WASHINGTON (PAN): Amid media reports of a verbal clash with the Afghan president in the immediate aftermath of the elections, the Special US representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan says he has great respect for Hamid Karzai.

"We have the greatest respect for him and for his role as president. He is also a candidate in an election where the votes are still being counted and where the outcome is still being decided," the diplomat said on Wednesday.

Richard Holbrooke, breaking his long silence on the issue, said: "On that basis we deal with him (Karzai) as a candidate, just as we deal with other candidates. I want to be very clear.

"Just as we have in the United States, between an election and the inauguration, one president and that, right now, is Hamid Karzai," he said in response to a question in Paris, where he is attending a meeting of the Special Representatives.

A transcript of the press conference was made available here by the State Department. Holbrooke said the Obama administration had no candidates and no preference as to whether there was a first-round victory or a runoff. That was for the process to determine, the envoy added.

"Our advocacy is for a fair process overseen by the Independent Election Commission, taking into account the decisions of the Electoral Complaints Commission -- a process which then elects a government that is legitimate and reflects the will of the people who voted," he observed.

During that process, he acknowledged, there were going to be many claims of irregularities; that happens in every democracy. "We recently had a senatorial election in Minnesota which took seven months to determine the outcome, there were so many charges of irregularities."

Meanwhile, in Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Afghanistan was a very dangerous place. "It is a very challenging environment in Afghanistan.  But we are committed to implementing the president’s strategy."

The strategy was helping Afghanistan develop its own institutions, giving US troops and the NATO troops the wherewithal they needed, helping train the Afghan security forces, he added. "It is a serious situation, but we remain committed to the job."


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