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Kerry eases deadline for signing Afghan troops deal

Washington: US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday appeared to give Afghan President Hamid Karzai extra time to sign a bilateral security deal.

And while he said it must be signed as soon as possible, he raised the option for the first time that the deal governing the presence of US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 could even be linked by Karzai’s successor, who will be chosen in April elections.

The United States wants the deal to ensure legal protection for any troops left behind in a training role after the international forces leave in late 2014. Washington has warned that, without a pact, it may pull all its military out.

Washington has been infuriated by Karzai’s sudden insistence after the details of the deal were agreed that the next Afghan president should sign it.

In a sign of the tensions, Kerry revealed he was talking to the mercurial Afghan leader through Karzai’s minister and not directly.

“We have an agreement that’s been negotiated and he has said to me personally, and as recently as a day ago, reiterated through his minister that the language is fine. He’s not going… to seek a change in the language, “Kerry said.

Upping the tensions, Karzai said Saturday during a visit to India that he no longer trusts the United States. He also said he would not be “intimidated” into signing the pact.

Kerry acknowledged the Afghan leader was seeking further guarantees.

“It’s clear what I think he needs in terms of assurances. I believe it may be possible to try to move this forward,” according to the top US diplomat.

He stressed again that the security pact needed to be in place so the United States and other Nato allies could start the planning for the 2014 withdrawal.

“You have more than 50 nations that have been involved in supporting this.

They all have budgets. They all have planning requirements. And it is vital that Hamid Karzai recognise the importance of doing this,” Kerry said.

“The US wants success in Afghanistan. And success means having an Afghan arms force that has the ability to sustain itself and provide security to the people of Afghanistan.”

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