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Talks aim to clarify future for Afghans

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 8:30 p.m.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Senior American and Afghan officials held talks on Saturday to try ironing out the details of a key pact signed a year ago that defines the future of the United States' commitment to Afghanistan.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement outlines a set of principles and general commitments for relations between Washington and Kabul after 2014, when foreign combat troops are to withdraw from Afghanistan. But there is lingering uncertainty over whether either party would be willing or able to adhere to the provisions of the pact, which includes several loopholes for both nations.

The meeting in Kabul between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul is the second round of negotiations over how to implement the agreement, signed last May by President Obama and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai.

The deal spells out the United States' commitment to Afghanistan over the next 10 years as well as its expectations of the nation — including free and fair presidential elections in 2014; pledges to fight corruption; improve efficiency; and protection of human rights, including those for women.

Sticking points might include the amount of funds that the United States provides to Afghan security forces. The two countries are squabbling over a separate agreement that would protect from prosecution a residual force of as many as 10,000 U.S. troops who would stay behind after the final withdrawal.

The deal allows either country to opt out with a one year's notice, which could result in Karzai's successor in next year's presidential elections scuttling the agreement.

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