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Defense chief could sign Afghan pact instead of Karzai: Kerry

06 December, 2013

BRUSSELS: US Secretary of State John Kerry suggested on Tuesday that Afghanistan's defense minister or government, instead of a reluctant President Hamid Karzai, could sign a security pact enabling some US troops to stay in the country after 2014.

An assembly of Afghan elders, the Loya Jirga, last month endorsed the security deal with the United States, but Karzai said he might not sign it until after elections next April.

The delay has irritated the United States and its allies, which want to get on with planning for the smaller, NATO-led training mission that is to stay on in Afghanistan after 2014, when most foreign troops that have been battling Taliban insurgents will have pulled out.

Kerry urged the Afghan government to sign the security deal "sooner, not later" and said this priority was backed by all NATO foreign ministers taking part in a meeting on Tuesday.

"This is not fooling around ... This is serious business," Kerry told a news conference in Brussels.

"I think it is important for the agreement to try to move forward. It doesn't have to be pres(ident)," he said, not finishing the word. "You know, his minister of defense (Bismullah Khan Mohammadi) can sign it, the government can sign it, somebody can accept responsibility for this.

"But I think it is important, for planning purposes, for people who have been extraordinarily patient, who are trying to allocate major amounts of money to sustaining this effort in Afghanistan, to have knowledge of where they are going."

Kerry said he had personally negotiated the agreement with Karzai and did not believe in unilateral renegotiation.

After the sacrifices made by US troops and the American people to contribute to Afghanistan's future, Kerry said he didn't think President Barack Obama appreciated that the pact was "being left in doubt at this critical moment."

End.

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