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US has 'confidence' in Afghan assembly

KABUL | 11/15/2011 12:00:00 AM |

The United States yesterday voiced “confidence” in Afghanistan’s upcoming traditional assembly (loya jirga), saying it trusted the meeting would affirm close US-Afghan ties.

The United States yesterday voiced “confidence” in Afghanistan’s upcoming traditional assembly (loya jirga), saying it trusted the meeting would affirm close US-Afghan ties.

President Hamid Karzai convenes a “loya jirga” of elders from across Afghanistan today to discuss long-term relations with the US and efforts to broker peace amid the threat of violence. “The US and Afghanistan are -- are close partners and allies, and we have great confidence that -- that this loya jirga is going to reaffirm that strong partnership,” Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, told reporters.

After 10 gruelling years of war, the talks will be held under lockdown security that is a reminder of the constant danger even in the capital. Some 2,000 Afghan elders are set to gather in a giant tent for several days of talks on two of the most sensitive issues in Afghan politics, as US-led combat troops start leaving before a full withdrawal in 2014. Diplomats in Kabul say Karzai is likely to use the talks to secure a sweeping mandate as he pursues a controversial agreement with the United States on the strategic partnership which will govern their relationship after 2014.

The US insists it does not want permanent bases in Afghanistan, but it is likely to want to retain a significant troop presence after 2014 -- prompting a wary response from some Afghans, plus neighbors like Pakistan and Iran. Karzai has made a string of hostile comments about the US in recent months, including saying in October he would side with Pakistan if Islamabad went to war with Washington. His office later tried to row back on the comments. But the government wants to pursue a partnership, due in large part to the billions of dollars of aid which the US has poured into Afghanistan since the war started in 2001, which it hopes will continue. The U.S. yesterday voiced “confidence” in Afghanistan’s upcoming traditional assembly (loya jirga), saying it trusted the meeting would affirm close US-Afghan ties. “The US and Afghanistan are -- are close partners and allies, and we have great confidence that -- that this loya jirga is going to reaffirm that strong partnership,” Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, told reporters.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff

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