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NATO urges US-Afghan deal

KABUL — International officials signaled new urgency Wednesday for the United States and Afghanistan to reach agreement on a long-term security deal, but officials suggested that there had been little movement on either side of the deadlock.

Coming out of a meeting with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels that included Afghanistan’s foreign minister and interior minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance’s secretary general, said there had been no progress on signing the bilateral security deal.

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“The ministers didn’t indicate anything as regards timelines as far as the bilateral security agreement is concerned,” he said, referring to Interior Minister Umar Daudzai and Foreign Minister Muqbal Osmani.

Adding that “time is of the essence,” Rasmussen underscored that without a finalized deal with the United States, NATO would not be able to conclude its own post-2014 security agreement with Afghanistan on behalf of its member states.

If neither the US-Afghan security agreement nor the NATO status of forces agreement is in place, it will be difficult to persuade European parliaments to continue to pour in military and civilian aid, international officials said.

“Many provisions in those agreements will be the same, so if there is no signature on the bilateral security agreement, we can’t finalize a NATO status of forces agreement,” Rasmussen said.

The unfolding drama from Washington to Brussels to Kabul was a reminder that not just the Americans have soldiers and money at stake.

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NATO countries have about 27,000 troops in Afghanistan. While much of what they do involves logistics, training, and support, the United States is counting on the countries to contribute several thousand troops to help train Afghan security forces after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014.

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan threw that post-2014 scenario into doubt last month when he indicated that he was not ready to sign the security agreement that had been negotiated with senior US officials and instead demanded additional commitments from the United States. US officials said a deal would have to be signed by year’s end to make a long-term military presence possible, but Karzai said he wanted to wait until after the Afghan presidential election in April next year.

Despite widespread criticism from many within his government, some of it offered privately and some publicly, Karzai has not backed down, and in the past few days the language on both sides has toughened.

While some officials said it might not be absolutely necessary that the deal be signed within the month, many close to the negotiations believe that, before President Obama delivers the State of the Union address in January, he will need to make a decision about whether troops are going to stay on Afghan soil.

“He can’t go before the Congress and say he’s waiting for Mr. Karzai to make up his mind,” said one Western diplomat here.

At the same time, Secretary of State John Kerry’s seemingly offhand comment Tuesday in Brussels that perhaps some other Afghan official could sign the security agreement if Karzai would not raised hackles in Kabul.

The president’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said that Karzai wanted the bilateral security agreement but only if his demands were met for the United States to stop all raids — whether by commando or drones — on Afghan homes and help the government take steps toward a peace deal with the Taliban. If the agreement were to be signed, Faizi said, it would only be with Karzai’s direct authorization.

“We are certain that the US can meet our conditions in practical terms within days or weeks,” Faizi said.

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