Afghan officials: Talks for deal with U.S. faltering

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Efforts to forge a deal that will govern the American military presence in Afghanistan beyond a planned U.S troop withdrawal in 2014 are faltering, current and former Afghan officials said on Monday.

They said obstacles include disputes over the transfer of American-run detention centers, night raids and quarrels within the Afghan president’s inner circle that led one of his top advisers to threaten to resign.

The failure to make headway on a strategic partnership document reflects growing animosity between President Hamid Karzai and the United States, which reached its lowest level after the burning of Qurans and other Islamic texts at a U.S. military base on Feb. 20. That incident sparked six days of angry riots across Afghanistan that left 30 people dead, including six U.S. troops who were killed by Afghan security forces.

Karzai has been stubborn about his demands — apparently so much so that he is losing the backing of some of his own top aides. Although the president cannot be seen to be a pushover to the U.S. on sovereignty issues, many top Afghan officials believe that Afghanistan’s government is too shaky to stand on its own. They sense that Washington is now pushing back against Karzai in the talks, and fear that the Americans may simply wash their hands of Karzai or perhaps the entire Afghan war.

Afghan officials stress that Afghanistan wants a deal, but that its sovereignty should be respected.

Afghanistan is committed to have a long-term strategic partnership with the United States of America, who is our important international ally. But as we have mentioned repeatedly, the Afghan government wants to sign a strategic partnership with the U.S. for the long term, and the national sovereignty of Afghanistan should be respected in that strategic partnership,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai told reporters on Monday.

The president can’t afford not to make a deal with the United States, which provides Afghanistan with billions of dollars in development aid and funds most of the training for the country’s army and police, which are to take control of the country’s security at the end of 2014.

The U.S. spent $22 billion in the past two years for training and is expected to contribute the bulk of the approximately $4 billion a year that 260,000-strong force will need to operate in 2015 and beyond.

An Afghan government official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations, said that more than two months ago National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta submitted his resignation after disagreements erupted between him and Karzai over the strategic partnership document.

Spanta, who is spearheading the talks, wants Karzai to compromise on the two most contentious issues being negotiated — night raids and the U.S. transfer of detention facilities to Afghan government control.

Karzai did not accept Spanta’s resignation, but kept the letter and did not destroy it or throw it out. Spanta verbally threatened to resign on two subsequent occasions, mostly recently in the past several days, the official said.

The official and Davood Moradian, who was an adviser to Spanta when he was foreign minister, said the strategic partnership deal might not be ready for a NATO summit in May.

Such a delay could torpedo the deal, as the United States has already been showing decreasing enthusiasm about it.

Spanta was on a trip to China and not available to comment, but Moradian said the resignation threat was part of an effort to pressure Karzai into a compromise.

“There is a possibility that if that tactic didn’t work he would resign,” said Moradian, assistant professor of political science at American University in Kabul. Moradian was the chief policy adviser to Spanta when he was foreign minister.

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