KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Preparations are underway to secure a key meeting of Afghan tribal elders that will advise the nation's president on whether to sign a long-foundering security deal with the United States, an official said Thursday.
President Hamid Karzai has called the meeting — known as Loya Jirga, or council of Afghan elders — for next month to discuss the state of the agreement after negotiations stumbled despite one year of talks. The U.S. wants a deal in October.
Karzai has ruled out signing the U.S.-Afghan deal until disagreements over sovereignty issues are resolved, but it remains doubtful any agreement will have been reached in a month's time.
If no deal is signed, the U.S. will keep no military forces in Afghanistan after 2014.
Meawhile, security preparations were underway.
"Work has started on the security issue of the Loya Jirga," said Ministry of Interior spokesman Sediq Sediqi.
The Obama administration is still optimistic that a U.S.-Afghan agreement over the future role of American troops in the country can be finalized in the next few weeks, despite emotional outbursts from Karzai this week alleging that the U.S. and NATO inflicted suffering on the Afghan people and repeatedly violated its sovereignty.
Karzai's latest outburst drew a sharp response from NATO's secretary-general on Thursday.
"We have sacrificed much in blood and treasure to assist the Afghan people and I have noted with satisfaction that whenever I meet Afghans they express appreciation for that," Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels.
Nearly 3,390 members of the NATO coalition have been killed since the U.S. invasion, which marked its 12th anniversary on Oct. 7. They include at least 2,146 members of the U.S. military.
Almost a year of negotiations on the deal has failed to yield an agreement — and it's possible the two sides will never produce one.
Without the United States on board, it is unlikely that NATO or any of its allies will keep troops in Afghanistan. Germany has already indicated it will not commit the 800 soldiers it has promised.
"All that has been invested in blood and treasure will go with the wind, and the destiny of this country will go back to square one," said Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan's former defense minister and the man who helped set up the army.
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