BRUSSELS - NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels are urging Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a security pact with the United States that would allow foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of the NATO combat mission there next year. President Karzai wants to delay that signing until after Afghan elections.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the alliance is hoping to stay in Afghanistan into 2015 but needs President Karzai's "timely" signature on a security pact outlining the terms of a smaller advisory force.
Rasmussen told reporters at NATO headquarters he is concerned that without such a training mission, there could be a negative impact on security and financial aid to Afghanistan. He says the trans-Atlantic alliance is not trying to impose anything on the government in Kabul, just offering help if it is wanted.
"NATO is not an occupation force. We intend to help Afghanistan. And of course it is a precondition that we get an invitation. And an invitation should be accompanied by a proper legal framework," said Rasmussen.
President Karzai is holding up the legal framework that would govern the presence of U.S. troops beyond 2014, saying such an accord should not be signed until after his country's elections next April. Karzai has also added conditions to a deal he negotiated with Secretary Kerry: he is now calling for the release of all Afghan prisoners from U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Kerry says that, given what he calls "the amount of sacrifice" made by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama does not appreciate "that this somehow is being left in doubt at this critical moment."
"This is not fooling around. This is serious business. There are over 50 nations who are engaged here through NATO in trying to help Afghanistan. And those nations have budget cycles. Those nations have planning requirements," said Kerry.
U.S. and NATO officials say they need a decision by the end of the year to plan for either the complete withdrawal of all 84,000 troops over the next 12 months or the establishment of a smaller training force of between 8,000 and 12,000 soldiers.
"All of our colleagues here today voiced a desire for their planning purposes and for the confidence that comes with the knowledge that we are moving in the same direction, that they all voiced hope that this can be done sooner, not later," said Kerry.
NATO foreign ministers and officials from partner countries meet Wednesday with the acting Afghan foreign minister, Zarar Ahmad Moqbel, and with Afghan Interior Minister Mohammad Omar Daudzai to discuss the pending security pact.
Kerry then leaves Belgium for meetings in Moldova before continuing on to Israel.