Clapper: Karzai won’t sign deal

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Tuesday that he does not think Afghan President Hamid Karzai will sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States.

“Obviously, it takes two to sign this, and my own view on this, though it may not be company policy, is I don’t believe President Karzai will sign this,” Clapper said at a Senate hearing.

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Clapper is the first high-ranking Obama administration official to state publicly that Karzai is not likely to sign the security pact, which would establish a U.S. presence in Afghanistan after NATO hands off full control of security at the end of 2014.

The Obama administration has threatened to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan if the agreement is not signed soon, although it has backed off of a hard deadline.

Karzai has indicated he wouldn’t sign the bilateral security agreement until after the country’s presidential elections in April, and U.S. lawmakers have increasingly suggested that the Obama administration should just wait for Karzai’s successor to take power.

“Whoever the next Afghan president is, he is likely to be more reliable than President Karzai, and his signature is likely to instill more confidence than would Karzai’s signature,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) at the start of his committee’s hearing Tuesday.

Levin pressed Clapper to “clear the air” and say the U.S. would wait out Karzai, but Clapper declined, saying that was a policy decision up to the White House.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blasted Karzai on Tuesday after Afghanistan said it was ordering the release of 65 out of 88 detainees that the U.S. deems dangerous.

The potential release of the Afghan detainees has been one of the major points of tension between the U.S. and Afghanistan as relations have deteriorated in recent months.

“Karzai, in my view, has singlehandedly destroyed this relationship,” Graham said Tuesday.

The Obama administration is weighing keeping between 8,000-10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, primarily in a training role, so long as the long-term security agreement is signed.

Clapper said the Afghan security forces have made progress, but they still struggle to hold territory gained against the Taliban.

— This report was updated at 11:10 a.m.