U.S. senators worry over delay in talks on Afghanistan

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- Quickly rebooting stalled negotiations with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a long-term agreement for a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is crucial to maintaining stability in the war-torn country, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said Thursday during an unannounced visit to the Afghan capital.

"We need to let the Afghan people know, and the Taliban and Pakistan, that America is not going to abandon Afghanistan," Mr. McCain, R-Ariz., said.

Mr. Karzai suspended work on the agreement last month after the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar in a ceremony that featured signs and a flag that made it clear they viewed the office as a kind of embassy that would help them gain more legitimacy in the international community.

The office was supposed to have been little more than a venue to allow peace talks to begin among his government, the Taliban and the U.S. government, and Mr. Karzai pinned some of the blame for the more grandiose presence on Washington, which had been involved in negotiations leading to the office's creation.

Reassurances from U.S. leaders that they, too, were surprised and upset with the Taliban's behavior apparently didn't change Mr. Karzai's mind.

Initially, U.S. leaders said they were confident that the discussions over the security agreement would resume soon. After meeting with Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham, R-S.C., though, Mr. Karzai issued a statement in which he said the Afghan people had lost faith in the United States in recent months and that talks over the security agreement wouldn't start again until his negotiators had met with the Taliban.

That may not happen soon. The insurgents have long said they wouldn't negotiate with Mr. Karzai, referring to him as a puppet of Western government, and they've shown little interest in coming to the table since Mr. Karzai's angry reaction to the way they opened the office.

Mr. Graham said the condition Mr. Karzai set to resume talks on the security agreement essentially would put control of whether U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan after 2014 in the hands of the Taliban.

The Senate Republican duo have made an annual ritual of war-zone visits to U.S. forces either in Iraq or Afghanistan on July 4 for a dozen years, Mr. McCain said.

As a pop band made up of soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division played in the background, they talked with journalists briefly after participating in re-enlistment, promotion and award ceremonies for troops in a garden at the main NATO base in central Kabul.

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