KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Afghanistan and the United States appeared even farther from a deal on Tuesday that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 as a meeting between President Hamid Karzai and a senior U.S. official revealed new differences over the controversial agreement.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai told U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who met with the Afghan leader on Monday during a visit to Kabul, that the United States must put an immediate end to military raids on Afghan homes and demonstrate its commitment to peace talks before the Afghan leader would sign a bilateral security pact, Karzai’s spokesman said.
The White House said that Karzai had outlined new conditions in the meeting on Monday with Rice and “indicated he is not prepared to sign the (bilateral security agreement) promptly,” a White House statement said.
The latest obstacle to concluding the long negotiations on the security agreement is unwelcome news for the Obama administration a day after an assembly of Afghan elders endorsed the deal, but Karzai suggested he might not sign it until after national elections next spring.
It also deepens questions about whether any U.S. and NATO troops will remain after the end of next year in Afghanistan, which faces a still-potent insurgency and is still training up its own military.
U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, said the deal must be signed by year-end to begin preparations for a post-2014 presence.
Rice, who made a three-day visit to Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops, told Karzai that the delay “would not provide the United States and NATO allies the clarity necessary to plan for a potential post-2014 military presence,” the White House said.
“Without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” the statement said.
There are currently 47,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said the Afghan leader laid out several pre-conditions for his signature to the deal in the meeting, including a U.S. pledge to halt all military raids on, or searches of, Afghan homes immediately.
The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) includes a provision allowing raids in exceptional circumstances - when an American life is directly under threat - but it would not take effect until 2015.
This issue is particularly sensitive among Afghans after a dozen years of war between Afghan and foreign forces and Taliban militants.
“It is vitally important that there is no more killing of Afghan civilians by U.S. forces and Afghans want to see this practically,” Faizi said.
Karzai also called on Washington to send remaining Afghan detainees at the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to Afghanistan, saying that the Loya Jirga, the assembly of elders and leaders that convened last week to debate the deal, had endorsed the pact with this condition.
Faizi said Karzai also asked the U.S. officials to guarantee that the United States would refrain from endorsing any candidate in national elections next year.
Karzai blamed the United States for meddling in the 2009 presidential election, while his opponents accuse the president of using the pact to ensure his influence in next year’s polls.
U.S. officials have appeared exasperated by Karzai’s stance on the security agreement, which they say is needed to help them plan a future mission that will assist Afghan forces fight militants and that will allow for future aid that has been crucial for this impoverished nation.
The Obama administration has not said when it would make a decision to abandon the talks and commit to pulling all of its troops out of Afghanistan and the end of 2014, as it did in Iraq at the end of 2011.
Faizi said the Afghan president had asked his American visitors to return to the U.S. president with his message.
“The ball is in your court now, and get back to us,” he said.
Reporting by Jessica Donati and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Missy Ryan and Cynthia Osterman