WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai noted progress on Thursday in long-stalled efforts to broker an agreement guiding U.S.-Afghan relations after most foreign troops withdraw, the White House said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the two leaders spoke in a video call.
“The leaders noted progress toward concluding a strategic partnership that reinforces Afghan sovereignty while addressing the practical requirements of transition,” Carney said, referring to the deal that would lay out U.S. involvement in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014, when most foreign combat troops are due to leave.
The bilateral deal has been held up for months by disagreement over Karzai’s demands for restrictions to military night raids - which for many Afghans epitomize the problems a decade-long foreign military presence has brought - and Afghan’s demands they be given control of detention centers.
In a statement, Karzai’s office said the two leaders discussed progress that had been made in talks about handing Afghans control of a military prison on NATO’s Bagram air base, where U.S. soldiers’ burning of copies of the Koran last month triggered protests across Afghanistan.
The Koran burning and the violence that followed, including a spate of attacks on Western soldiers, tested brittle ties between the Obama and Karzai governments and underscored the challenges that the West faces even as it moves to withdraw.
The Obama administration has been hoping to conclude the partnership deal, which is expected to include an agreement in principle to keep some sort of U.S. military force in Afghanistan beyond 2014, before a NATO summit that will be held in Chicago in May.
The two leaders also discussed efforts to broker peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
The Obama administration’s reconciliation initiative has become the centrepiece of its political strategy and is seen as its best bet for ensuring that widespread violence does not erupt anew when Western forces go home.
Karzai also spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his office said.
Reporting by Laura Macinnis, Missy Ryan and Alister Bull; Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; Editing by Vicki Allen