KABUL — Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Saturday he received assurances from Afghanistan's defense minister that a stalled security agreement with the United States would be signed in "a very timely manner."
But in a highly unusual move, Hagel chose not to meet with President Hamid Karzai, who is holding up a pact that Washington and NATO officials say is needed to plan for a post-2014 training and counterterrorism mission expected to involve thousands of troops.
Hagel said he did not think additional pressure from U.S. officials would be helpful or persuade Karzai to sign the bilateral security agreement according to the U.S. timetable — by the end of December. Karzai says he wants his successor to decide after the April 5 elections.
"There is not much I could add in a meeting with President Karzai to what's already been said," Hagel told reporters after meeting with Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi. "That's not my role to pressure presidents."
It was not immediately clear whether Karzai might perceive Hagel's decision as a personal affront or rather a snub by an exasperated Americans dignitary. But this was one of the few times a visiting defense secretary had skipped seeing Karzai during the last decade of war.
Read more in tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.