* Afghan spokesman rejects deadline, says assembly to decide
* Most elders at assembly appear to favour accord
* Failure could prompt pullout of U.S. forces after 2014
(Adds comment from White House, Hagel, paragraphs 6-7, 9-10)
By Jessica Donati and Hamid Shalizi
KABUL, Nov 22 The future of U.S. troops in
Afghanistan remained in doubt on Friday after a spokesman for
President Hamid Karzai rejected a U.S. call to sign a security
pact by the end of the year rather than after next year's
The United States has repeatedly said it will not wait until
after the April 2014 vote to seal the Bilateral Security
Agreement (BSA) and rejected Karzai's suggestion for the signing
to take place next year "properly and with dignity".
Without an accord, the United States could pull out most of
its troops by the end of 2014, as it did two years ago when it
failed to negotiate a deal with Iraq.
"We do not recognise any deadline from the U.S. side," said
Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Karzai, as Afghan tribal elders
considered the pact for a second day. "They have set other
deadlines also, so this is nothing new to us."
Karzai had suggested on Thursday, as the Afghan leaders
began a meeting known as a Loya Jirga, that the signing of the
pact should wait until after the poll. Having served two terms,
he is ineligible to run again.
In Washington, the White House kept up the pressure on
Karzai, saying President Barack Obama wanted the BSA signed by
the end of the year. Obama would decide about a further U.S.
presence after Afghan authorities approved the deal, U.S.
"It is our final offer," said White House spokesman Jay
"We can't push it into next year and be expected to plan for
a post-2014 military presence," he told reporters.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the United States
need to ensure there would be protection for U.S. forces if the
United States kept troops in Afghanistan beyond next year.
"Without that, I, as secretary of defense, could not
recommend to the president of the United States to go forward,"
he said on a visit to Halifax.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said this week the
language of the accord had been agreed.
Faizi refused all comment on whether Karzai endorsed the
plan. He said any action by the president depended strictly on
the recommendation of the Loya Jirga.
"It is absolutely up to the Jirga to decide about the BSA.
The president very clearly said good security, peace and good
elections are the key to the signing of this document."
Most participants at the gathering's second day appeared to
favour ratifying the pact. But reporters had little access to
opponents of the deal and were kept away by security staff.
"We have to sign this agreement with the United States of
America," said Aminullah Mawiz Nooristani, an elder from eastern
Nuristan province. "President Karzai has to sign it as soon as
we announce our decision."
Afghanistan has wrangled for more than a year over the pact
with the United States, which has had troops in the country
since the Taliban was ousted from power late in 2001.
Karzai has had an increasingly fraught relationship with
Washington and is reluctant to be associated with the pact.
"My trust with America is not good," Karzai told the
assembly on Thursday in his opening speech. "I don't trust them
and they don't trust me."
The elders, largely handpicked by Karzai's administration,
are expected to vote in favour of the document and urge the
president to follow their advice, allowing Karzai to distance
himself from the process without jeopardising the deal.
The 2,500-member assembly is expected to announce its
decision on Sunday.
The pact contains painful concessions such as immunity for
U.S. forces from Afghan law and allowing them to enter Afghan
homes if an American life is under direct threat.
"Whatever the Jirga tells him, whether they tell him to sign
it before election or after the election, he will follow
through," said Hasseeb Humayun, a member of the group.
If the United States pulls out its troops, other countries
in the NATO alliance underpinning Karzai's administration are
expected to follow suit and a thinner international presence
could deter donors from releasing promised funds.
Afghanistan remains largely dependent on foreign aid.
(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Abdul Aziz
Ibrahimi, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason in Washington, and Phil
Stewart in Halifax; Editing by Maria Golovnina, Ron Popeski,
Clarence Fernandez and Eric Walsh)