KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. national security adviser planned to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Monday, a day after he rebuffed American requests to sign a long-delayed security pact by the end of the year.
Karzai's decision to ignore Sunday's recommendation to sign by an Afghan assembly of dignitaries has cast doubt on the presence of thousands of American and allied troops after a 2014 deadline to withdraw most foreign forces.
The two-term Afghan leader insisted that the winner of an April 5 election to succeed him should be the one to sign the deal. But the U.S. administration says insists the deal must be finalized by Dec. 31 to give enough time for planning to keep the troops in the country. More than $8 billion in annual funds for Afghanistan fledgling security forces and development assistance also is at stake.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice was wrapping up a previously unannounced three-day trip to Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops and civilians for the Thanksgiving holidays, the White House said, adding that the meeting was at Karzai's request. Her spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said the meeting will be the last stop on her trip.
It was unlikely that Rice or Karzai would comment after the meeting, being held in the heavily fortified presidential palace in downtown Kabul. Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
There has been no public comment from American officials on Karzai's decision to defer signing, which came at the end of a four-day meeting of 2,500 tribal elders and regional leaders which not only overwhelmingly approved the deal but demanded that he sign it by the end of 2013.
Karzai convened the assembly known as a Loya Jirga to review the agreement with the option of asking for changes or rejecting the deal. Karzai then stunned the assembly and the U.S. government by announcing on the opening day Thursday that he wanted delegates to endorse the deal but he would not sign it but would leave it to his successor.
He repeated that stance Sunday laying down a series of ill-defined conditions and promising to continue negotiations with the United States. They included demands that America ensure peace in a country that has been at war for more than 12 years and guarantee transparent elections.
Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from running in the upcoming elections, also accused the United States of meddling in the 2009 elections, which were marred by fraud, and said he wanted to keep that from happening again.
Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement late Sunday praising the Loya Jirga's decision to embrace the bilateral security agreement with the United States and again urged it be signed quickly.
Even if the mercurial president changes his mind and signs the document, it still must be approved by the Afghan parliament, then finally signed into law by Karzai.
"The critical next step must be to get the bilateral security agreement signed in short order, and put into motion an agreement which will lay a firm foundation for our two countries to continue working together toward a more secure and prosperous future for Afghanistan," Kerry said.