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- Friday, November 16, 2012 - From Print Edition


KABUL: The United States and Afghanistan launched crucial talks on Thursday on the status of US forces remaining in Afghanistan after the Nato withdrawal of combat troops in 2014.


A key element of any agreement will be the question of immunity for US troops from prosecution in local courts, but this was not discussed in the first round of talks, negotiators said.


In Iraq, Washington pulled out all of its troops after failing to get Baghdad to grant its soldiers immunity, and President Hamid Karzai has warned there could be similar problems in Afghanistan. The issue has been highlighted by the massacre of 16 villagers earlier this year, allegedly by a rogue US soldier who was flown out of the country and is facing hearings in the United States.


The number of troops who will stay in the country and their roles in the fight against insurgents led by Taliban Islamists are also unlikely to be dealt with in the early rounds of talks, according to sources close to the negotiations.


“We were very encouraged by today’s round that we could speak frankly with each other,” US chief negotiator and deputy special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Warlick, told a news conference.


“And I am very confident that the rounds ahead will lead to the conclusion of a document which is in both of our countries’ interest.ÓThis document is intended to provide legal authorities for United States armed forces and its civilianÕs component to continue a presence in Afghanistan with full approval of the government,” he said.


Afghanistan’s chief negotiator and ambassador to Washington, Eklil Hakimi, said the security agreement was one of the most important elements of the long-term strategic partnership deal already signed with Washington.


“In this agreement, the quantity, quality, defence cooperation and security presence of the US in Afghanistan after... 2014 are included,” he said. The negotiations would be based on Afghanistan’s national interests and sovereignty and ensuring peace and stability, strengthening democracy and the capability of Afghan armed forces, Hakimi said.


Both men said the deal, which could take a year to negotiate, would pose no threat to any other country in the region. Iran, in particular among Afghanistan’s near neighbours which include China, Pakistan, India and former Soviet Central Asian states, has made clear its objection to any military deal between Washington and Kabul.