U.S. extends deadline for signing Afghan troops deal

In signs of tensions, Kerry revealed he was talking to the Afghan leader through his minister

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday gave Afghan President Hamid Karzai extra time to sign a bilateral security deal, as he said the pact did not have to be concluded by January.

He also raised the option for the first time that the deal governing the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 could even be signed by Karzai’s successor, who will be chosen in April elections.

But in an interview with ABC television, the top U.S. diplomat stressed the bilateral security agreement needed to be signed as soon as possible.

“If American forces were not there, I think there would be serious challenges with respect to Afghanistan’s security,” Kerry said.

“But ... I believe that Hamid Karzai, either he or his successor, will sign this,” he said, before adding “I think he needs to sign this.”

Asked whether Karzai had to sign the deal by January, as had been agreed in the negotiations, Kerry replied “no.”

The United States wants the deal to ensure legal protection for any troops left behind in a training role after the international forces leave in late 2014. Washington has warned that, without a pact, it may pull all its military out.

In signs of tensions, Kerry revealed he was talking to the Afghan leader through his minister and not directly.

“We have an agreement that’s been negotiated and he has said to me personally, and as recently as a day ago, reiterated through his minister that the language is fine. He’s not going... to seek a change in the language,” Kerry said.

Karzai on his part said Saturday during a visit to India that he no longer trusts the United States.
He also said he would not be “intimidated” into signing the pact.
“I don’t trust them,” Karzai said accusing the U.S. of saying one thing and doing another, according to Agence France-Presse.

But the top U.S. diplomat acknowledged that Karzai was seeking further guarantees.

“It’s clear what I think he needs in terms of assurances. I believe it may be possible to try to move this forward,” Kerry told ABC.

He also reiterated again that the security pact needed to be in place so the United States and other NATO allies could start the planning for the 2014 withdrawal.

“You have more than 50 nations that have been involved in supporting this. They all have budgets. They all have planning requirements. And it is vital that Hamid Karzai recognizes the importance of doing this,” Kerry said.

“The U.S. wants success in Afghanistan. And success means having an Afghan arms force that has the ability to sustain itself and provide security to the people of Afghanistan.”

Australian combat troops have completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Monday.

Abbott announced that more than 1,000 troops would pull out from the restive southern province of Uruzgan before the end of the year during a surprise visit to their base at Tarin Kot in October.

The withdrawal was completed Sunday and most soldiers were expected to be home for Christmas, AFP reported.

“This war is ending, not with victory, not with defeat, but with hope that Afghanistan is a better place and Uruzgan in particular is a better place for our presence,” Abbott was quoted as saying by AFP.

Canberra first committed troops to Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, but they have been in Uruzgan since late 2005.

(With AFP)