Mere hours after the ink dried on that Security Pact, in which Kerry assured… No combat role for US forces in Afghanistan, Karzai threw a hard fastball right under Kerry’s voluminous jowls…

United States gives Afghanistan year-end deadline for crucial security deal

Karzai’s surprise move, which came just a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the pact’s language had been agreed upon, suddenly threw its future into question and seemed certain to reignite tensions with Washington.

…In a statement certain to irritate the United States, which is eager to clinch the deal as soon as possible, Karzai told the assembly any agreement on the status of U.S. forces would have to wait until after a presidential election in April.

“This pact should be signed when the election has already taken place, properly and with dignity,” Karzai, who cannot run in the 2014 vote under the constitution, told the elders…

A senior Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Karzai intended to leave the pact unsigned until he is sure the international community will not interfere in the election. Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, confirmed that, adding that the grand assembly and parliament also had to approve the pact.

“Once we are assured of peace and security, and transparent elections, then President Karzai will sign this pact after the election if this is approved by the Loya Jirga and passed by the parliament,” Faizi said.

He did not explain how Karzai intended to sign the document after a new president had been elected.

Karzai has appeared wary of being too closely associated with the security agreement, which would formally invite foreign forces to stay in Afghanistan.

“President Karzai just doesn’t want to own the agreement,” said Kate Clark of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network think tank. “He kept handing the responsibility for agreeing or not agreeing to the agreement to the people in the hall, to the delegates of the Loya Jirga.”

Once a weasel politician, always a politician…! Speaking of which…

Obama Promises To Respect ‘Dignity’ of Afghans If U.S. Troops Stay

President promises U.S. troops won’t enter Afghan homes except under ‘extraordinary circumstances’

President Barack Obama sent a letter to President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday, striking an empathetic and diplomatic note about how American troops will conduct themselves in Afghanistan, as the two countries near an agreement for a continuing U.S. presence there.

In the days before the U.S. and Afghanistan agreed on language for a bilateral agreement to keep U.S. troops in the country for at least another decade, there were reports that the Afghan government would demand an apology for the suffering of the Afghan people during military operations. Obama’s letter stopped short of that, but promised to treat Afghans with “dignity.”

“Over time, and especially in the recent past, we have redoubled our efforts to ensure that Afghan homes are respected by our forces and that our operations are conducted consistent with your law,” Obama said in his letter(6pg PDF), which was posted on the Afghan government’s website. “We will continue to make every effort to respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes and daily lives, just as we do for our own citizens.”

Obama promised that under the new agreement, U.S. forces would not enter Afghan homes for military operations, except under “extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of U.S. nationals.” One of the chief complaints among Afghans has been the practice of “night raids” where coalition troops enter homes in the middle of the night searching for suspected insurgents.

Now, if y’all believe that, I’ve got a slighty used bridge for sale, real cheap…!

Let’s look at what the WH had to say about it, Stateside…

WH: No decision on troops in Afghanistan after 2014

“We’ve not yet determined whether or not a troop presence will continue in Afghanistan,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

If the United States does decide to keep a residual force in Afghanistan after 2014, he said, they will be limited in number and duty.

“What we’re talking about post-2014 is on the order of a few thousand troops,” Earnest said, devoted to specific counter-terrorism operations and training Afghan forces.

“We will not be in a situation in which servicemen and -women are patrolling villages in Afghanistan,” he said. “They will not be in a position of patrolling mountain ranges.”

If U.S. troops remain after 2014, their mission would be narrow and short-term, Earnest said.

“It involves counter-terrorism and training is something that we anticipate would not require a 10 year presence of troops,” Earnest said. “It wouldn’t take that long.”

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but, that Counter Terrorism mission is exactly what those ‘Night Raids’ are all about, carried out by the JSOC/CIA forces, who don’t have to account to anyone…! So how does that jive with… “U.S. forces would not enter Afghan homes for military operations, except under ‘extraordinary circumstances’ involving urgent risk to life and limb of U.S. nationals.”

Moving along to my all-star, fave politician, Bibi Netanyahoo…! White House: Israeli demands on Iran nuke program will lead to war.

So let’s take a look at the latest from the P5+1 talks…

As Laura Rozen wrote…

Gaps narrowing as Iran nuclear talks continue

There are fewer and fewer gaps between the two sides, “the process is efficient, we have a very deep treatment” of the issues, a senior European diplomat, speaking not for attribution, said Thursday of the days’ discussions.

“Some big obstacles [to an accord] have been removed, but not all of them,” the European diplomat said. There are still about four to five elements on the table for negotiation, he said, most of them pertaining to the first phase of the agreement, which is intended to halt the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program over the course of six months while a comprehensive agreement is negotiated.

There is “no rupture with the Iranians, but it doesn’t mean agreement tomorrow,” the European diplomat said. “There is a feeling something could happen tomorrow, or after tomorrow,” but there’s no guarantee, he said. If an accord is reached over the next day, P5+1 foreign ministers could possibly come on Saturday. {…}

Among the issues to be resolved concerns language in the text on enrichment, an analyst briefed by negotiators told Al-Monitor. Specifically, he understood, language in the P5+1 proposal given to Iran at the end of the last meeting November 9th would permanently limit Iran’s enrichment, and would never let Iran be treated as a normal member of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the analyst understood.

Another issue is thought to be a demand on the Arak facility, an issue the Iranians told the P5+1 at the Nov. 9 meeting would not be acceptable, and which remains so now, at least without additional sanctions relief, the analyst said.

