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Karzai, Hagel news conference canceled as Afghan leader says US working with Taliban

A  news conference between Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Afghan President Hamid Karzai was canceled Sunday on the heels of the Afghan leader's accusation that the Taliban and the U.S. are working together to convince Afghans that violence in the country will worsen if foreign troops leave as planned by the end of next year.

U.S. officials say the news conference was canceled due to a security threat, but the two men plan to meet privately.

According to the Associated Press, the cancellation comes a day after a suicide bomber on a bicycle struck outside the Afghan Defense Ministry, killing nine Afghan civilians and wounding 14 others.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said the cancellation was not due to remarks Karzai made earlier accusing the Taliban and the U.S. of colluding to keep foreign troops in Afghanistan past the planned drawdown date -- an allegation the top commander in Afghanistan rejected as "categorically false."

Karzai said two suicide bombings that killed 19 people on Saturday -- one outside the Afghan Defense Ministry and the other near a police checkpoint in eastern Khost province -- show the insurgent group is conducting attacks to help show that international forces will still be needed to keep the peace after their current combat mission ends in 2014.

"The explosions in Kabul and Khost yesterday showed that they are at the service of America and at the service of this phrase: 2014. They are trying to frighten us into thinking that if the foreigners are not in Afghanistan, we would be facing these sorts of incidents," he said during a nationally televised speech about the state of Afghan women.

U.S. and NATO forces commander Gen. Joseph Dunford said Karzai had never expressed such views to him, but said it was understandable that tensions would arise as the coalition balances the need to complete its mission and the Afghans' move to exercise more sovereignty.

"We have fought too hard over the past 12 years, we have shed too much blood over the last 12 years, to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage," Dunford said.

Karzai, who reportedly makes incendiary comments in his public speeches, a move that is often attributed to him trying to appeal to those who sympathize with the Taliban or as a way to gain leverage when he feels his international allies are ignoring his country's sovereignty. In previous speeches, he has threatened to join the Taliban and called his NATO allies occupiers who want to plunder Afghanistan's resources.

Karzai also denounced the arrest of a university student Saturday by Afghan forces his aide said were working for the CIA. It was unclear why the student was detained.

Presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi said the CIA freed the student after Karzai's staff intervened, but that Karzai wants the Afghan raiders arrested. The president issued a decree on Sunday banning all foreign forces from universities and schools unless they obtain prior permission from the Afghan government.

Karzai said in his speech that any foreign powers that want to keep troops in Afghanistan need to do so under conditions set forward by Afghanistan, the AP reported.

"We will tell them where we need them, and under which conditions. They must respect our laws. They must respect the national sovereignty of our country and must respect all our customs," Karzai said.

Karzai offered no proof of coordination, but said the Taliban and the United States were in "daily negotiations" in various foreign countries and noted that the United States has said that it no longer considers the insurgent group its enemy. The U.S. continues to fight against the Taliban and other militant groups, but has expressed its backing for formal peace talks with the Taliban to find a political resolution to the war.

Karzai said he did not believe the Taliban's claim that they launched Saturday's attacks to show they are still a potent force fighting the United States. "Yesterday's explosions, which the Taliban claimed, show that in reality they are saying they want the presence of foreigners in Afghanistan," Karzai said.

In the arrest of the college student, Faizi said the raiders fired shots as they grabbed the student Saturday from a Kandahar university, and blindfolded him before taking him for interrogation at a CIA post that Taliban leader Mullah Omar once used as a home.

The CIA could not be reached for comment.

The CIA has trained an Afghan counterterrorist force several thousand strong, known as the Counterterrorism Pursuit Team that works mostly in insurgent strongholds in southern and eastern Afghanistan. U.S. officials say they work with the Afghan intelligence service, but Karzai frequently complains he lacks oversight over their operations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.