The United States is urging Afghanistan to sign a new security pact with the United States by the end of the year, exposing yet another rift with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Washington pushed back after Mr. Karzai surprised U.S. and Afghan officials earlier Thursday by saying the Bilateral Security Agreement "might be signed" after the April 2014 Afghan presidential elections.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said failure to finalize an agreement within the coming weeks "would prevent the United States and our allies from being able to plan for a post-2014 presence" in Afghanistan.
Mr. Karzai's abrupt decision to defer signing the agreement came after he gave an impassioned speech to 2,500 tribal, community and elected leaders, voicing his support for the pact.
Saying he had the support of Afghanistan's major allies and neighbors except Iran, Mr. Karzai encouraged the assembly, known as the Loya Jirga, to vote for the security pact.
The deal is to take effect January 1, 2015 and will keep U.S. troops and civilian personnel in Afghanistan for at least another decade and possibly even longer.
During his speech, Mr. Karzai read out parts of a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama that promised the United States will continue to "respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes" under the new security agreement.
Mr. Obama's letter, released by the Afghan government, also said many Americans have died or been seriously wounded in an effort to help and protect the Afghan people.
A draft text of the agreement said U.S. troops will only enter Afghan homes in exceptional cases - a point of contention in nearly a year of negotiations on the agreement.
The Jirga is expected to spend three days debating the pact, which will shape the security relationship between Washington and Kabul for years to come. The group must give its approval before the document goes to the Afghan parliament for a vote.