The Iranians pressed to break for the evening Thursday under the apparent impression that the Americans, who have been consulting with Washington, may be getting further guidance or instructions, the analyst said.

The chemistry and conversations with the Americans are positive, but on some issues we are still far apart, an Iranian negotiator described to the analyst.

The biggest issue… Iran negotiator: level of enrichment negotiable, but not principle

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi, who is part of Iran’s negotiation team, said today that “The principle of enrichment is non-negotiable, but the specifics, which include level, place and amount, are negotiable.”

Speaking to an Iranian Students’ News Agency reporter in Geneva, Aragchi continued, “The right to enrichment certainly exists, but to negotiate confidence building about the method of implementing [enrichment] can be discussed.”

He called enrichment “one of the most difficult, important and sensitive parts” of the negotiations, adding, “What is certain is that any agreement where enrichment is not at the beginning and end, we will not enter, and at all of the steps, enrichment is to be there.”

Araghchi also said, “Lifting the banking and oil sanctions have to be part of the first steps of the opposing sides.”

Aragchi also stressed that the lack of confidence has been an impediment to talks.

“In these negotiations, about how to work was discussed,” Aragchi said. “The prime obstacle in the work is the lack of confidence about how to continue the negotiations, because of the issues that were created from the previous negotiations. We believe that until this trust is re-built, we will not be able to have constructive talks.”

About that lack of trust… Iran’s tough stance to make P5+1 rethink deal: Israeli source

An Israeli diplomatic source told Xinhua Thursday that Iran’s toughening of stance at its nuclear talks with the P5+1 group was likely to scrap an emerging interim agreement between the two sides.

“Iran’s insistence on enriching uranium speaks volumes,” the Israeli source said, arguing the Shi’ite country was showing the world its “real face” despite the efforts made by the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany in Geneva.

While the West wants Iran to stop its uranium enrichment, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry said Wednesday that the issue would not be decided in the interim agreement.

Meanwhile, some U.S. officials said there was no rush on their part to reach an agreement with Iran.

The Ma’ariv daily quoted a U.S. official as saying: “This has to be a good deal, and the first step needs to advance us towards an overall agreement.”

Many Israeli officials fear that the battle on the interim agreement has already been lost, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would return from Russia later Thursday without gaining much support.

The Israeli prime minister charges that a nuclear Iran would be a threat to Israel’s existence, citing the anti-Semitic and anti- Western comments made by Iranian officials as justification for his argument.

“They should not have nuclear weapons and I am committed to preventing them from possessing it,” Netanyahu said in Moscow on Thursday, prior to his return to Israel.

And here’s a look at his recent Moscow trip…

Israel Fails to Move Russia on Iran Nuclear Talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Moscow on Thursday after failing in a last minute attempt to move Russian President Vladimir Putin away from backing a Iranian nuclear deal taking shape in Geneva.

After four hours of talks in Moscow, Russia’s leader told reporters, “We, in Russia, have an optimistic view on the Iranian nuclear problem.” {…}

George Mirsky, a Mideast expert at Russia’s Academy of Sciences, recalls hearing a Russian diplomat talk a few months ago at a Foreign Ministry conference here in Moscow.

“One of the officials said, quite outright, that it is better to have a nuclear Iran, than a pro-American Iran,” Mirsky recalled. “Can you imagine this? Better a nuclear Iran for Russia, than a pro-American Iran. Because, after all, Russia can never be afraid of Iranian nuclear weapons.” {…}

Mirsky said, “Iran has some means to make life very miserable for Russia in the Caucasus, but Iran was very loyal and never did a single thing to damage Russian interests in the Caucasus. And it is appreciated in Moscow”

Tehran also appreciates that Moscow, decades ago, stopped supporting secessionist Azeri and Kurdish groups in Northern Iran.

In the Shiite-Sunni split in the Muslim world, Iran and Moscow share a common opposition to armed Sunni groups, whether in the Russian Caucasus or in Shiite-controlled Syria, an Iranian ally.

For Russia, there have also been economic benefits to the status quo of economic sanctions on Iran. Sanctions keep Iranian oil and gas off world markets, boosting prices of Russia’s primary exports. Sanctions prevent the landlocked, energy rich nations of the Caspian from using Iranian pipelines to export their oil and gas to the outside world.

So the Israeli leader faced a big challenge when he flew to Moscow on Wednesday, but, undoubtedly, he also had few illusions.

Meanwhile… Israeli military goes off message on Iran nuclear talks…

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu fiercely opposes a deal with Iran, but the Israeli military puts a more positive spin on how a deal could bolster regional stability.

Even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues his diplomatic offensive against what he calls a “dangerous” compromise on Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s military intelligence seems open to a deal, even one that relaxes the Western sanctions on Iran that Mr. Netanyahu has vocally supported.

According to an unclassified assessment shared by a senior Israeli officer, military intelligence is focused on the implications of a potential compromise between Iran and the P5+1 (the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany).

In the background briefing with foreign journalists, which covered a wide range of Middle East hotspots, the intelligence officer said Iran was one of several countries that could buck the general turmoil across the region.

“We see a bit of a possibility, although it’s quite problematic, of more … stability,” said the officer, who spoke on the basis of anonymity. But that is dependent on the success of negotiations “over the nuclear project, but more than that, over the relief of the sanctions on the Iranian economy,” he said.

Fancy that, eh…? All the while, Israel’s Fifth Column Never Sleeps…!

*gah*