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NATO

NATO leaders urge Afghanistan to let US troops stay

NATO leaders have urged Afghanistan’s president to sign a pact enabling US troops to stay in the country after 2014. The NATO-led force currently has some 84,000 troops in Afghanistan, the majority American.

Meeting in Brussels Tuesday, NATO officials warned that if President Hamid Karzai does not sign the deal, the US and the alliance would have to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and abandon plans to leave behind a smaller training and advisory force. NATO has begun winding down operations and handing responsibility for fighting the Taliban to Afghans before most foreign combat forces pull out by the end of next year.

"My concern is that if we are not able to deploy a training mission to Afghanistan, it may have a negative impact on the security situation in Afghanistan and furthermore it may also have a negative impact on the provision of financial aid to Afghanistan," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters at the meeting of alliance foreign ministers. He added that he looked forward to Karzai's "timely signature" of the US security pact.

NATO has planned to leave a training mission, expected to number 8,000 to 12,000 soldiers, in Afghanistan after 2014. Although the bilateral security pact had seemed settled after a year of wrangling, Karzai has since added conditions including the release of all Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and an end to military operations involving civilian homes.

'Getting it done'

Officials warn that the withdrawal of foreign troops could put at risk up to $8 billion (11 billion euros) a year in aid because donors might not contribute with no oversight as to how Afghanistan would spend the money. A report published Tuesday by the watchdog Transparency International put Afghanistan among the world's most corrupt countries.

"There does need to be an agreement in order for everything to function as I think Afghans would like it after the end of 2014," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in Brussels. "We should concentrate on getting it done," he added, "let the US and Afghanistan conclude it."

Last month, the Loya Jirga, an assembly of Afghan elders, endorsed the security pact. However, Karzai said he might not sign it until after elections in April.

In 2011, the US government took the "zero option" of complete withdrawal from Iraq when it could not get a deal to leave troops behind.

Ukraine spotlighted, too

The foreign ministers called for an end to recent violence in Ukraine, urging the country to "fully abide by its international commitments and to uphold the freedom of expression and assembly," as well as for the government and the opposition to enter into a dialogue and start reforms.

"I strongly condemn the excessive use of police force we have witnessed in Kyiv," Rasmussen said, calling on Ukraine to "live up to fundamental democratic principles."

At a news conference following the meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry added: "We urge the Ukrainian government to listen to the voices of its people who want to live in freedom and in opportunity and prosperity. We urge all sides to conduct themselves peacefully. Violence has no place in a modern European state."

mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)