KABUL -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened over the weekend to quit the political process and join the Taliban if he continued to come under outside pressure to reform, several members of parliament said Monday.
Karzai made the unusual statement at a closed-door meeting Saturday with selected lawmakers -- just days after kicking up a diplomatic controversy with remarks alleging foreigners were behind fraud in last year's disputed elections.
Lawmakers dismissed the latest comment as hyperbole, but it will add to the impression the president -- who relies on tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO forces to fight the insurgency and prop up his government -- is growing increasingly erratic and unable to exert authority without attacking his foreign backers.
''He said that 'if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban,''' said Farooq Marenai, who represents the eastern province of Nangarhar.
''He said rebelling would change to resistance,'' Marenai said -- apparently suggesting that the militant movement would then be redefined as one of resistance against a foreign occupation rather than a rebellion against an elected government.
Marenai said Karzai appeared nervous and repeatedly demanded to know why parliament last week had rejected legal reforms that would have strengthened the president's authority over the country's electoral institutions.
Two other lawmakers said Karzai twice raised the threat to join the insurgency.
The lawmakers, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of political repercussions, said Karzai also dismissed concerns over possible damage his comments had caused to relations with the United States. He told them he had already explained himself in a telephone conversation Saturday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that came after the White House described his comments last week as troubling.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said reports Karzai threatened to abandon the political process and join the Taliban insurgency if he continued to receive pressure from Western backers to reform his government are troubling.
''On behalf of the American people, we're frustrated with the remarks,'' Gibbs told reporters.
The lawmakers said they felt Karzai was pandering to hard-line or pro-Taliban members of parliament and had no real intention of joining the insurgency.
Nor does the Afghan leader appear concerned that the U.S. might abandon him, having said numerous times that the U.S. would not leave Afghanistan because it perceives a presence here to be in its national interest.
Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar's phone was turned off and another number for him rang unanswered Monday. Deputy spokesman Hamed Elmi's phone rang unanswered.
The comments come against the background of continuing insurgent violence as the U.S. moves to boost troop levels.