WASHINGTON - The Obama administration signaled its support for Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday, affirming him as commander in chief and expressing sympathy for the pressures he faces.
The affirmation comes a week after Karzai told a select group of lawmakers in Kabul that he would abandon the political process and join the Taliban if international forces continued pressuring him to reform.
"He said that 'if I come under foreign pressure, I might joint the Taliban,'" lawmaker Farooq Marenai said, according to The Associated Press.
"He said rebelling would change to resistance," said Marenai, indicating that Karzai could redefine the Taliban as a resistance movement against foreign occupiers rather than an insurgency against the Afghan government.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called Karzai's statement "troubling" and said the American people were "frustrated with the remarks."
But a week later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates came to Karzai's defense, calling him a reliable partner and dismissing his remarks as understandable.
"This is a leader who is under enormous pressure," Clinton said in a pre-taped interview that aired Sunday on Face the Nation.
"And I wonder sometimes how anybody can cope with the kind of relentless stress that you face after having been in some military activity or war footing for 30 years, which is what the reality is in Afghanistan," she said.
On ABC television's This Week, Gates said Karzai deserved respect as the political leader of a sovereign country, noting his "very positive relationship with U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal," who meets with him regularly.
In Afghanistan, Gen. David Petreaus echoed Clinton and McChrystal's remarks.
"President Karzai is the commander in chief," Petreaus told reporters. "He is the president of a sovereign country. Yes, there is a partnership, but he is the commander in chief," he said.
On Sunday, Karzai reportedly traveled to the Northern Afghanistan where he appealed to Taliban forces to lay down their weapons.
"Come and have your say, not by the gun," Karzai said. "You say that 'foreigners are here.' As long as you fight, they won't leave," he said.
AP contributed to this report.