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Hagel Given Assurances on Afghan Security Deal

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says Afghanistan's defense minister has assured him a security pact with the United States will be signed in a "timely manner."

Hagel made the remark after meeting with Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi during a visit to Kabul Saturday.

Secretary Hagel also said he did not plan to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, and that he never received an invitation to do so.

"I never asked for a meeting with President Karzai. That was not the purpose of my trip, never suggested it in any way. I never received an invitation to meet with him. I didn't expect a meeting with him. As I explained, this trip is about the troops."

Mr. Karzai has refused to sign the security pact, which calls for U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 to help train Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban.

The U.S. has said Mr. Karzai must sign the pact by the end of this year, or the U.S. will have no choice but to withdraw all troops after 2014.

Afghanistan's grand assembly, or Loya Jirga, has urged Mr. Karzai to sign the pact. But the Afghan president has said he wants his successor to decide on the security agreement after his country's presidential election in April.

Chuck Hagel flew to Kabul from Bahrain, where he reassured Middle Eastern leaders the U.S. is not abandoning its commitment to the region, following the recently negotiated deal with Iran about its nuclear program.

Hagel sought to alleviate apprehensions that the Iran nuclear deal, coupled with U.S. budget pressures and the drawdown in Afghanistan, could signal a decline in America's commitment to the area.

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