- - Sunday, November 11, 2012

KABUL — Crucial negotiations on the status of U.S. forces remaining in Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal in 2014 will begin in Kabul on Thursday, the foreign ministry said Sunday.

A key element of any agreement will be the question of immunity for U.S. troops from prosecution in local courts.

In Iraq, Washington pulled out all of its troops after failing to get Baghdad to grant immunity to American soldiers, and President Hamid Karzai has warned there could be similar problems in Afghanistan.

The issue has been highlighted by the massacre of 16 villagers earlier this year, allegedly by a rogue U.S. soldier who was flown out of the country and is facing hearings in the United States.

“The official talks on the signing of a security pact will begin between the governments of Afghanistan and USA in Kabul on Nov. 15,” foreign ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai told a news conference.

The negotiations will be led by Eklil Hakimi, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United State, and by James Warlick, deputy U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr. Mosazai said.


No talks on defense cutswith Clinton, Panetta

SYDNEY — Officials on Sunday sought to play down comments by a senior U.S. official who said Washington planned to raise concerns about Australia’s falling military spending at talks this week between the allies.

Australia slashed $5.7 billion from its defense budget in May in a bid to return the economy to surplus, despite a beefed-up U.S. alliance that has seen hundreds of Marines deployed to northern Australia.

The expansion in ties, announced by President Obama on a visit to Australia 12 months ago, is part of Washington’s pivot to Asia to counter China’s growing military might. Australia is a long-standing US ally.

Defense Minister Stephen Smith is due to meet Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Perth this week for annual security talks, and one of Clinton’s top advisers in the region, Kurt Campbell, earlier said the “important” spending issue would be raised.

Mr. Smith said Sunday that the defense cuts are not on the agenda and it was “frankly nonsense” to suggest that U.S. officials were coming to Australia “to talk about our defense cuts.”

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Panetta are due to arrive Wednesday.


Italian foreign ministermeets with new leaders

TRIPOLI — Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi visited Libya last week for high-level talks with the first elected authorities since the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Mr. Terzi met with Mohammed Megaryef, head of the National Assembly, and Ali Zeidan, the acting prime minister.

“We intend to develop with the new Libya, through this government, an even closer relationship, particularly on the political, security and economic front,” Mr. Terzi told journalists in Tripoli.

The talks touched on business opportunities for Italian companies, notably in the construction and energy sectors, boosting cultural exchanges between the two nations, and increasing visas for Libyans wishing to go to Italy, he said.

Mr. Zeidan expressed his country’s commitment to maintaining tight ties with Italy and vowed that Libya, a former Italian colony, will no longer be a “jihadist state that exports deviant ideologies.”

In September, Italy expelled two Libyans accused of spreading jihadist ideas.

Mr. Zeidan said his Cabinet will be sworn in this week and take office shortly after that.

Mr. Terzi’s visit came a day after a criminal court in Rome ordered the release of more than $1 billion in Libyan assets frozen since March.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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