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Afghanistan-US deal hinges on Taliban peace talks, says Karzai

KABUL — Afghanistan will refuse to sign a key security deal with the US until a peace process with the Taliban is underway, Afghan President Hamid Karzai reiterated on Saturday.

Without a deal, Washington will not be able to keep troops in Afghanistan after most NATO-led foreign combat forces are withdrawn at the end of this year.

The deal – referred to officially as the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) – has placed a strain on the already difficult relationship between the US and Karzai, who said the peace process in his country "directly depends upon America and Pakistan."

"We don't have any evidence yet showing America's sincerity (in relation) to the peace process in Afghanistan," Karzai told reporters in his fortified presidential palace in Kabul.

Karzai has long insisted that the United States take the following steps: Stop military operations and airstrikes on Afghan villages and residential places; initiate peace talks with the Taliban; and release Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo prison.

"If the US wants the bilateral security agreement to be signed, then it should accept our conditions. If not, they can leave anytime and Afghans can go without foreigners," Karzai said.

Some 2,500 tribal elders from 34 provinces of Afghanistan approved the BSA in a grand assembly (Loya Jirga) in late November, urging Karzai to sign it as soon as possible.

But the Afghan president, who is constitutionally required to step down in a few months, has repeatedly balked at signing the deal as he seeks to extract more conditions from Washington.

The news comes two weeks after the Afghan government ordered the release of 72 prisoners from Bagram jail, which was controlled by the US military until March 2013. The announcement angered US officials, who insisted that the group posed a serious threat to security.

The move intensified the strain on the relationship between Kabul and Washington, creating a further sticking point in the BSA negotiations.

Regarding reports that some of those released from the jail have joined the insurgency, the president said: "Bagram is a factory producing Taliban. Bagram is a place (where) innocent people are brought. Due to torture and insult, they stand against their own people, soil and government."
 

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