Afghan leader strikes friendlier tone toward US


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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has welcomed President Barack Obama's State of the Union remarks on his country, striking a friendlier note Wednesday after weeks of anti-American rhetoric.

Relations between the two nations have been increasingly strained, with Karzai refusing to sign a security agreement which would allow some American troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, after the after the end of the NATO-led combat mission.

Obama said during his Tuesday speech that a small U.S. military force may remain in Afghanistan beyond next year to help continue to train Afghan forces and carry out counter-terrorism operations _ but did not say how many.

Karzai noted that Obama also did not set a timeline for when a security deal must be signed, calling the omission "positive" in a statement issued by the presidential palace.

It said Karzai urged an end to "negative propaganda" against Afghanistan and said he now believes the two countries can work together to help restart Afghanistan's peace process.

Karzai welcomed Obama's commitment to a unified Afghanistan, the palace said, and called it "in the good interest of the two countries' bilateral relations."

In recent weeks Karzai has taken a hostile tone towards the U.S., warning that he cannot be pressured into signing the Bilateral Security Agreement.

The deal would allow about 10,000 U.S. troops and about 6,000 from allied nations to remain in Afghanistan past 2014, largely to help train Afghanistan security forces. Karzai repeatedly has declined to sign the document, instead saying he wants to wait to sign it after the country elects his successor in the coming April 5 presidential election.

The U.S. had wanted the deal to be signed by Dec. 31 because it needs time to prepare to keep thousands of U.S. troops in the country for up to a decade. NATO allies also have said they won't stay if the Americans pull out.

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Follow Cassandra Vinograd at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd


(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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