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Washington Hopeful Of Deal With Kabul

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says any security pact with the United States must preserve the national interests of Afghanistan.
Washington says it is hopeful an agreement can be concluded soon with Kabul on the future role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the departure of nearly all foreign forces, scheduled for the end of 2014.

A State Department spokeswoman said on October 7 that the two sides continue to make progress.

"Work is ongoing on concluding a [bilateral security agreement] with the Afghans," spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington. "We believe it's important to conclude this agreement soon for a number of reasons. One is that U.S. and NATO planning needs to move forward. Afghan forces have also made great progress in improving their capabilities, but Afghanistan needs international support in building the forces that can defend the country and protect the population."

Her comments came hours after Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused U.S. and NATO forces of repeatedly violating Afghan sovereignty.

Karzai also announced he would convene a loya jirga, or council of elders, within a month to discuss the U.S.-Afghan agreement.

"Afghan people want to have a deal with the United States and the West. But this friendship and deal must preserve the national interests of Afghanistan," Karzai said in Kabul. "National interests implies people's security. People must be safe from the threats of the Taliban and terrorists and the bombardment by the United States, their allies and their violations as well. That is why we didn’t reach an agreement till now. So the United States also has to take steps forward with us. If God willing, soon, within one month, we will convene the loya jirga. Whatever the people decide, the government naturally will abide by it."

His remarks came in response to a question about a NATO air strike in Nangarhar Province on October 5. Kabul claims five civilians were killed. But NATO said it had targeted insurgents preparing to attack an airport used by international forces. NATO said it is investigating the incident.

AP reports that U.S. and Afghan negotiators met on October 7 in fresh talks on the agreement, which is said to be nearly complete after about a year of negotiations.

Analysts say talks are focusing on two sticking points.

One difficult issue, they say, is an Afghan demand for U.S. guarantees against future foreign intervention, an apparent reference to neighboring Pakistan.

Kabul accuses Pakistan of harboring the Taliban and other extremists who cross into Afghanistan to carry out attacks before returning back into Pakistan and out of the reach of Afghan and NATO forces.

The other issue, experts explain, has to do with defining the role and conduct of the counterterrorism force the United States wants to leave behind.

Analysts say both sides are hoping to finalize a deal by the end of October. That, analysts say, would give military planners enough time to prepare to keep troops in the country after the scheduled 2014 withdrawal.

There are an estimated 87,000 international troops now in Afghanistan, including about 52,000 U.S. soldiers.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters