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    US relents on bases in 1st round of security talks

    KABUL (PAN): Afghanistan and the United States on Thursday launched negotiations on a new security agreement on the number of American troops staying in the country and the scope of their mission after NATO-led combat soldiers withdraw at the end of 2014.

    The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) talks are being held in accordance with the Afghanistan-US Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between President Hamid Karzai and his US counterpart Barack Obama in May 2012 in Kabul.

    Both sides clarified the parleys were premised on the understanding that the United States did not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan, or a presence that was perceived as a threat to Afghanistan’s neighbours.

    Eklil Hakimi, the Afghan ambassador in Washington, is leading the Afghan negotiating team while James Warlick, deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is heading the US delegation.

    After the talks at the National Security Council office, Hakimi told a joint news conference with Warlick that they discussed the US military presence beyond 2014. However, immunity for US troops for from prosecution under Afghan law did not figure at Thursday’s meeting.

    The visiting negotiating team, besides sharing the draft agreement they have prepared, answered questions from the Afghan side, according to the ambassador, who said they had agreed on continuing the discussions.

    Without giving a specific date for the next round of negotiations, Hakimi hoped the Afghan-US strategic partnership would last many years.

    For his part, Warlick said the talks on the new security pact focused on respect for the sovereignty of both countries. He said the meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere and that they had made some headway.

    The diplomat identified stability in Afghanistan -- a key demand of the Afghan nation -- as a core objective of bilateral security cooperation, which would guarantee peace in the conflict-devastated country.

    Full respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and national interests, including advancing the cause of peace and security across the country, was affirmed as one of the key guiding principles in the dialogue, the two sides said in a joint statement.

    Other principle are strengthening the capacity and capabilities of Afghan forces so that they can independently provide security for the people and defend the country against external threats, and pursuing both countries’ shared goal o eliminating transnational terrorism.

    “The negotiations are to be conducted taking into account the November 2011 traditional Loya Jirga’s recommendation that strategic cooperation between the US and Afghanistan is important for the political, economic and security development and progress of Afghanistan,” the joint statement said.