Hagel in Kabul to meet Mohammadi, Daudzai
KABUL (PAN): US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Kabul for an unannounced visit on Saturday afternoon, but he is not scheduled to meet with President Hamid Karzai, amid chaos over the terms of a key security deal between the allies, officials said.
ISAF media office in Kabul confirmed to Pajhwok Afghan News the arrival of Hagel, the latest senior US official to visit Kabul in recent weeks, but gave no details about his engagements.
In Washington, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Carl Woog said Hagel was scheduled to meet with Defence Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi and Interior Minister Mohammad Omer Daudzai.
A senior defense official traveling with the secretary told reporters Hagel does not plan to meet during this visit with President Hamid Karzai. The bilateral security agreement is still unsigned between the United States and Afghanistan, the official noted.
“The United States has made its position on the BSA clear,” the official said. “And just two days ago, President Karzai repeated his position to senior US officials that he is not yet ready to sign the BSA and provided no timeline or practical step for doing so.”
The secretary left Bahrain earlier Saturday after delivering a speech on the US force posture in the Middle East. He also is scheduled to visit Qatar and Saudi Arabia before concluding his travels.
His visit to Kabul comes two days after US top diplomat James Dobbins made little progress in a meeting with Karzai. Dobbins said Karzai has not backed down from a series of demands that include the release of Afghans detained at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay and an end to US raids on Afghan homes.
In an interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, Dobbins acknowledged he failed to achieve any real progress in his talks with Karzai, saying what they discussed were the known positions.
A senior US defense official said the Pentagon decided to forgo a meeting with Karzai because it has no reason to believe his position has changed.
Dobbins told Pajhwok there had been no contact between US and Taliban officials over the past one and a half year, saying the Taliban had not yet shown their willingness to enter peace parleys with Afghan negotiators. However, he said the US was ready to support the High Peace Council in bringing the rebels to the negotiating table.
President Karzai has been refusing to sign the vital deal until his demands are met and US officials say failure to reach the deal soon could erode international support for Afghanistan during a crucial year that will include a presidential election and the drawdown of foreign troops.
President Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, during a visit to Kabul last month, warned Washington could be forced to plan for a hasty troop withdrawal if Karzai didn’t relent.
US officials recently floated the idea of having an Afghan minister, rather than Karzai, sign the deal. Karzai reacted angrily to that idea. His spokesman, Aimal Faizi, the president would not “succumb to any pressure.”
Hagel’s first trip to Kabul as secretary of defense last March was turbulent. Shortly before Karzai and the US Pentagon chief were to hold a joint press conference, the Afghan president delivered a speech in which he implied that the United States was colluding with the Taliban in order to justify fighting in his country longer. The press conference was abruptly cancelled.
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