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Afghan ministers will not sign US pact unless demands met: Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during the opening of the Loya Jirga, in Kabul November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during the opening of the Loya Jirga, in Kabul November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

By Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai will not allow any of his ministers to sign a security pact with the United States unless key demands are met, the president's spokesman said on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday said the bilateral security agreement (BSA) could be signed by Karzai's defense minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, effectively circumventing Karzai.

The BSA will shape the post-2014 U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. U.S. officials says without an agreement by year's end they may be forced to consider a total withdrawal of troops, leaving Afghan forces to fight the Taliban insurgency on their own.

But Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi said the president remained committed to his two main demands.

"President Karzai wants an absolute end to the military operations on Afghan homes and a meaningful start to the peace process, and we are certain that the Americans can practically do that within days or weeks," Faizi said.

"As long as these demands are not accepted, President Karzai will not authorize any minister to sign it," Faizi said.

Kerry had told a gathering of NATO foreign ministers the security pact did not have to be signed by Karzai himself.

"His minister of defense can sign it, the government can sign it, somebody can accept responsibility for this," he said.

Mohammadi was also at the meeting and a senior Afghan official said the defense minister was approached by U.S. officials about such a possibility.

Last month an assembly of Afghan elders, known as a Loya Jirga, endorsed the security pact, but in closing remarks Karzai suggested he might not sign it until after national elections next spring.

He also said his signing was dependent on several new demands, not raised during year-long and at times fraught negotiations.

There are 47,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The United States has been in discussions with Afghan officials about keeping a residual force of about 8,000 troops after the end of the NATO combat mission next year.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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