KOENIGSWINTER, Germany – Talks on Afghanistan's future hit the final stretch Tuesday after the Northern Alliance gave in to strong U.S. pressure and finally presented candidates for posts in an interim administration.
Tense diplomacy preceded the breakthrough, with the United States accusing the fractious alliance of attempting to block an accord and a U.S. official calling its leader in Kabul, Burhanuddin Rabbani, to press him not to risk the collapse of talks.
On Tuesday, U.N. mediators start trying to combine the Northern Alliance's names with proposals by the three other delegations — envoys of former King Mohammad Zaher Shah and two smaller exile groups — to come up with the interim administration.
That bargaining could take two more days, a U.S. diplomat said.
"It's not going to be easy," said U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi. "It's going to take some hard choices."
The Northern Alliance officially proposed four candidates to head a 29-member executive body foreseen in a U.N. plan for Afghanistan's political future, the first step toward restoring order after 23 years of war and civil strife.
They are Hamid Karzai, a leading anti-Taliban commander; Abdul Sattar Sirat, a close aide to exiled former king Mohammad Zaher Shah; Sibgatullah Mujadeddi, who briefly was transitional president in 1992, and Syed Ahmed Gailani, a prominent Afghan spiritual leader and supporter of the former king.
By presenting its list Monday night, the Northern Alliance galvanized the talks at a secluded hilltop hotel near Bonn, Germany.
Within hours, the four Afghan factions settled final details of a framework accord creating the interim governing body and an independent council to convene a national assembly of tribal elders, or loya jirga, within six months.
The plan also envisions the deployment of an international security force to Kabul and other parts of the country, steps to integrate Afghan fighters into a future national army, and the creation of a supreme court.
Delegates broke into applause and shook hands with U.N. chief envoy Lakhdar Brahimi after concluding the deal.
Conflicting signals from Rabbani and Northern Alliance envoys to the U.N.-sponsored talks have hampered work toward an interim authority to run Afghanistan until more permanent institutions can be established.
Without some form of government, Western officials warn that billions of dollars in promised reconstruction aid will remain on hold.
Earlier, U.S. envoy James F. Dobbins accused Rabbani of holding up progress at the talks, now in their eighth day.
He suggested the Northern Alliance envoys — representing seven armed factions who have captured Kabul and much of the country from the Taliban with U.S. military backing — wanted a deal but were reluctant to proceed without Rabbani's full backing.
"Those who are raising objections seem to have objections in principle to completing this process," Dobbins said. "You can't keep people here forever unless there's a sense of momentum."
Meanwhile, White House official Zalmay Khalilzad, one of the diplomats observing the talks in Germany, telephoned Rabbani, winning a promise to break the impasse, Dobbins said.
In a Washington Post interview published Monday, Rabbani was still presenting positions at odds with the Northern Alliance delegation.
Rabbani, the U.N.-recognized head of state, proposed a leadership council that would rank above the interim executive body presented in the U.N. draft, and said he wanted a role.