In his media briefing, Jay Carney was questioned extensively about the book "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War" by former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, which reportedly is critical of U.S. President Barack Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan.
The book's release comes when the Obama administration has been pressing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to promptly sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, which took months of intense negotiations to complete and which is needed to decide how many U.S. troops, if any, would remain in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led NATO coalition forces end their combat operations by the end of this year.
Karzai, however, has so far refused to sign it unless there are more guarantees, including additional assurances that Afghan civilians will be protected. He has also said it should be signed only by Afghanistan's new president after the April elections.
When asked whether Obama is concerned about getting the document signed because of reported revelations about the President's personal views of Karzai, Carney repeated his earlier caution the signing of the BSA is now a matter of "weeks, not months" to allow the United States and its allies to plan troops levels in Afghanistan post-2014.
One reporter quoted the Gates' book as saying President Obama cannot stand Karzai and was joined by other reporters on whether that would further raise tensions.
Carney said there are direct and regular communications both from Washington and the U.S. embassy in Kabul with President Karzai and his government.
"And I think these matters are well far along the road, so I don't anticipate that. He and his government understand our views and our position and the reasoning behind it. And we simply urge prompt action on signing the BSA," Carney said.
Asked if Secretary Gates' characterization of Obama's views of Karzai are accurate, Carney said the president has addressed U.S. policy on Afghanistan and relationship with Karzai.
Carney said the administration works with the Afghan government and Karzai every day "both through our military and our civilian force there to help them prepare for this transition" and that "has been a clear focus of the mission that the President established after the review of our policy there."
Carney said he wouldn't "necessarily agree" with the reported characterization that Obama cannot stand Karzai and that he thought "the issues here are not about personalities, they're about policies" and that the decision the president makes about U.S. forces in Afghanistan "have to do with U.S. national security interests, not those kinds of issues."
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