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Nations offer Afghanistan aid, demand accountability

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The meeting comes "at a time of serious doubts about Afghanistan… and we have to show determination and considerable patience," said Bernard Kouchner, French foreign minister. His boss, Nicolas Sarkozy, offered that it is time "to put the Afghan people in charge of their fate and future."

'We will support, but ...'

Diplomats in Paris intimated that aid will be tied to Karzai's promises – affirmed here Thursday – to work in partnership with new UN special representative Kai Eide. The point was echoed most loudly in the hallways by Europeans, who trust Mr. Eide after his reform of operations in Kosovo. But US ambassador also termed Eide a needed "traffic cop" for aid.

Karzai himself echoed both praise and criticism. "We need aid, but how it is spent is important.... We give ... Kai Eide our full backing and support," Karzai told a round table that included host president Nicolas Sarkozy, US First Lady Laura Bush, and UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon.

Some 90 percent of the Afghan budget comes from donors – though the country is in the bottom tenth on most transparency rankings.

"Karzai won't get new pledges without greater accounting for it," says Greg Sullivan, a US Department of State spokesman. "But they are in Paris with a 19-page fact sheet that is the best we've ever seen. The gaps in Afghanistan are huge. In Khost you can use a Blackberry, and in Helmund are the Taliban. So Paris is sort of a shareholders' meeting, where donors must be convinced. That's a philosophical change."

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