The US defence secretary has received assurances from his Afghan counterpart that a stalled security agreement with Washington will be signed in "a very timely manner."
Chuck Hagel spoke with Bismillah Khan Mohammadi on Saturday, but chose not to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is holding up a pact that would allow US-led military mission to stay on in the country after withdrawal deadline in 2014.
"There is not much I could add in a meeting with President Karzai to what's already been said," Hagel told reporters. "That's not my role to pressure presidents."
That's not my role to pressure presidents.
Hagel and other defence officials insisted that this trip was planned largely to see troops before the holidays.
However, the pending agreement was discussed at length during the meeting with Mohammadi and Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayub Salangi, and Army Chief of Staff General Sher Mohammad Karimi.
Despite Hagel's assertion that pressuring Karzai may not prove productive, both Hagel and Marine General Joseph Dunford, the top US commander in Afghanistan, issued separate warnings about the approaching US deadline.
Dunford told reporters that while he continues to prepare for a post-2014 force that could operate under the security pact, he will have to begin planning for other options if the deal is not signed by year's end. One option, he said, is to pull out all troops.
Hagel said there has to be a cutoff point, and it may be the NATO defence ministers meeting in February.
"Some answers are going to be required" at that meeting, he said.
Karzai tentatively has endorsed the agreement and a council of tribal elders, the Loya Jirga, has said it should be signed by January 1, as the US has demanded.
Karzai says he wants his successor to decide after Afghanistan's April elections, and has stood his ground in the face of unrelenting pressure from diplomatic and defence officials.
Without a signed agreement, all US troops would leave at the end of next year, along with all foreign forces.