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US demands its troops be immune from Afghan law and tried in America as bilateral security pact falters

Afghanistan and the United States have not yet agreed on several issues in a bilateral security pact, raising the prospect that Washington could pull out all its troops next year if the differences are not be ironed out.

KABUL // Afghanistan and the United States have not yet agreed on several issues in a bilateral security pact, an Afghan spokesman said, raising the prospect that Washington could pull out all its troops next year if the differences could not be ironed out.

Two years ago, the United States ended its military mission in Iraq with a similar “zero option” outcome after the failure of bilateral talks with Baghdad.

For almost a year, Washington and Kabul have been seeking to conclude a Bilateral Security Agreement that will help determine how many US soldiers and bases remain in Afghanistan after most foreign combat troops exit by the end of next year.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters at the end of a visit to Kabul this month that there was just one issue outstanding — Washington’s demand that its troops be immune from Afghan law and tried in the United States instead.

But the issue was not even raised in the two days Mr Kerry was in Kabul, said Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

He said there were also a number of other areas that the two countries have yet to agree on. “A lot of progress has been made on the document, but it is not finalised,” Mr Faizi said.

“If we do not reach a final agreement on this draft, it will go to the Loya Jirga and the Afghan people will be able to look at the issues remaining.” Mr Faizi said. “If it’s unfinished, it means that there are some areas even the two governments have not yet reached an agreement on.”

The Loya Jirga, an assembly of Afghanistan’s tribal elders, is to meet in November to discuss the security agreement.

However, US President Barack Obama’ administration regards the language that Mr Kerry and Mr Karzai hammered out in a weekend of marathon talks to be essentially the final version that will be put before the Loya Jirga for its approval.

“The text that will be presented to the Loya Jirga is what we left Afghanistan with,” US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters last week.

US officials are increasingly impatient to conclude the deal because they need time to implement plans for 2015.

Mr Faizi said both countries needed the deal but Afghanistan was in no rush to sign the pact.

“There are some key issues still remaining but it is not really a lot of work,” he said, indicating a deal could be reached with Mr Karzai before presidential elections scheduled for April. Mr Karzai cannot run for re-election because he has already served the maximum two terms.

Adding to pressure to avoid major delays, Washington has made clear that it opposes the idea of waiting to finalise the pact with Mr Karzai’s successor and that US patience is not without limits. “It remains our goal to conclude it as soon as we can,” a US official said.

The US has said the deal would collapse if US soldiers were not granted immunity from the Afghan judicial process.

Reuters

Updated: October 22, 2013 04:00 AM

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