Afghan President Hamid Karzai has told his countrymen that a vital security pact with the US should not come into effect until after next year's election and conceded there was little trust between the two countries.
But the US replied that it was "neither practical nor possible" to delay the signing of the BSA (Bilateral Security Agreement) beyond the end of 2013.
About 2,500 tribal elders and political leaders from all around Afghanistan gathered in the capital, Kabul, for the second day of a loya jirga, or grand council, on Friday to debate whether to allow US troops to stay after the 2014 drawdown of foreign forces.
In a statement that has probably irritated the US, which is keen to clinch the deal as soon as possible, Karzai told the assembly Thursday any agreement on the status of US forces would have to wait until after a presidential election in April.
"This pact should be signed when the election has already taken place, properly and with dignity," Karzai, who cannot run in the 2014 vote under the constitution, said.
Aimal Faizi, Karzai's spokesman, confirmed the president's position on Friday. "Security, peace and good elections are key to the signing of the BSA," Faizi told AFP news agency.
"Let's wait and see what will the loya jirga decide on the document. If approved, as the president said, it will be signed after elections."
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While the security pact is widely expected to pass, several thorny issues, including a US request for jurisdiction over its troops, could hold up a decision. Up to 15,000 foreign troops could remain in Afghanistan after 2014 if the pact is signed.
Reporting from Kabul on Friday, Al Jazeera's Jane Ferguson said Afghan leaders participating in the loya jirga were "a little bit downtrodden by the row that has erupted between Washington, DC and Kabul".
"They feel as though they really have become pawns in a political power play here, in political games, when they really wanted to come here and discuss the future of their country. They now feel as though that's been overshadowed," Ferguson said.
Without an accord the US says it could pull out all its troops at the end of 2014 and leave Afghan forces to fight the Taliban insurgency on their own.
"We believe that signing the BSA sooner rather than later is essential to give Afghans certainty about their future before the upcoming elections, and enable the United States and other partners to plan for US presence after 2014," Jen Psaki, State Department spokeswoman, said in Washington, adding that the US was seeking clarification.
A senior Afghan official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Reuters news agency that Karzai intended to leave the pact unsigned until he was sure the international community would not interfere in the election.
Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, confirmed that, adding that the grand assembly and parliament also had to approve the pact.
He did not explain how Karzai intended to sign the document after a new president had been elected.
|Al Jazeera's Jane Ferguson reports from Kabul.
Karzai has told the US that if both countries were unable to agree on the document, the issue could be taken up again after the next election. But the future of the agreement was thrown back into confusion following Karzai's remarks.
Over the next four days delegates will debate the draft and decide whether they want US troops to stay. Karzai told the assembly he broadly supported the security pact but said there was little trust between him and US officials.
"My trust with America is not good. I don't trust them and they don't trust me," Karzai said. "During the past 10 years I have fought with them and they have made propaganda against me."
Karzai called the assembly to muster public support for a pact regarded by many Afghans with contempt.
As Karzai spoke about US assurances, a female senator leapt up to interrupt him, shouting that any deal with the Americans amounted to selling the country out.
"President Karzai just doesn't want to own the agreement," Kate Clark, of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network think-tank, said.
"He kept handing the responsibility for agreeing or not agreeing to the agreement to the people in the hall, to the delegates of the loya jirga."