LONDON, (Reuters) – British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai at his official country retreat in southeast England on Saturday to discuss bilateral ties and progress in the Afghan conflict.
Karzai, the first foreign leader to make a formal visit to Britain since last week’s election, came straight from a high-profile trip to Washington designed to restore unity with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Obama’s administration has been critical of Karzai for failing to battle corruption that many say is hurting U.S.-led efforts to fight the Taliban.
“They discussed President Karzai’s very successful visit to Washington and the prospects for the peace jirga in Afghanistan at the end of May,” Cameron’s spokesman said after the meeting at Chequers, the prime ministerial country home. “The president and prime minister agreed that the relationship between Afghanistan and Britain should be further strengthened.”
Afghanistan was high on the agenda when new Foreign Secretary William Hague, a former Conservative leader who lost to Tony Blair in the 2001 election, met his U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton in Washington on Friday.
Britain is the second-largest troop contributor to NATO-led forces in Afghanistan with 9,500 troops based mainly in southern Helmand province, where scores of British soldiers have been killed since the war started in late 2001.
Last year, a record 108 British troops were killed in Afghanistan, according to independent website icasualties.org.
The British military has struggled against Taliban insurgents in Helmand and the former Labour government was criticised for failing to provide its troops with adequate equipment.
“Our immediate priorities are making sure that we get to grips with Afghanistan and tackling nuclear proliferation (in) Iran,” Hague told the Times newspaper this week.