KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s president said Monday he told the U.S. national security adviser that he won’t back down from his refusal to sign a security agreement with the United States, but will instead defer it to his successor.
Hamid Karzai’s surprise decision to ignore Sunday’s recommendation to sign by an Afghan assembly of dignitaries has cast doubt on the future presence of American and allied troops in Afghanistan. Washington and many Afghans had hoped the pact could be signed to allow troops to stay after 2014 to train soldiers and police to face a persistent Taliban insurgency.
Washington has asked him to change his mind. But the mercurial Karzai, in a meeting with National Security Adviser Susan Rice, says he laid out a series of new demands — albeit ones mostly involving steps the U.S. has already said it would take.
Karzai’s office said that in the meeting with Rice, he also asked for further assurances from the United States that its forces will not raid Afghan homes and that America express a sincere commitment to help start stalled peace talks with the Taliban. He also reiterated his demand that the United States commit to holding free and transparent elections on April 5.
“During this meeting both sides spoke about the Bilateral Security Agreement ... President Karzai, besides emphasizing his previous position, also mentioned the stopping of all foreign forces operations in residential houses, the start of an honest cooperation on the peace process, and also the holding transparent and fair elections that will be on time,” the statement said. The statement further added that Karzai asked Rice to convey his concerns about the raids and peace talks to President Barack Obama so that he can “give assurances regarding the issues to the Afghan people.”
Obama has already addressed the issue of raids in a letter to Karzai last week that was read to the assembly.
In it, Obama assured Karzai that under the agreement, the U.S. will continue to respect “Afghan sovereignty.” He also said the U.S. military will not conduct raids on homes except under “extraordinary circumstances” involving urgent risks to U.S. nationals.
The U.S. has repeatedly urged Karzai to sign a deal that would allow about 8,000 American troops to stay in the country beyond a 2014 withdrawal deadline.
On Sunday, a 2,500 tribal elders and regional leaders known as a Loya Jirga not only overwhelmingly approved the deal after a four-day meeting but urged him to sign it by Dec. 31.
As the U.S. national security adviser met Karzai in Kabul, the White House again urged him to sign the deal before the end of the year.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling along with Obama aboard Air Force One to San Francisco that America’s position was clear.
“Our view on this has been pretty clear that in order to plan for post-2014 military presence with our allies, we need to get this agreement signed and we need to get this agreement signed before the end of the year,” he said.
“Reaching this agreement was a painstaking path,” Earnest said. “We should get the deal signed and set about the work of planning the presence of the United States and our allies after the war ends next year.”
The two-term Afghan leader has insisted that the winner of an April 5 election to succeed him should be the one to sign the deal. More than $8 billion in annual funds for Afghanistan’s fledgling security forces and development assistance also are at stake.
Karzai may be seemed concerned about his legacy, worried he might be seen as responsible for an agreement that some Afghans will likely see as selling out to foreign interests.
In a further complication Karzai told Rice that the United States should address a suggestion by the Loya Jirga that all Afghan prisoners be released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
According to the statement, Karzai “said the United States of America should respond to the suggestion mentioned in the resolution of the Loya Jirga to free all the afghan prisoners in Guantanamo.”
There are nearly 20 Afghans currently being held at the American facility in Cuba.
There was no immediate comment from American officials on Karzai’s statement, but the statement said that Rice told the Afghan president that the U.S. was committed to transparent elections that will be held on time and without interference as prescribed by Afghan law.
It added that Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. and coalition commander, told Karzai he had ordered his troops “to act according to the security agreement and suggestions of the consultative Loya Jirga.”
But is also said Rice did not provide a commitment on the peace talks.
Karzai has blamed the United States for the collapse of talks that were to be held at a Taliban office in the Gulf State of Qatar.
The Taliban office which opened in Doha last June after talks between the United States and Qatar closed after Karzai accused the religious movement of trying to set up a government-in-exile by identifying its office as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It also hoisted the same white flag flown during the Taliban’s five-year rule of Afghanistan that ended with the 2001 American-led invasion.
A furious Karzai told the Loya Jirga delegates Sunday that Obama had promised him the Taliban would not open an embassy.
Rice met with Karzai at the end of a previously unannounced three-day trip to Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops and civilians for the Thanksgiving holidays, the White House said, adding that the meeting was at Karzai’s request. Her spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said the meeting was the last stop on her trip.
Karzai, who had convened the Loya Jirga, complicated the debate by announcing on the opening day that he wanted delegates to endorse the deal but he would not sign it.
He repeated that stance Sunday laying down a series of ill-defined conditions and promising to continue negotiations with the United States. They included demands that America ensure peace in a country that has been at war for more than 12 years and guarantee transparent elections.
Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from running in the upcoming presidential vote, also accused the United States of meddling in the 2009 elections, which were marred by fraud, and said he wanted to keep that from happening again.
Even if the president changes his mind and signs the document, it still must be approved by the Afghan parliament, then finally signed into law by Karzai.
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