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Kerry meets top Afghan and Pakistani officials


Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a meeting on Wednesday with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, to try to ease regional tensions as NATO approaches the end of its combat mission in Afghanistan.

But after a three-and-a-half-hour session, Mr. Kerry made only a brief statement, with no detail and only the promise to keep working.

“Results will tell the story,” Mr. Kerry said, flanked by Mr. Karzai and General Kayani. “We will underpromise, but deliver.”

Neither Mr. Karzai nor General Kayani spoke to reporters.

The session was held at Truman Hall, the secluded 27-acre estate outside Brussels that serves as the official residence of the United States ambassador to NATO. Mr. Kerry had said beforehand that the purpose was to discuss security issues and “the road forward heading towards 2014, a critical transformational period.”

The United States and its NATO partners are planning to hand over responsibility for security in Afghanistan to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

If the necessary legal agreements can be negotiated with the Afghan government, NATO would also keep a limited number of troops to advise Afghan forces after 2014. The United States would also keep a small force to carry out counterterrorism missions.

Mr. Karzai has repeatedly complained that Pakistan, whose intelligence services have long been accused of having ties to the Taliban and other militant groups, is not helping to draw the Taliban into reconciliation talks. Pakistan has denied the allegations and is worried about security in Afghanistan as the American influence is reduced.

The difficult relationship between Mr. Karzai and General Kayani has complicated the effort to improve stability in Afghanistan before national elections that are to be held in Afghanistan next year.

They also come as the United States and its NATO partners are in the process of drawing down forces and the Obama administration is hoping that a reconciliation process with the Taliban can finally get under way.

Mr. Karzai was accompanied at the meeting by Bismillah Mohammadi Khan, Afghanistan’s minister of defense. General Kayani was joined by Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s foreign secretary.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, also attended the talks along with Douglas Lute, the senior White House official in charge of policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and David Pearce, the senior State Department coordinator for the region.

The discussions were held around a U-shaped table in the living room of the ambassador’s residence, a Flemish-style country estate that was built in 1963 for Jean Michiels, a chocolatier, and later sold to the United States at a discount as a gesture of gratitude for the American role in World War II.

Mr. Kerry later led Mr. Karzai and General Karzai in a slow walk around the grounds. The three officials stopped several times and talked under a brilliant blue sky.

The United States has made repeated efforts to improve ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain held a private dinner in early February for the two officials at Chequers, his country residence. But the meeting reportedly left important Afghan-Pakistani differences unresolved.

Mr. Kerry has long experience in dealing with Mr. Karzai and General Kayani and has sought to use his personal connection to advance the talks.

Mr. Kerry attended a NATO meeting on Tuesday that discussed the alliance’s post-2014 plans. President Obama has yet to decide how many troops the United States will keep in Afghanistan after 2014, which has added to the anxiety of many Afghans on future security.

While noting that Mr. Obama has yet to determine troop levels, Mr. Kerry sought to reassure the Afghans. “We are committed beyond 2014,” he said Tuesday, referring to the planned training and counterterrorism missions.


By Michael Gordon

Source: The New York Times

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