By Kristina Wong - 02/26/14 04:28 PM EST
The White House announced Tuesday it would start planning for a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, but Afghan officials say it only came after President Karzai rebuffed another request to sign a bilateral security agreement before the April presidential elections.
The president made a personal appeal to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign the agreement during a phone call Tuesday, according to Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi.
The agreement would allow U.S. troops and bases to remain on Afghan soil after the U.S. and NATO combat mission ends in December.
Faizi said the call was friendly, and that Obama made the request several times during the call, but Karzai refused.
Karzai said he would sign the agreement in the month before the election only if the U.S. and Pakistan convinced the Taliban to publicly start talks with the Afghan government, and if the U.S. agrees to stop all military raids on Afghan homes and villages, according to Faizi.
“While he supports the agreement, he said that the peace process should first be practically implemented in Afghanistan. This is a vital demand of the people of Afghanistan,” the statement said.
U.S. officials have said they are done negotiating the agreement, and will not accept any preconditions.
According to Faizi, Obama said he would wait until the next president to sign the agreement, but would begin preparing for a full withdrawal of troops from the country.
The last time Obama and Karzai had spoken to each other via phone or video conference was last June — about eights months ago. Since then, Karzai had changed his mind about signing an agreement, saying he would wait for his successor to sign it. Tensions between the two countries continue to rise.
The elections are scheduled for April 5. Runoff elections would take place within two weeks of the results being announced, and the winner would be sworn in sometime around August, leaving only four months for an agreement to be signed.