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Officials: Afghan talks at impasse

by By ROD NORDLAND and MATTHEW ROSENBERG, New York Times News Service on November 18, 2013 10:10 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan — Despite recent optimism about talks over a future U.S. military presence here, two senior Afghan officials said Sunday that the negotiations were at a profound impasse, days before an Afghan grand council is scheduled to meet to seek popular support for a deal.

The officials said both sides had refused to budge on American negotiators’ insistence that U.S. troops retain the right, at least in some form, to enter Afghan homes — something President Hamid Karzai has openly opposed for years.

A senior U.S. official in Washington said he “would not characterize remaining differences as an impasse.” He emphasized that the talks were continuing and that it was normal for such negotiations to run until the last moment. “Not only Karzai but a broad section of Afghanistan’s political leadership want to reach an agreement,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate negotiations.

Just a day earlier, on Saturday, Karzai said at a news conference that the two sides had agreed on the wording of an accord. He added, though, that until the day of the grand council meeting, or loya jirga, this week, “we will still continue our negotiations.”

Offstage, however, U.S. raids continued to be a point of deadlock, according to the Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations were continuing. In recent days, the talks have been led on the Afghan side by Karzai, and on the U.S. side by Ambassador James B. Cunningham and the military coalition commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.

The Afghan officials said Karzai would not change his position before Thursday’s loya jirga, to which 3,000 officials, elders and notables from around the country have been invited to ratify or reject the security agreement.

The officials appeared eager to communicate their position publicly, if anonymously, and some observers suggested that the talk of a deadlock was simply a last-minute negotiating ploy.

“We don’t do it that way,” one U.S. official said. “We are not negotiating in public.”

The two sides have also not reached agreement on whether U.S. troops will be immune from prosecution under Afghan law, but Karzai is willing to try to persuade the loya jirga to accept that, one of the Afghan officials said. The troops would be subject to prosecution under U.S. law for crimes committed in the line of duty.

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