World and Nation

Afghanistan talks are embittered after Quran burnings

KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States and Afghanistan appeared to make no headway here Monday in high-level negotiations on a long-term strategic partnership that have been embittered somewhat by the Quran burnings last month. Elsewhere, further violence left three people dead, including two children killed in a suicide attack on the main NATO military base where the Qurans were desecrated.

President Hamid Karzai met with Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Gen. John R. Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, according to the Afghan government spokesman, Aimal Faizi.

In the meeting, the three officially discussed for the first time a U.S. proposal to accelerate the transfer of detention centers in the country to the Afghans to as soon as six months from now, but Karzai stuck to his position that he wanted an immediate transfer of all detainees to Afghan control by a deadline of Friday, Faizi said.

“It was proposed, but it does not mean that we have accepted it or that we reached an agreement,” Faizi said. “It will be discussed in the coming three days.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Gavin Sundwall, would not comment on the negotiations.

Describing the meeting as “fruitful,” Faizi said the fact that the men had met was a sign that talks were still continuing toward reaching an agreement.

“There was a very positive meeting,” he said.

But fears were growing that the two sides may be too far apart after the Afghan government’s refusal to accept the U.S. offer of a six-month timetable, already a large concession from a U.S. position that even as recently as a few weeks ago delayed any transfer indefinitely.

The three men also discussed Karzai’s insistence on the complete cessation of night raids — another issue for the Americans, who maintain that the nighttime operations are critical in the war — but the main focus was authority over the detention centers.

The long-term strategic agreement is supposed lay out a U.S. commitment to continue aid and support to the Afghan government for the next 10 years, and provide the basis for an agreement on the long-term troop presence after the 2014 withdrawal deadline. But the burning of Qurans in February by U.S. soldiers at the Bagram air base, which provoked widespread outrage in Afghanistan, has hardened the atmosphere of the talks over the agreement.