KABUL: US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with President Hamid Karzai here yesterday to advance troubled negotiations on US troops staying in Afghanistan after 2014.
Karzai said this week he was prepared to walk away from Bilateral Security Agreement talks if Afghanistan was not happy with its conditions.
The US has pressed for the pact by the end of this month, so that the US-led Nato coalition can schedule withdrawal of 87,000 combat troops by December 2014.
“President Obama and President Karzai reaffirmed in January that the goal here was to complete the pact in October,” a State Department official travelling with Kerry said.
“We continue to believe that is preferable and doable. It is only October 11 at this point. Uncertainty about an incomplete pact could erode the resolve among Nato allies, makes (it) more difficult to plan for the US, makes (it) more difficult to plan for our Nato allies.”
Karzai has refused to be rushed into signing the deal, and would seek approval from a traditional grand assembly of tribal leaders in about a month.
“If it doesn’t suit us and if it doesn’t suit them, then naturally we will go separate ways,” Karzai said in a BBC interview.
The agreement would see a few thousand US troops remain in Afghanistan to train local forces and target Al Qaeda remnants.
Kabul said talks ground to a halt over US demands for the right to conduct unilateral operations, and on how the US would pledge to protect Afghanistan.
Kabul has dismissed the possibility that the US may enact the “zero option” of a complete pull-out after its soldiers have fought the Taliban since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. “Negotiations have been going on for 11 months. We are at a pivotal period,” the US official said, adding the deal would not be signed during Kerry’s visit.
Karzai has had a tempestuous relationship with the US and other foreign allies since he came to power in 2001.