Hagel gets assurances from Mohammadi on BSA
KABUL (PAN): US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday said his Afghan counterpart Bismillah Khan Mohammadi had assured him the delayed security agreement between the two countries would be signed "in a timely manner".
A government official told Pajhwok Afghan News Hagel, who arrived for an unannounced visit in Kabul earlier in the day, was invited to a dinner by the Presidential Palace, but he refused to arrive there.
The US Defence Department published a photo on its website, showing Hagel meeting an Afghan delegation led by Afghan Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi. Chief of Army Staff Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi and deputy interior minister Ayyub Salangi were seen present at the meeting.
The Afghan government official said interior minister Omar Daudzai skipped the meeting.
After the meeting, Hagel told reporters he had received assurances from Mohammadi the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), at the centre of a public dispute between the allies, would be signed in a timely manner.
President Karzai recently refused to sign the pact promptly despite a Loya Jirga he convened asked him to sign the deal within six weeks.
Hagel, who did not plan to meet President Karzai, said a NATO meeting in February could become a new deadline for the security pact
Karzai has said he wants to wait until after April elections to conclude the deal, but Hagel said that could delay any signing until mid-2014, which he said was undesirable.
"I would say that one of the things that you might want to look at is the NATO defense ministers ministerial meeting in the end of February," he said, suggesting a possible deadline. "Some answers are going to be required at that NATO ministerial."
Hagel said the purpose of his trip was to greet troops during the holiday season and that he had never intended to see Karzai.
"I don't think pressure coming from the United States, or more pressure, is going to be helpful in persuading President Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement," he said.
A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Karzai had shown no sign of giving ground.
"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 steps for doing so," the official said.
Hagel follows several other senior US officials who have visited Afghanistan without persuading Karzai to sign the deal.
US officials say further delay in clinching the agreement might force Washington to consider a "zero option" in which all US forces would be withdrawn next year.
But on Friday, US military's top officer, General Martin Dempsey, said he had not yet been asked to start planning for a scenario in which all US troops would be withdrawn after 2014.
Although Dempsey said the military would not face logistical constraints in planning for post-2014 options until "early summer," he said the psychological effect of further delays would undermine the confidence of Afghan forces as well as coalition countries trying to make troop plans.
Presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi said the United States had last week requested such a meeting on Sunday. Karzai had declined because he flies to Iran that day for a state visit.
"This morning we were again told that there might be a meeting around 6 (p.m.)," Faizi said. "Out of hospitality, we did prepare for a late evening meeting which finally did not take place. It is as simple as that, and not an issue."
Under the proposed post-2014 mission, roughly 12,000 troops -- mostly American -- would remain in the country, under rules that would allow controversial house raids by Western forces only in special circumstances.
There are currently 46,000 American troops and 27,000 soldiers from other coalition countries in Afghanistan, and almost the entire NATO-led force is scheduled to pull out by the end of next year.
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