Afghan President Hamid Karzai Sunday cancelled a high-profile press conference in Kabul with new U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, with U.S. officials saying the event was dropped for “security concerns.”
A palace official, who declined to be named, said however that the press conference had been cancelled because of “scheduling pressure,” without giving further details.
Karzai and Hagel’s appearance together in front of the cameras was to be a key part of the Pentagon chief's first visit to Afghanistan since he was sworn in 11 days ago and as U.S.-Afghan ties focus on the withdrawal of foreign troops.
The start of Hagel’s trip on Friday was overshadowed by a suicide bombing outside the defense ministry in Kabul.
Nine people were killed in the explosion which occurred while the defense secretary was in a briefing at a nearby U.S. military base in the city.
Karzai also made a contentious speech on Sunday in which he said the U.S. was in daily talks with the Taliban and that insurgent suicide attacks enabled the U.S.-led international military force to justify its presence in Afghanistan.
“The Secretary is looking forward to meeting President Karzai,” Hagel’s spokesman said about their meeting, which was still on schedule. “The press conference was not cancelled because of the president's recent comments.”
The decision was “reached in consultation with our Afghan partners,” George Little added.
U.S. officials travelling with Hagel said on condition of anonymity that the press conference had been “cancelled due to security concerns.”