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Afghanistan

US and Afghanistan drifting apart on security pact

Afghanistan and the US remain at an impasse over a security deal seemingly reached last week. Fresh talks in Kabul have yielded only new conditions from Afghanistan and the threat of a total troop withdrawal from the US.

US-Afghan pact in doubt

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US National Security Advisor Susan Rice appeared to make little progress on Monday in their latest efforts to implement a security pact for Afghanistan after ISAF forces cease combat missions at the end of 2014.

The deal, forged in talks between Karzai and Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, would allow some US and NATO troops to remain in Afghanistan to train local security forces.

Despite approval from the "Loya Jirga," or grand council, of political leaders and tribal elders, Karzai on Sunday said he would not sign the agreement, leaving the decision to the winner of April elections. Karzai has reached his term limit and will not stand for re-election.

The White House issued a statement late on Monday urging Karzai to swiftly sign what's been called the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA).

"President Karzai outlined new conditions for signing the agreement and indicated he is not prepared to sign the BSA promptly," the White House said. "Without a prompt signature, the US would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no US or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan."

Furthermore, Rice was said to have told Karzai "that deferring the signature of the agreement until after next year's elections is not viable," during her talks with the Afghan president at the end of a three-day trip to Kabul.

Taliban talks, Guantanamo detainees

According to Karzai's offices, the Afghan president demanded "no operations by foreign forces in residential areas, a sincere start of a peace process (with Taliban insurgents), and the holding of transparent elections" as conditions for signing the BSA.

Karzai also asked the US to address a suggestion from the Loya Jirga that all Afghan prisoners be released from the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The Loya Jirga convened for four days at Karzai's request following the initial deal with Kerry last week. On Sunday, they both approved the agreement and urged the president to sign it himself before Afghan elections.

Roughly 75,000 ISAF troops are currently posted in Afghanistan, 47,000 of them are American. Most countries with troops in Afghanistan have already begun the piecemeal process of withdrawing them ahead of the 2014 end to combat missions.

If Karzai were to change his mind and sign the BSA, it would still require parliamentary approval in Kabul before the president could sign it into law.

msh/ccp (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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