KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that the long-term partnership agreement being negotiated with the United States should specify exactly how much money the U.S. will give to Afghan forces in coming years.
The demand could place a new hurdle in front of the key pact just as negotiators appeared to be reaching a consensus.
The U.S. already pays the vast majority of the Afghan budget to train, equip and run the Afghan security forces and expects to do so for years to come. But the U.S.'s yearly Congressional budget process, as well as the American public's weariness with the Afghan conflict, would make it difficult for Washington to commit to a dollar figure years in advance.
The so-called strategic partnership agreement is essential to the U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan. American officials hope it will both map the course for U.S. forces after the majority of combat troops leave in 2014 and give the Afghan people confidence that they are not about to be abandoned by their largest international ally.
But negotiations have dragged on for months as Karzai has asked for specific commitments from the U.S. before signing. The biggest of these demands -- agreements on the transfer of authority over detainees and the conduct of night raids -- have been resolved in recent weeks. Afghan and U.S. officials are pushing to sign the deal before a NATO conference in Chicago in May, and with those two issues resolved, that goal appeared within sight.
But Karzai said Tuesday that the U.S. needs to go further than vague pledges to continue to fund the Afghan army and police.
"They are providing us money, there is no doubt about that. But they say they will not mention the amount in the agreement. We say: give us less, but mention it in the agreement. Give us less but write it down," Karzai said in a speech in the capital marking the anniversary of the birth of a revered Afghan writer.
U.S. officials have said they expect to pay about $4 billion a year to fund Afghan forces. Karzai said he wants a written commitment of at least $2 billion. He said he would rather have a firm commitment to a lower figure than a verbal promise for a higher one.
"You have to mention 'at least' in there," Karzai said.
The comments suggest that Karzai may be growing increasingly worried that the U.S. will not make good on funding pledges once there are drastically fewer American soldiers risking their lives on Afghan soil.
The U.S. has already greatly reduced the money it spends on development programs in Afghanistan and the past year has seen a number of NATO nations trying to speed their exits from the country even as they continue to promise to support the Afghan government. On Tuesday, Australia because the latest ally to speed up its timetable as Prime Minister Julia Gillard said they expect to pull out troops nearly a year earlier than what had been an expected 2014 departure.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul declined to comment on Karzai's demand.
U.S. officials have said they expect the document to address economic and development support for Afghanistan but it is unclear if the American negotiators would have the legal authority to make a specific financial commitment.
American administrations request money for specific countries in the foreign aid budget and work with Congress to determine amounts. A guaranteed sum would be highly unusual, especially with the current Democratic administration and a Republican-controlled U.S. House.
Much of the contention over the strategic partnership deal with the U.S. appears to come from two very different opinions from the two governments about what the goals of the document should be. U.S. officials involved in the negotiations have said that it is not meant to set forth exact rules, but to establish a framework between the two countries to continue to work together for years to come.
The Afghan government, meanwhile, has repeatedly demanded concrete commitments and rules for U.S. forces. It sees the document as necessary to establish Afghan sovereignty after years of letting policy be set by the international allies who bankroll the government.
If the strategic partnership is not signed by the NATO summit on May 20-21, it would not necessarily derail negotiations, but it would strike another blow to a U.S.-Afghan alliance that has been on edge for much of this year.
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