STATE DEPERTMENT — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Brussels for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers that is expected to focus on delays to an agreement that could keep troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants to postpone signing that agreement until after next April's election in his country.
This meeting of NATO foreign ministers follows a gathering of Afghan elders that endorsed a Bilateral Security Agreement - or BSA. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says securing that deal will help safeguard the country's future.
"We've made our position clear. And so have the Afghan people. Signing the BSA soon is the path forward, as we've said many times, to sustaining a partnership between the United States and Afghanistan, to support Afghans in achieving lasting peace, security, and development," said Psaki.
Karzai negotiated the final language of this deal with Kerry. But since it was endorsed by thousands of Afghan elders, Karzai has pushed to delay signing the agreement, adding conditions that include the release of all Afghan prisoners from U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Analysts say postponing the deal could endanger billions of dollars in development aid and foreign investment. Psaki says the deal is crucial to military planning for troops that may remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014 when the NATO combat mission there ends.
"Deferring the signature of the agreement until after next year's election is not viable," she said. "It would not provide Afghans with the certainty that they deserve regarding their future in the critical months leading to the elections, nor would it provide the United States and NATO allies the clarity necessary for a potential post-2014 military presence."
After the NATO meeting in Brussels, Kerry travels to Moldova for talks on its joining the European Union and to Israel for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.