Bush Says Karzai Delivering Progress In Afghanistan

Wednesday, September 26th 2007, 7:35 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ President Bush said Wednesday that Afghanistan is becoming a safer, more stable country, thanks to the efforts of President Hamid Karzai.

``Mr. President, you've got strong friends here,'' Bush told Karzai after they met for about an hour at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel here. ``I expect progress and you expect progress, and I appreciate the report you have given me today.''

The two leaders made no direct mention of Afghanistan's soaring drug trade, the unsuccessful search for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden or the resurgence of the Taliban.

Bush sought to remind the American public why U.S. forces are still in Afghanistan, site of a war that is often overshadowed by the one in Iraq.

``It's in our security interests that this democracy flourish, because if freedom takes place in Afghanistan, it will set an example of what's possible in other parts of the broader Middle East,'' Bush said.

He and Karzai discussed drug-fighting operations, the battle against al-Qaida and the Taliban and the development of energy using Afghanistan's natural resources.

Karzai returned the focus to the liberation of his people, which he said is overlooked these days.

``I don't know if you feel it in the United States, but we feel it so immensely in Afghanistan,'' Karzai said.

``Afghanistan has indeed made progress,'' Karzai insisted, citing improvements in basic services such as roads and education.

Yet persistent security troubles have undermined Afghanistan's stability.

Afghan opium poppy cultivation has hit a record high this year, fueled by Taliban militants and corrupt officials in Karzai's government, a U.N. report found last month. The country produces nearly all the world's opium, and Taliban insurgents are profiting.

Also, Afghanistan remains in a fight for basic security, a constant threat to its growth as a new democracy. Karzai is pledging to work hard on peace talks with the Taliban to draw the insurgents and their supporters ``back to the fold,'' as he put it this week.

The United States has more than 20,000 troops in Afghanistan. Aides say it is natural for Bush to meet Karzai to review progress, but no single issue prompted their sit-down.

Bush, in New York for the annual gathering of the U.N. General Assembly, made only brief mention of the war in Afghanistan during his speech to world leaders Tuesday. He said the people of Afghanistan _ and Iraq and Lebanon _ were in a deadly fight for survival.

Bush also pivoted to his domestic agenda before wrapping up three days in New York.

He touted new national test scores as evidence that the No Child Left Behind Act, his signature education law, is working and deserving of renewal by Congress.

``My call to the Congress is, don't water down this good law,'' Bush said Wednesday. ``Don't go backward when it comes to educational excellence.''

The new national test results, released Tuesday, show elementary and middle schoolers posted solid gains in math. The students made more modest improvements in reading, however.

Bush met with Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City's school system, which has won the nation's top prize for urban districts. The district garnered the honor chiefly for reducing achievements gaps among poor and minority kids, a key educational goal for Bush.

The president intends to miss no chance to talk up the No Child Left Behind law, which is up for renewal in Congress. Many lawmakers say it is too narrow and punitive.

Bush, accompanied Klein and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, surrounded himself with about two dozen public school children. Several of them seemed stunned by the attention.

Before leaving town, Bush spoke at a private fundraiser for the Republican National Committee.