Afghanistan diplomat says security agreement with US should be signed in 'timely manner'

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The Afghan ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday he's certain a security agreement with the United States for a training and counterterrorism mission there after 2014 will be signed "in a timely manner," while the U.S. again pressed for the delayed signing to happen "promptly."

The United States wants the Bilateral Security Agreement to be signed by the end of this year. The NATO mandate expires next year, and foreign forces must depart Afghanistan, leaving Afghan forces in charge.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he will leave the issue to his successor after April's presidential election, though a national assembly of 2,500 delegates known as the Loya Jirga has endorsed the deal.

The deputy U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Rosemary DiCarlo, told the Security Council on Tuesday that "promptly" signing would be a signal to Afghans that "their concerns about the future will be addressed."

The U.N. special representative to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, noted the Loya Jirga's support for the agreement and warned the Security Council: "Predictability is critical to building confidence in the future."

Kubis said Afghanistan's neighbors have expressed concerns about "the potential for volatility post-2014 if there is a vacuum which could encourage the spread of al-Qaida-linked international terrorism."

Afghanistan Ambassador Zahir Tanin did not promise anything Tuesday. "We are certain the agreement will be signed in a timely manner," he said.

Much is at stake if the security deal falls apart. Afghanistan could lose up to $15 billion a year in aid, effectively collapsing its fragile economy and making it unable to pay its 350,000-strong army and police.

Karzai has added new conditions, such as restarting peace talks with the Taliban. He is not a candidate in Afghanistan's presidential election.

A post-2014 mission in Afghanistan could involve around 8,000 U.S. and 6,000 allied troops.

U.S. allies also spoke up Tuesday. The deputy UK ambassador, Peter Wilson, said he wants the agreement signed "without further delay." That echoes British Prime Minister David Cameron's comments during a visit to Afghanistan this week.

Kubis noted that Afghanistan's police and army so far are meeting the challenge of assuming responsibility, and "there has not been the catastrophic collapse in security some doomsayers had predicted."

Afghan security forces took the lead around the country last summer.

Kubis also said preparations for the April 5 election "remain on track and further advanced than previous polls." He said 11 candidates are running for president and more than 2,700 are running for provincial councils, including more than 300 women.