later deposed, was invited in September 1963 by President John F. Kennedy.

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Aides to the 44-year-old Afghan leader said he will thank the United States for its help in defeating the Taliban, but also tell Bush that military operations in Afghanistan should end once the threat from Al Qaeda is removed.

Karzai's trip is also meant to convey sympathy from the Afghan people to the families of victims in the September 11 attacks.

Security is likely to top the agenda when Karzai meets Bush on Monday. Karzai is expected to ask the United States to get involved in the British-led security force in Afghanistan and take a longer-term stance.

He may also ask the United States for help in training and equipping a national army.

U.S. Congress members who have met Karzai said they have been impressed with the leader and expected him to make a good impression. Many thought he was urbane and media savvy with an international flair.

Karzai spent the past week raising funds to rebuild his country. In an international meeting in Japan, donors pledged over $4.5 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, including $1.8 billion for the first year.

Karzai will be staying at the Blair House, the presidential guest house.

Along with meeting Bush on Monday, Karzai will oversee a flag-raising at Afghanistan's embassy.

To visit U.N., Ground Zero in New York

On Monday, he is scheduled to meet with World Bank President James Wolfensohn, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

A meeting is tentatively scheduled with Secretary of State Colin Powell. He is also to attend an event in the Rose Garden, where Bush will publicly welcome Karzai.

On Tuesday, he is scheduled to meet with U.S. congressional leaders and officials from the International Monetary Fund and to address the National Press Club. Karzai reportedly will be Bush's guest at the State of the Union address.

On Wednesday, Karzai is to travel to New York, where he is reportedly scheduled to visit the site of the destroyed World Trade Center and address a session of the U.N. Security Council.

The Afghan leader is then expected to stop in on British Prime Minister Tony Blair on January 31 en route home.



 
 
 
 


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