Hillary Clinton pledged that the United States will not abandon the Afghan people as she opened talks with Hamid Karzai amid tensions over next summers planned drawdown of the American combat mission in Afghanistan. The Secretary of State, widely regarded as Mr Karzais best friend in Washington, welcomed him on the first full day of a visit aimed at repairing relations badly strained by weeks of damaging spats between the White House and the Afghan president. The red-carpet reception for Mr Karzai is recognition that President Obama has little choice but to work with him if he is to fulfill his pledge to begin withdrawing combat troops from Afghanistan next summer. How that is to be achieved will be a key component of an unprecedented three-hour meeting with Mr Obama scheduled for last night. Yesterday, Mrs Clinton sought to play down fears of a precipitous exit that could serve as a rationale for unpalatable deals between Kabul and the Taliban, as Mr Karzai has previously threatened. Mrs Clinton told Afghan and American Cabinet officials assembled at the State Department: As we look towards a responsible orderly transition in the international combat mission in Afghanistan, we will not abandon the Afghan people. Our civilian commitment will remain long into the future. Polls released yesterday showed a slim majority of Americans think the war is no longer worth fighting, underlining the rationale for military withdrawal. A larger majority, however, still approve of Mr Obamas handling of the war, from the impending military surge in Kandahar to the promise of a gradual withdrawal starting next year. However, Afghan officials told The Times this week that Mr Karzai wanted a longer military commitment from Washington and was prepared to wield the threat of deals with the Taliban to get it. Mr Karzai alluded to the tensions between the two capitals yesterday as he addressed the joint Cabinet meeting. As two mature nations and two mature governments by now the Afghan government is mature, too we will be having disagreements from time to time, he said. Mr Karzai is expected to demand American backing for his planned peace Jirga in Kabul later this month when Afghan tribal and political leaders will gather to discuss plans for reconciliation with the Taliban. Washington has yet to decide where it stands on reconciliation with all but the lower ranks of the Taliban. A senior Administration official told The Times: We need to have a conversation over what exactly President Karzai has in mind. Whats the objective? Who are you going to be trying to do it with? That decision may be further complicated by revelations of the involvement of the Pakistan Taliban in the failed bombing in New Yorks Times Square. While the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are separate groups, they have forged operating alliances in enclaves in Waziristan and elsewhere across the Pakistani border. While the Afghan Taliban are regarded as the greatest threat to US troops in Afghanistan, their Pakistani counterparts are now seen as posing the biggest potential terrorist threat to the US homeland. (The Times)