Rahmat Gul/AP

Karzai: No U.S. Troop Deal Before April Elections

After reaching an agreement to keep U.S. troops past 2014, Afghan President Hamid Karzai now wants to wait until April’s presidential election to sign it. By Stephanie Gaskell

Afghan President Hamid Karzai reached a deal with the United States to keep troops past the 2014 withdrawal. Now he doesn’t want to ratify it until a successor is picked to replace him in April’s election.

Just a day after announcing that the two nations had negotiated a bilateral security agreement that would allow U.S. and NATO troops to operate in Afghanistan until 2024, Karzai told a gathering of Afghan elders to wait until the election takes place in April to sign the deal, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"The agreement should be signed when the election is conducted, properly and with dignity," Karzai told the loya jirga, a meeting of thousands of Afghan elders assembled to decide whether to approve the deal. "There is mistrust between me and America. I don't trust them, and they don't trust me.”

Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, confirmed Karzai’s stunning statement, telling the Journal that "peace, security and a good election are key to the signing" of the security agreement.

Karzai also showed the leaders a letter from President Obama, assuring him that coalition troops would “respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes” but did not offer up an apology.

Many Afghans have expressed worry that Karzai would try to influence the outcome of the election, and this latest demand quickly fed into those fears. "It came as a surprise," Hedayat Amin Arsala, Karzai's former vice president who resigned as senior minister last month to contest the presidential election, told WSJ. "This may be misconstrued as if the president wants someone specific [to win] in the elections. I hope that is not the case."

The Obama administration is eager to get a security deal in place before the April election, and before next year’s fighting season begins in the spring. Still, defense officials have often said there is “time and space” to get a deal in place before the withdrawal at the end of next year.

The agreement gives U.S. troops immunity from prosecution by Afghanistan -- the key sticking point that led to a failure to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after the war ended in 2011. The Loya Jirga is now debating the deal -- and whether to postpone a decision.