U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says Afghanistan cannot keep deferring a decision on whether to sign a security pact with the United States allowing some U.S. troops to stay beyond 2014.
Hagel spoke to reporters Thursday on a flight to Poland, where he is conferring with officials on security issues including Afghanistan. He said the delay by Afghan President Hamid Karzai on signing the bilateral agreement will at some point create problems because of U.S. needs to plan and budget for the future.
But, Hagel said, he respects Karzai's right to decide the matter as the Afghan leader sees fit, and that the U.S. only has a "limited" ability to influence Afghan decisions.
Afghanistan has held off on signing the pact, in part because of a dispute over the laws to which U.S. troops would be held accountable if they stayed in the country after the U.S combat mission ends.
Karzai's national security adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta said in a news conference Thursday the Afghan government is interested in signing the agreement, but also in protecting their country's sovereignty.
"If there are ways to assure a sovereign Afghanistan with one unified government, one principle where feudalism will not govern any part of Afghanistan, and the Afghan Islamic constitution would dominate the whole country, even if there are ways to achieve these goals without peace process, I think there is still a need to sign the BSA," said Spanta.
On Wednesday, Afghan politicians and peace negotiators gave mixed reactions to parts of U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, which addressed the dispute over the future of U.S. troops in the country.
Obama said the United States is prepared to leave a small force in Afghanistan to help train and assist Afghan troops.
In a statement, President Karzai said he considered Obama’s speech to be positive. He said there is no deadline for signing the bilateral security agreement and with patience and hard work both countries can contribute to the start of peace efforts.