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UN, US, NATO Welcome August Afghan Election Date

The United Nations, NATO and the United States have welcomed the Afghan election commission's decision to hold presidential polls on August 20 as planned, and not earlier as demanded by President Hamid Karzai.

The U.N. secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said the date gives the election commission time to prepare for the polls. He said it also gives candidates time to campaign, and Afghan and international security forces time to provide security.

U.S. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid echoed those statements.

And a NATO statement issued Wednesday also noted that the August date will give the alliance time to improve security.

Mr. Karzai had asked Afghan election officials to move up the election date from August to April - before his term ends in May.

The election commission said the vote could not be held earlier because of weather conditions, security issues and logistical problems.

Afghan groups have also said it would be difficult to arrange a fair, free and secure election in Afghanistan before August.

Earlier Wednesday, Afghanistan's Interior Minister Hanif Atmar said the police force would do its best to provide security but warned that Taliban militants would try to upset the election.

In related news, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it is impossible to set a date for when international troops will withdraw from Afghanistan.

He said he did not see the mission in Afghanistan completed in the near future.

His French counterpart Herve Morin said NATO should stay in Afghanistan for as long as necessary, but not forever. The two spoke after meeting at the U.S. Department of Defense Tuesday.