Behind the Scenes: John Kerry & the Karzai Deal

By Sadie Bass

Oct 20, 2009 6:06pm

ABC's Jonathan Karl reports from Washington:

Over the last five days in Afghanistan, John Kerry acted more like a Secretary of State than a Senator, playing the central role in brokering an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a new presidential election. 

As Kerry engaged in shuttle diplomacy – going back and forth between the Karzai and Abdullah camps and between Afghanistan and Pakistan – top Obama administration officials, including Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke were thousands of miles away in Washington. 

Based on interviews with people familiar with what transpired in Kabul, here’s a look at Kerry’s highly unusual actions:

Friday, October 16

Kerry, on a long scheduled trip to Afghanistan/Pakistan, meets for dinner in Kabul with a group of US troops from Massachusetts and US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.  Ambassador Eikenberry tells Kerry that there’s a real problem in Kabul: Karzai is adamantly refusing to accept the UN election commission’s conclusion that roughly one-third of his votes were fraudulent, putting his vote total at less than the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off election.

At Ambassador Eikenberry’s request, Kerry makes an unscheduled visit to the presidential palace to meet with Karzai.  He spends several hours at the palace, leaving shortly before midnight without a resolution.

Saturday, October 17

Kerry cancels a planned visit to Jalalabad and instead meets in Kabul in the morning with Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s political opponent.  He also has meetings with UN official Kai Eide, former U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and British and French officials.

At 2:30, Kerry and Eikenberry are back at the Presidential palace for another meeting with Karzai.  After two hours, the meeting ends at an impasse.  Karzai refuses to accept the international commission’s findings, arguing that 1.3 million Afghans will unjustly be disenfranchised if his votes are thrown out. 

A few hours later, Kerry comes back to the palace for dinner with Karzai, members of his cabinet and members of the international and Afghan election commissions.  The meeting lasts for 5 hours, ending sometime after midnight with no resolution.

Sunday, October 18

Kerry takes a previously planned trip to Kandahar for military briefings and meeting with a local leaders. 

He returns to Kabul for another dinner at the palace with Karzai and Eikenberry.  Karzai unexpectedly brings along members of his International Election Commission (IEC) which has rejected the UN’s findings.  This is a unwelcome development – a sign that Karzai is digging in his heels. 

The dinner ends with no resolution.  Kerry takes a late night flight to Pakistan, promising to return to Kabul if he’s needed (and if Karzai is ready to reconsider).

Monday, October 19

Kerry has various meetings in Islamabad  — with David Petraeus, Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, Pakistani intelligence chief Shuja Pasha and others.

As Kerry prepares to fly back to DC, he’s called back to Kabul, arriving at the presidential palace at 5pm for yet another dinner with Karzai.  The agreement is struck, Karzai says he will accept the new election results and agree to a November 7 run-off against Abdullah Abdullah.  They agree to announce the agreement at noon the following day at the palace.

Tuesday, October 20

In the morning, Kerry meets with Abdullah to tell him about the agreement with Karzai. 

Kerry then goes back to the palace to find that Karzai is, once again, refusing to accept the new election results.  This prompts a series of crisis meetings with Karzai, Kerry, UN officials, and a flurry of phone calls to Washington – to Secretary of State Clinton and Richard Holbrooke.  As the unwitting press corps waits for the 12:00 pm press conference, Karzai appears to be backing out of the deal. 

As the afternoon drags on, Kerry takes a walk with Karzai on the presidential compound for another more one-on-one talk.  The two men visit a mosque on the presidential compound and then return to the palace.  Karzai agrees, once again, to accept the updated election results and the run-off election. 

At 4:50 pm, they walk out before the camera to announce the agreement – nearly 4 hours late.

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