By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2013 – After weekend meetings in Kabul, Afghanistan, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he and Karzai had resolved all but one of the major issues critical to a bilateral security agreement between the two countries.
And en route to London this morning, Kerry consulted several times via phone with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about the meetings, according to senior State Department officials who spoke with reporters in a background briefing.
Last night, Kerry and Karzai spoke during a press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul, positive about the progress they’d made.
“I believe that in the last 24 hours, as we have worked hard at these issues that really have been negotiated over now for more than 11 months, that we have resolved … the major issues that [President Karzai] went through,” Kerry said.
Kerry said he and Karzai “have put ourselves in a position for an enduring [U.S.-Afghanistan] partnership going forward in the years ahead.”
In his remarks, Karzai had described his main issues as national sovereignty, prevention of civilian casualties, and a clear definition of invasion by foreign forces.
But both leaders acknowledged that, on the outstanding issue of claiming U.S. jurisdiction for U.S. troops who are accused of committing crimes while deployed in Afghanistan, the decision about whether to allow this agreement in the bilateral agreement will be left to the Loya Jirga, or council of Afghan elders, which Karzai has called to meet in November.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said in July after meeting with Karzai in Kabul that getting the security agreement signed by October fit in with his best military advice for putting in place the framework for the continuing U.S. and NATO effort in the country after Dec. 31, 2014, when the current NATO mandate expires.
Last night Kerry said his delegation was pleased that the agreement reached could be submitted to a Loya Jirga, where it will go through the appropriate political process, including the issue of jurisdiction for U.S. troops who act outside the law while in Afghanistan post-2014.
“The question of jurisdiction is an appropriate one for the president to submit to the Loya Jirga, and we have high confidence that the people of Afghanistan will see the benefits that exist in this agreement,” the secretary said.
“But we need to say that if the issue of jurisdiction cannot be resolved, then unfortunately there cannot be a bilateral security agreement,” Kerry added. “So we hope that that will be resolved. And it’s up to the Afghan people, as it should be.”
The secretary explained that if an American who is part of any expeditionary force under agreement from the Afghan government were to violate any law, the United States would prosecute to the full measure of that law and any perpetrator of any incident or crime would be punished.
“There is no immunity,” he said, referring to what some call immunity for U.S. troops posted overseas.
“Let me make that clear: No immunity,” Kerry added. “And we have proven in many cases, unfortunately too many instances, that when somebody has violated the law, they have paid the price. There are people in prison today in the United States of America who have paid that price.”
In terms of jurisdiction, Kerry said, where the United States has forces serving in other parts of the world, including Japan, South Korea, Europe, Africa and elsewhere, they operate under the same standard.
“We completely respect that the [Afghan] president should decide appropriately that this issue ought to be decided in his Loya Jirga,” Kerry said.
But, he added, “if [the jurisdiction issue] isn’t resolved, we can’t send our forces in places because we don’t subject United States citizens to that kind of uncertainty with respect to their rights and lives.”