KABUL Afghanistan is in no rush to sign a pact with the United States setting out how many U.S. troops will stay after a NATO mission ends next year and may even delay a decision until after a presidential election, President Hamid Karzai said.
Foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, when the NATO-led mission winds up and the responsibility for fighting Taliban insurgents is handed over to Afghan forces.
But NATO plans to keep a slimmed-down training and advisory mission in Afghanistan after 2014 although the United States and other NATO allies have been slow to provide detailed numbers of troops for the force.
The United States has been putting pressure on Afghanistan to finalize a bilateral security agreement (BSA), which will mandate how many, and where, U.S. soldiers will remain once the NATO mission ends.
U.S. diplomats have said they want the security pact signed by October, to prevent it becoming an issue in the campaign for next year's Afghan presidential election.
"Although the Americans asked for October, we are not in a hurry and if the document is agreed upon during this government, good," Karzai told reporters at his Kabul palace on Saturday.
"And if not, the next president can discuss whether to or not to accept it."
The collapse of a similar pact between the United States and Iraq in 2011 - sparked partly by Iraq's refusal to provide immunity to U.S. soldiers serving there - led to the United States pulling its troops out of Iraq.
In a recent interview with Reuters, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, said he had talked "at every level from district and province to members of parliament ... to President Karzai" and he was adamant the pact would be signed.
NATO's former top military commander, James Stavridis, recently said he thought about 15,000 foreign troops should be kept in Afghanistan, made up of about 9,000 U.S. troops and about 6,000 from other countries.
But U.S. officials support a smaller force of 8,000 to 12,000.
Last month, a senior U.S. defense official said the United States could pull out all forces, the so-called zero option, in the event of a failure to reach a deal with Kabul on legal guarantees for troops.
Talks on the agreement were suspended in June after the opening of a Taliban office in Doha, which enraged Karzai when the Taliban displayed their banner and flag, a reminder of their repressive rule over Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
(Reporting By Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Robert Birsel)