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US shares same goals as Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, John Kerry says

KABUL -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has infuriated U.S. officials with anti-American rhetoric, on Monday denied suggesting that the U.S. was colluding with the Taliban to convince Afghans that foreign forces were needed in the country beyond 2014. 

In a joint news briefing with Secretary of State John Kerry, Karzai said the media misinterpreted comments he made during a visit by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on March 10.

Karzai said the point he was trying to make was that by continuing to bomb and kill innocent Afghans, the Taliban is giving a reason for the U.S. to stay.

It was the media, Karzai said, that misinterpreted that to mean collusion, a word he said he did not use.

"If (Taliban) want the international community to leave this country, their forces, they must stop hurting Afghans or hurting the international community." Karzai said. "To the United States, I'm in full support of saying that they no longer fight the Taliban, that they will focus on fighting al Qaeda and the other terrorist networks."

Kerry arrived in Afghanistan’s capital Monday on an unannounced visit that aims to repair fractured ties with President Hamid Karzai.

For his part, Kerry said the United States and Afghan leaders share the same goals – bringing the Taliban into peace talks.

"I'm confident that the president absolutely does not believe the United States has any interest except to see the Taliban come to the table to make peace," Kerry said.

The meeting came on the same day the U.S. turned over the detention facility at the U.S.-run Bagram military base north of Kabul to Afghan control, which has been a priority for Karzai. U.S. officials say they've been assured the most dangerous prisoners will not be released.

It is Kerry’s sixth visit to Afghanistan since President Barack Obama took office, but his first as secretary of state.

State Department officials told reporters traveling with Kerry that he is optimistic the U.S. and Afghanistan can overcome recent differences, including the awkward moment earlier this month when Karzai accused the U.S. and the Taliban of colluding to convince Afghans that foreign forces were needed beyond 2014.

The officials said Kerry was not in Kabul to lecture or chide Karzai, adding that he acknowledged the relationship was “not always going to be easy.”

Kerry is optimistic the two countries can move in from Karzai’s anti-U.S. rhetoric, which the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan warned was putting the lives of Western troops in danger.

On Sunday, Kerry visited Iraq before leaving for dinner in the Jordanian capital, Amman, with Pakistan's powerful army chief of staff, Ashfaq Kayani.

The secretary of state is not visiting Pakistan during this trip as the country is in the midst of a political transition.

NBC News' Catherine Chomiak and Alastair Jamieson contributed to this report.


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