Afghan Gov't Halts Talks With U.S. On Security Pact

By: CBS NEWS (Posted by Josh Mabry)
By: CBS NEWS (Posted by Josh Mabry)
The Afghan government said Wednesday it was suspending talks with Washington aimed at nailing down a future security agreement between the two nations.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks at a press conference during a ceremony at a military academy on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. Afghan forces have taken over the lead from the U.S.-led NATO coalition for security nationwide, Karzai announced in the significant milestone in the 12-year war. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

London (CBS NEWS)-- The Afghan government said Wednesday it was suspending talks with Washington aimed at nailing down a future security agreement between the two nations due to "inconsistencies" by the Obama administration in its actions and remarks about U.S. involvement in peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban.

A statement from the Office of the National Security Council of Afghanistan released to media Wednesday morning said President Hamid Karzai's government had suspended the fourth round of negotiations with the U.S. to craft a Bilateral Security Agreement -- the contract which will essentially set the parameters of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan for the years to come.

"In view of the contradiction between acts and the statements made by the United States of America in regard to the Peace Process, the Afghan government suspended the negotiations, currently underway in Kabul between Afghan and U.S. delegations," the statement said.

President Karzai's office later released a statement seeming to reject in principal any negotiations taking place directly between the U.S. government and the Taliban. It said there should be no peace talks with the Taliban unless they were between the militant group and his government alone, and that the violence committed by the group must first stop.

Two members of Karzai's High Peace Council told CBS News that the Afghan government had decided it could not recognize the office opened by the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, on Wednesday.

The officials said the Taliban's classification of the address as a "political" office of the "Islamic Emirate" of Afghanistan was unconstitutional, as it suggested the office represented a second government for the nation.

The announcement presented a sudden, possible stumbling block on the heels of U.S. government officials' confirmation on Tuesday that representatives from Washington were soon to hold direct, bilateral talks with Taliban officials in Doha.

It was not immediately clear how the U.S. plan to hold those talks would be affected by the Karzai government's apparent displeasure with how the announcements were handled on Tuesday.

Asked about the developments during a news conference in Berlin, President Obama said Wednesday his "hope" was that the "process will still proceed."

"We had extensive conversations with President Karzai both before and after the Taliban opened the office in Doha," President Obama told reporters during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "I think that President Karzai himself recognizes the need for political reconciliation. The challenge is how do you get these things started while your still at war."

Mr. Obama acknowledged the diplomatic hurdles his administration had to jump through to get Karzai's government to agree to sit down with the Taliban in the first place, given that the militant group continues launching violent attacks in Afghanistan even as the nascent peace process struggles to get rolling in earnest.

"There were some concerns over the manner in which they (the Taliban) opened it (Doha office), the language that they used," said Mr. Obama. "We had anticipated at the outset that there would be areas of friction -- to put it mildly -- to get it off the ground."

Mr. Obama stressed his administration's belief that, "even as we go through some frankly difficult negotiations" on the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014, "we still believe you've got to have a parallel track to at least look at the prospect of a political reconciliation" between Afghanistan and the Taliban.

"Whether that bears fruit," added the president, "is a question only the Afghans can answer."

Neither U.S. nor Afghan officials in Doha would confirm to CBS Radio News' Toula Vlahou, following the Afghan Security Council's statement, that the bilateral U.S.-Taliban talks were still expected to take place in the coming days.

CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan reported Tuesday that the U.S. would participate in direct talks but the negotiation would be Afghan-led, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters. The U.S. had previously offered the Taliban the chance for direct talks in March of 2012, but peace negotiations never materialized.

American officials confirmed later Tuesday that the U.S. bilateral talks with the Taliban would precede, by a matter of days, wider negotiations led by Karzai's High Peace Council.

With his remarks on Wednesday, Karzai cast serious doubt over the prospect of those long-touted negotiations taking place in the near future.

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