KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s president and the U.S. delivered blunt messages to each other Monday that gave no indication of a resolution of their disagreements over a pact that governs the future of the American troop presence in the country.
Hamid Karzai said he won’t back down from his refusal to sign during the rest of his term in office, with National Security Adviser Susan Rice responding that this would mean the U.S. would then start planning to pull out all its forces after 2014.
Their meeting in Kabul came the day after Karzai’s surprise decision to ignore Sunday’s recommendation by an Afghan assembly of dignitaries to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, a refusal that cast doubt on whether American and allied troops would remain in Afghanistan to train Afghan forces after most foreign troops withdraw next year.
According to Karzai’s office, he told Rice during Monday’s meeting that he wouldn’t back down from that decision, deferring it to whoever succeeds him as president in April elections.
The White House said Rice responded by telling Karzai that the United States will plan to pull all troops out of his country after 2014 if he doesn’t promptly sign.
It added that Rice told Karzai that a signed agreement is necessary to plan for thousands of troops to stay in the country to train and mentor Afghan security forces to face the Taliban.
“President Karzai outlined new conditions for signing the agreement and indicated he is not prepared to sign the BSA promptly,” 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,” she told the Afghan president.
Karzai announced his decision at a gathering of 2,500 tribal elders and regional leaders known as a loya jirga, even though the council not only overwhelmingly approved the deal after a four-day meeting but urged him to sign it by Dec. 31.
Washington has asked him to change his mind. But the mercurial Karzai, in the meeting with Rice, says he laid out a series of new demands — albeit ones mostly involving steps the U.S. has already said it would take.
One new demand was that the United States should address a suggestion by the loya jirga that all Afghan prisoners be released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
There are nearly 20 Afghans currently being held at the American facility in Cuba.
Karzai’s office said that in the meeting with Rice, he also asked for further assurances from the United States that its forces will not raid Afghan homes and that America express a sincere commitment to help start stalled peace talks with the Taliban. He also reiterated his demand that the United States commit to holding free and transparent elections in Afghanistan on April 5.
The statement further added that Karzai asked Rice to convey his concerns about the raids and peace talks to President Barack Obama so that he can “give assurances regarding the issues to the Afghan people.”
Obama has already addressed the issue of raids in a letter to Karzai.
In it, Obama assured Karzai that under the agreement, the U.S. will continue to respect “Afghan sovereignty.” He also said the U.S. military will not conduct raids on homes except under “extraordinary circumstances” involving urgent risks to U.S. nationals.
The U.S. has repeatedly urged Karzai to sign a deal that would allow about 8,000 American troops to stay in the country beyond a 2014 withdrawal deadline.
The two-term Afghan leader has insisted that the winner of an April 5 election to succeed him should be the one to sign the deal.