By Jeremy Herb
Afghan President Hamid Karzai took a more upbeat tone toward the U.S. on Wednesday, saying he “welcomed” President Obama’s Afghanistan remarks in the State of the Union.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Karzai said Obama’s reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to a unified Afghanistan and said it was “in the good interest of the two countries’ bilateral relations.
Karzai’s positive takeaway on Obama’s speech comes amid eroding tensions between the two governments stemming from the unsigned security agreement and the release of detainees the U.S. considers dangerous.
Karzai’s suggestion this week that U.S. troops were behind insurgent attacks in Afghanistan prompted lawmakers to say Tuesdya that the Obama administration should just stop dealing with Karzai and wait for the next president to sign the security deal.
The White House has threatened to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 if the security pact is not soon signed, though the administration has backed away from a hard deadline.
Karzai has refused to sign the document until after the presidential elections. His statement once again called for restarting the peace process with the Taliban before signing off on the agreement.
The Obama administration pushed back on Karzai’s characterization of Obama’s address, saying there’s been no change in the U.S. position on getting the security pact signed.
“The bilateral security agreement negotiations have concluded. There's nothing more to negotiate on this,” said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby. “We need it as soon as possible, or otherwise we're going to have to begin planning for a complete withdrawal.”
In the State of the Union, Obama said: “If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies.”