KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai acknowledged Monday that he regularly receives bags of cash from the Iranian government in payments amounting to millions of dollars, as evidence mounted of a worsening rift between his government and its U.S. and NATO supporters.
During a rambling and often hostile news conference, Karzai also accused the United States of financing the “killing” of Afghans by paying private security contractors to guard buildings and convoys in Afghanistan. He has declined to postpone a December deadline he set for ending the use of private security forces despite urgent pleas from Western organizations, including charities, that need protection here.
His statements were the latest indication that U.S. relations with Karzai were badly frayed, despite intensive diplomatic efforts to mend ties and improve governance in Afghanistan. The tensions threaten to undermine President Barack Obama’s goal of handing responsibility for the war against the Taliban to Karzai and the Afghan military, allowing the United States to begin withdrawing troops next year.
“They do give us bags of money — yes, yes, it is done,” Karzai said, responding to questions about a report in The New York Times on Sunday that Iran sends regular cash payments to his chief of staff, Umar Daudzai. “We are grateful to the Iranians for this.”
“Patriotism has a price,” he said.
Afghan and Western officials said the Iranian payments were intended to drive a wedge between Karzai and the United States and NATO.
On Sunday, Karzai held a volatile meeting with the NATO commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, as well as other senior Afghan and Western officials. Karzai stormed out of the session, saying that he did not need the West’s help, according to people knowledgeable about the confrontation.
At the news conference, Karzai lashed out at the U.S. military, implying that U.S. officials had leaked information about Iranian payments to The Times because of disagreements over the private security companies.
The private security companies, many of which are paid for by the United States, are spreading chaos and unjustly killing Afghan civilians, Karzai said.
“The money dealing with the private security companies starts in the hallways of the U.S. government,” Karzai said. “Then they send the money for killing here.”