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Obama, defense leadership to meet over Afghanistan on Tuesday

Source: Reuters - Tue, 4 Feb 2014 00:32 GMT
Author: Reuters
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WASHINGTON, Feb 3 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is slated to discuss Afghanistan with Department of Defense leaders on Tuesday, the White House said, a meeting that comes as U.S. officials urge Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign an agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay beyond this year.

The Obama administration has pressed Karzai for months to sign a security agreement that would enable a small number of U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan to help train local forces and conduct counter-terrorism activities.

U.S. defense officials would like to see the issue settled before NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels early in March.

But Karzai has not yet complied.

The United States has complained that it needs certainty to plan for troops to remain.

General Joseph Dunford, who commands international forces in Afghanistan, is visiting Washington this week and is expected to be part of the discussion, a White House official said.

Obama is still deliberating on how to respond, and there is no deadline for when he will make a decision, the official said.

It's the second major meeting Obama has had on Afghanistan in recent weeks: he also met with his National Security Council on the issue in mid-January.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Monday that the pact needs to be signed within "weeks, not months."

"This can't wait for very long because it's impossible to ask our NATO allies or our U.S. military commanders to plan on a contingency," Carney said.

"This is a complicated piece of business and there cannot be and will not be U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 without a signed Bilateral Security Agreement," he said. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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