By Ali Arouzi, NBC News Correspondent
KABUL – A clearly irritated President Hamid Karzai responded to a barrage of questions from journalists Monday about a report that his government has been the recipient of large sums of cash from the Iranian government.
"The cash payments are done by various friendly countries to help the president's office and to help dispense assistance in various ways to the employees around here, to people outside,” a defensive Karzai said in English. He added, “This is transparent... This is nothing hidden and we are grateful to Iran for the help in this regard.”
Karzai was responding to questions about a New York Times report that his chief of staff and most trusted confidant, Umar Daudzai, had been given a large plastic bag full of money by the Iranian ambassador, Feda Hussein Maliki, while sitting on an airport tarmac in Iran.
He went on to say that he has received large bags full of money from the United States as well.
“The United States is doing the same thing. They’re providing cash to some of our offices. If you would like to have the details, we’ll give you that, too.”
In response to a follow-up question about the U.S., Karzai said, “It does give bags of money, yes. Yes, it does. Ma’am it’s all the same, so let’s not make this an issue.”
Karzai suggested that the report about the cash payments from Iran might have been an attempt to at a smear campaign against Daudzai, his chief of staff. “In countries like ours, poor countries, patriotism comes at a cost,” Karzai said. “Maybe it is his turn to suffer too for his country.”
Iran denies ‘bags of money’ claim
In a bizarre twist, a statement posted on the Press TV website, the Iranian government’s English language TV channel, denied the claims of cash being paid to Karzai’s chief of staff.
Iran's embassy in Kabul also dismissed the report by the New York Times claiming that it delivered “bags of money” to Karzai.
In a statement issued on Monday, the Iranian embassy rejected the "false, ridiculous and insulting" claim by The New York Times. It said certain Western media make up such unfounded rumors to stir up public opinion and damage growing relations between the two neighboring countries.
The statement emphasized that strong historical and cultural bonds between the Iranian and Afghan nations would not be affected by such propaganda and baseless rumors of Western media.
The latest allegations of Iranian interference come at a critical time for Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's neighbors, in particular Iran and Pakistan are jockeying for position amid frequent reports of meetings between Afghan officials and insurgents, with increasing evidence that a reconciliation process has begun.