Obama, Cameron: United Afghan front on display

  • Article by: MARK LANDLER , New York Times
  • Updated: March 14, 2012 - 11:06 PM

Obama and British prime minister said they will stick to timetable on troop withdrawal.

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President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron take part in a joint news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, Wednesday.

Photo: Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON - Seeking to project a united front on Afghanistan after a spate of bloody setbacks on the battlefield, President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged on Wednesday that their countries would stick to the timetable for winding down the war by the end of 2014.

While acknowledging the complications posed by the recent massacre of 16 Afghan civilians, apparently by a lone U.S. soldier, and the loss of six British soldiers to a roadside bomb, Obama and Cameron insisted that the U.S.-led coalition was making gains in preparing Afghans to take over their own security.

"There are going to be multiple challenges along the way," Obama said, standing next to Cameron in a Rose Garden ablaze with cherry blossoms. "In terms of pace, I don't anticipate at this stage that we're going to be making any sudden additional changes to the plan we currently have."

Cameron cited the progress made by British troops in the southern province of Helmand, where, he said, insurgent attacks had declined and security had tightened.

"If you compare where we are today with where we've been two, three years ago, the situation is considerably improved," Cameron said.

Obama welcomed Cameron with pomp, locker-room camaraderie and gentle gibes about how his visit coincided with the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, during which the British torched the White House.

The two men addressed each other by first names and joshed about a college basketball game in Dayton, Ohio, where Cameron was Obama's agreeable, if befuddled, guest on Tuesday evening.

"One of these days I'll get my own back by getting you to a cricket match and explaining the rules to you and some of the terminology that you'll have to try and get straight, as I tried last night," the prime minister said as Obama grinned.

Although the queen is Britain's head of state, Cameron was honored with a state dinner at the White House. He and his wife, Samantha, were feted with crisped halibut in a potato crust and Bison Wellington, the English staple made with buffalo tenderloin.

The fuss was meant to celebrate the "special relationship" between durable allies, and two hours of talks in the Oval Office underscored the intractable problems that yoke Britain and the United States.

On Iran, for example, both reaffirmed the need to allow economic sanctions to take their toll before considering military action. The president, noting Iran's history of stringing along the West in negotiations over its nuclear program, warned that "the window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking."

Like Obama, Cameron said he would not tolerate Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons -- rejecting a policy of containment -- although he has also expressed doubts about an Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

"We believe there is still time and space to pursue a diplomatic solution," he said.

The two leaders appeared united on Syria as well, but their solid front is born of frustration and an inability by the West to stop President Bashar Assad's government from killing thousands of civilians in Homs and other Syrian cities.

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