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Obama Meets With Top U.S. Commander In Afghanistan

U.S. President Barack Obama (right) with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (file photo)
U.S. President Barack Obama has met senior defense officials to discuss Afghanistan.

The White House said among those taking part in the meeting on February 4 were Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Joseph Dunford, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan.

The meeting comes as U.S. officials urge Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a security pact that will allow some U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 when international troops are scheduled to leave.

On February 3, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the pact needs to be signed within "weeks, not months."

Both the United States and NATO have said they may be forced to completely pull their forces out of Afghanistan at the end of this year unless the agreement is signed soon.

Obama's talks with U.S. military commanders focused on whether U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after this year.

No decisions on troop levels were made at the meeting on February 4.

The meeting comes after officials in Kabul confirmed that Karzai's government has been holding secret talks with Taliban insurgents.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the United States welcomed any talks that would bring peace to Afghanistan.

"We've long supported -- you've heard me say this, you've heard my predecessor say this -- strongly supported an Afghan-led reconciliation, which would be, of course, Afghans talking to Afghans," she said. "So the notion that we wouldn't support that dialogue is inaccurate."

In Kabul, Karzai's spokesman confirmed a "New York Times" report that the government was holding talks with the Taliban in the hope of persuading them to make peace.

The report in "The New York Times" quoted Western and Afghan officials as saying the talks had made little progress so far.

According to the U.S. daily, the contacts had not even progressed as far as opening negotiations for a tangible peace agreement.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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