U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Afghanistan's defense minister or government, instead of President Hamid Karzai, could sign a security pact that would enable American troops to stay in Afghanistan after 2014.
Kerry, speaking at a meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels, called on Afghanistan’s government to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement “sooner, not later.”
Karzai has been reluctant to sign the agreement, suggesting he might not sign it until after the Afghan presidential election in April, in which he is not a candidate.
The United States and NATO have called for it to be signed promptly, saying nations that contribute troops and aid to Afghanistan must have time to plan.
Washington has suggested that all U.S. and NATO troops could be withdrawn from Afghanistan if the deal is not signed soon.
Last month a Loya Jirga, or grand council, convened by Karzai endorsed the document.
In another development, the United States says it has temporarily stopped shipments of military equipment out of Afghanistan through Pakistan, saying truckers face potential threats from Pakistanis opposed to U.S. drone strikes.
Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright said U.S. shipments have been halted “from Torkham Gate through Karachi to ensure the safety of the drivers.”
Recent days have seen anti-U.S. demonstrations in Pakistan over drone strikes targeting suspected militants in areas close to the Afghan border.
Pakistani politicians and others have been critical of the American drone program, saying the strikes violate Pakistani sovereignty and can harm civilians.
Washington considers drone strikes to be an important tool in the battle against militants.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa