Secretary of State John Kerry made another unannounced visit to a country in the Middle East on Monday morning. This time he's in Afghanistan to try and make nice with President Hamid Karzai, whose relationship with the U.S. has been contentious of late — and that's putting it nicely.
The U.S. is still planning to pull out its troops out by 2014, but like all relationships with a set end in sight, things started to turn sour. The Associated Press reports Kerry plans to look past the two countries' more recent diplomatic difficulties and, quite obviously, focus on the future in talks with Karzai today:
U.S. officials accompanying Kerry said he did not plan to lecture Karzai or dwell on the apparent animosity but would make clear once again that the U.S. did not take such allegations lightly. They said he would press Karzai on the need for May's elections to meet international standards and continue to stress the importance of Afghan reconciliation and U.S. support for a Taliban office in Qatar where talks could occur.
Like we said, things haven't been that smooth between Karzai and the U.S. so far this year. After the Afghan president visited the White House in January for bilateral discussions light on specifics, Karzai took to another press conference this month and might have accused the Taliban of working with the U.S. to ensure a continued American military presence in a key region. But the reason he might have crossed that diplomatic line, according to some reports, was mounting frustration over the continued negotiations to hand over to Afghan authorities control of the Parwan Detention Facility, a prison that houses some of the nastier guys in Afghanistan — and that's located right next to the Bagram air base. The U.S. wanted to keep some control over the facility; Karzai thought the U.S. was dragging its feet on a transition that seems to be in a constant state of flux. But the two sides appeared to settled that dispute on the weekend: Karzai got full control of his prison, so he should be a jovial, gracious host.
On Sunday, Kerry made another unannounced visit to Iraq speak with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki about the continued Iranian flights through Iraqi airspace to Syria. The U.S. believes they're shipping weapons in to fuel Bashar al-Assad's troops and Iraq isn't oing anything about it. Iraq had previously promised to inspect some of the flights, but didn't follow through on that promise. On Saturday, Kerry met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for "useful" talks. Indeed, after what is being more or less universally praised as a positive trip by President Obama to the Middle East last week, the latest wave of U.S. negotiations may be all about making nice headed into the spring.