Karzai hints at flexibility in Afghan-US troop talks

Updated 27 November 2012
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Karzai hints at flexibility in Afghan-US troop talks

KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai hinted yesterday that his government would be flexible in negotiating “sensitive” issues in a new security pact with the United States.
Karzai did not spell out what issues he was referring to, but one of the most sensitive questions involves immunity from local prosecution for US troops remaining in Afghanistan after NATO forces withdraw in 2014.
Washington recalled all its troops from Iraq after Baghdad refused to grant US soldiers immunity, and Karzai has in the past warned there could be similar problems in Afghanistan.
But in a speech to industrialists and businessmen in Kabul, the president suggested that a deal would be reached.
“With the Americans we will make a deal in which neither the skewer burns nor the kebab,” he said, referring to an Afghan proverb on a settlement, which benefits both parties equally.
“Where they are sensitive, we shouldn’t touch too much, but we should consider our interests 100 percent,” he said.
But Karzai also accused the United States of using predictions by the Western media and analysts of post-2014 chaos to put pressure on his government “to surrender to their demands.” He vowed to “stand firm.”
Negotiations on the security pact were launched this month but negotiators said the immunity issue was not discussed in the first round.
President Barack Obama is weighing plans to keep roughly 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan after the NATO-led force hands over security to the Afghan government, a senior US official said this week.
The troop levels under consideration remain tentative but the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said options under consideration range from 6,000 to 15,000 American boots on the ground.
The follow-on force would carry out counter-terrorism operations against Al-Qaeda and provide training and logistical support for Afghan forces, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said.
The United States has about 66,000 troops in NATO’s total force in Afghanistan of slightly more than 100,000.


Honduras and Guatemala act to stop migrants after Trump threats

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the US, get off a truck during a new leg of their travel in Chiquimula, Guatemala on Tuesday, October 16, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 min 36 sec ago
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Honduras and Guatemala act to stop migrants after Trump threats

  • US Vice President Mike Pence drove home the point, saying he spoke to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales warning them to help protect US borders and adding “no more aid if it’s not stopped!“

WASHINGTON/ESQUIPULAS, Guatemala: The organizer of a migrant caravan from Honduras was detained on Tuesday in Guatemala as the US government threatened to withdraw aid from both countries if the flow of migrants north to the United States was not stopped.
Up to 3,000 migrants, according to organizers’ estimates, crossed from Honduras into Guatemala on a trek northward, after a standoff on Monday with police in riot gear.
The Honduran Foreign Ministry called on its citizens not to join the group. The government “urges the Hondurans taking part in this irregular mobilization not to be used by a movement that is clearly political,” it said.
Over the border, Guatemalan police officers detained Bartolo Fuentes, a former Honduran lawmaker, from the middle of the large crowd that he and three other organizers had led from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, since Saturday.
The moves followed comments by US President Donald Trump that indicated his administration would halt aid if the Central American governments did not act, his latest effort to demonstrate his tough stance on immigration.
The Honduran security ministry said Fuentes had been detained because he “did not comply with Guatemalan immigration rules” and would be deported back to Honduras in the coming hours.
Security officials at the Honduran border with Guatemala in Agua Caliente blocked the road to prevent another much smaller group getting through, television images from the border showed.
“We can’t attend to people en masse. People are going through one by one,” said police spokesman Alex Madrid, in a radio interview.
Guatemala’s government said it did not have official figures for how many migrants from the caravan had already crossed the border.
Adult citizens of the countries of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua need only present national identity cards to cross each others’ borders. That rule does not apply when they reach Mexico.
“NO MORE MONEY“
Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to express his annoyance at the caravan, which follows a similar event in May that ultimately led to hundreds of migrants either seeking asylum in the United States or remaining in Mexico.
“The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the US is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” Trump wrote.
US Vice President Mike Pence drove home the point, saying he spoke to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales warning them to help protect US borders and adding “no more aid if it’s not stopped!“
The strong words could encourage Honduras to move closer to China, amid intensified efforts by Beijing to win recognition from Central American countries aligned with Taiwan.
Honduras is one of a dwindling number of countries that still have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, an island nation off the Chinese coast that Beijing views as a renegade province.
Hernandez said last month that cuts in US support for Central America would only hinder the country’s ability to stem illegal immigration. He welcomed China’s growing diplomatic presence in the region as an “opportunity.”
Last week, Pence told Central American countries the United States was willing to help with economic development and investment if they did more to tackle mass migration, corruption and gang violence.

GROWING GROUP
The migrants in the group making its way north plan to seek refugee status in Mexico or pass through to the United States, saying they are fleeing poverty and violence.
“What Trump says doesn’t interest us,” organizer Fuentes said in an interview shortly before his arrest. “These people are fleeing. These people are not tourists.”
Widespread violence and poverty prompt thousands of Central Americans, mainly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, to make the arduous journey north toward Mexico and the United States in search of a better life.
Trump ran for president in 2016 on promises to toughen US immigration policies and build a wall along the 2,000-mile(3,220-km) border with Mexico.
Illegal immigration is likely to be a top issue in Nov. 6 US congressional elections, when Democrats are seen as having a good chance of gaining control of the House of Representatives from Trump’s fellow Republicans.