Until Saturday, the Afghan government had said little about the contents of the cables, thousands of confidential State Department memos that were made public in the past week by the Web site WikiLeaks and a number of newspapers. The Afghan president’s spokesman had said only that most of the major points had been previously disclosed and that Afghanistan and the United States had a strategic relationship.
Answering questions from the Afghan, Pakistani and international media at the news conference on Saturday, Mr. Karzai and the Pakistani prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, appeared to be at once trying to diminish the significance of the cables by throwing doubt on their authenticity while at the same time taking them seriously enough to deny some of their contents.
When Mr. Gilani was asked about a cable that said his government lacked the ability to control its own military and intelligence services, he said, “I would request you not to trust WikiLeaks.”
“These are just the views of junior officers,” he said. “They are not authentic. We should not even take them seriously.”
Mr. Karzai seemed at times statesmanlike and above the fray and at others frustrated, but overall he seemed more inclined to put the revelations behind him.
In response to questions, Mr. Karzai said that he understood that of course his ministers spoke about him, but that he was sure the way the cables characterized their remarks was not correct. “Take the example of Mr. Zakhilwal,” he said. “I am sure they are not true.”
Mr. Zakhilwal, the finance minister, was reported to have called Mr. Karzai “an extremely weak man,” comments he denied in his own news conference later on Saturday.
Mr. Karzai also said that people might say things casually in private that might not reflect their more considered and accurate positions. “People say things to other people not necessarily to be a part that they want to take home, and I understand some of the ministers may have been talking about me and some of them have done, I know, and other ministers in future may do the same,” he said, speaking in English. He added pointedly, “But we will not have a WikiLeaks to reveal that.”
He scorned the accuracy of another cable, about former Vice President Ahmed Zia Massoud’s taking $52 million in cash out of the country, saying that it was absurd to think that a vice president could arrive in another country with 30 suitcases full of cash. Furthermore, he said, the United States government had never spoken to him about it.
“The American government has been talking to us every day about corruption, every day they give us examples, every day they bring a case of $5,000, how come no report was given of this?” he said.
He continued: “We don’t know what to do with this whole thing: do we believe it or not believe it? I would go towards not believing it, that is better for Afghanistan.”
In his own news conference, Mr. Zakhilwal denied having uttered the remarks about Mr. Karzai as reported in a diplomatic cable sent by Mr. Eikenberry on Feb. 26, and suggested that the views were the ambassador’s.
“I have never, ever used this word ‘weak’ to describe the president, never, ever,” he said. “I have not said any kind of words like this regarding anyone.”
He said the accusations had destroyed any trust between him and the ambassador and would affect the ambassador’s effectiveness. “It has certainly hurt relations not only between me and him, but between some ministers and the ambassador, and it will certainly not be business as usual,” Mr. Zakhilwal said.
“The ambassador has used my name to support his views of the president,” he said. Asked if he was calling for the ambassador to resign, the minister replied, “It is up to the ambassador.”
Relations between Mr. Karzai and the American ambassador have been uneasy since the leaking of a secret diplomatic cable in November 2009 in which the ambassador said Mr. Karzai was “not a reliable partner” for the United States.
The American Embassy in Kabul sought Saturday to dampen the dispute. “We know there are many questions raised by these leaks, and we will work through those in private with our Afghan partners,” Caitlin Hayden, an embassy spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We are determined not to allow the reckless actions of WikiLeaks to harm the strong and strategic relationships we have built over many years with many members of the government of Afghanistan.”
Mr. Zakhilwal said he had offered his resignation to President Karzai, if there was any suspicion that the cables reflected his real views, but that the president had said he did not believe the cables and had asked him to stay on.
Mr. Zakhilwal is considered one of the ablest members of the Afghan cabinet and has proved a crucial representative for the country in negotiations with international donors and the Obama administration.