World

Bush hosts Karzai for talks on Afghanistan

U.S. President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will meet Sunday at Camp David for talks that are expected to focus on the battle against the Taliban insurgency and Afghanistan's reconstruction.

U.S. President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will meet Sundayat Camp David fortalksthat are expected tofocus on the battle against the Taliban insurgency and Afghanistan's reconstruction.

President George W. Bush walks with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai at Camp David on Sunday. ((Charles Dharapak/Associated Press))

Karzai, who arrived Sunday morning forthe start of a two-day visit to the United States,plans to stayovernightat the presidential retreat in Maryland.

An upcoming peace conference between Afghanistan and Pakistan, andU.S.assistance to Afghanistan willbe discussed, said a statement by the Afghan presidential palace.

Karzai and Bush have several other possible topics for their first meeting since last September, most notablythe fate of 21 South Koreans abducted more than two weeks agoin Afghanistan.

Bush has beenhinting that the Karzai government has been slow in tackling crime and government corruption andthat there has beenlittle progress made in developing the economy.

Karzaiis also facing a backlash over civilian casualties, caused mostly by NATO air strikes. Often mockingly called the mayor of Kabul,Karzai is facingenemies who are creeping closer to the capital.

The Taliban in recent months have moved outsidetheir traditional southern stronghold.Now there are reports that Taliban fighters regularly hold armed meetings in village mosques.

On Sunday, purported Taliban spokesmanQari Yousef Ahmadi said the insurgents had talked to SouthKorean officials over the phone the last three days, but there has been no progress in freeingthe hostages.

Ahmadi said the militants aretrying to convince thoseofficials to come to Taliban-controlled territory or meet Taliban negotiatorsin another country, which he did not specify.

The Afghan government is holding fast to its refusal to exchange prisoners with Taliban militants to free the remaining 21hostages.

A presidential spokesman, Khaleeq Ahmad, told the Bloomberg media organization that Afghan government officials "don't want hostage-taking to become an industry in Afghanistan," but they will continue to explore"all possibilities" to free the hostages.

Five men and 18 womenwere captured at gunpoint from a bus in Ghazniprovince on July 19. The kidnappers have killed two of the men.