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US, Afghanistan Begin Talks on Post-2014 Security Pact

Eklil Hakimi (R), Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, and James B. Warlick, deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, attend a news conference in Kabul, November 15, 2012.
U.S. and Afghan officials have opened talks that will determine how many American military personnel stay in Afghanistan after international combat forces leave at the end of 2014.

Representatives from the two countries discussed the bilateral security agreement Thursday in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The head of the Afghan negotiating team, Afghan Ambassador to the United States Eklil Hakimi, told reporters that at the start the two sides are looking for common points.

"Our hope is to find those points that are in the interest of both countries, taking into account our sovereignty," he said. "When we find that joint point, then Insha'Allah (God willing) both sides will take action to conclude this document."

The head of the U.S. team, Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Warlick, said that the talks will cover the legal basis for U.S. soldiers to work in Afghanistan after 2014.

"The document will also represent our commitment to an abiding security relationship, an enduring security partnership that we believe serves the interests of both our countries," he said.

A joint statement issued by Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry said both sides affirmed the key principles of the negotiations "are full respect for Afghan sovereignty and Afghan national interests." The goals include strengthening the ability of Afghan forces to provide security in the country and eliminating terrorism.

The statement said both sides clarified that "these negotiations are premised on the understanding that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan, or a presence that is perceived as a threat to Afghanistan's neighbors."

The talks will also focus the sensitive issue of whether American troops can be prosecuted under Afghan law.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has long said any remaining U.S. military personnel should be prosecuted in local courts. Washington stresses that any crimes committed should be tried in the United States.

Failure to strike a similar deal on immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq was a factor in ending the American military presence in that country.

Past actions by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan - such as the alleged killing earlier this year of 16 civilians by U.S. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, and burnings of the Quran -- have infuriated Afghans.

Earlier this year, the United States signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan that could keep a contingent of American troops in the country after 2014 as advisors and trainers.

The US-Afghan talks are expected to continue for months.