NEW DELHI (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that he hopes the United States will reconsider its stand on a security agreement it wants him to sign in the interests of bringing a lasting peace to his war-torn country.
Karzai reiterated his position that the Afghan people cannot endorse a bilateral security agreement with the United States without the U.S. agreeing to end airstrikes and raids on Afghan homes and help broker a peace process with the Taliban.
Karzai said the two conditions were "an absolute prerequisite" for his signing the agreement.
The United States is pressing Karzai to sign the deal, which would permit a small force of American military trainers to remain in Afghanistan after the planned 2014 withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Karzai told reporters in New Delhi, India's capital, that the Afghan people understood the consequences of defying the U.S. and that it could cost them billions of dollars.
"The Afghan people are short of resources. Our military and police will suffer. There will be serious consequences," he said of the possibility of the U.S. resorting to the so-called zero troop option of not leaving any forces in Afghanistan after next year's withdrawal.
"The United States need not frame it that way," Karzai said, adding that he was working for a "win-win situation where we want both of us to win."
A national assembly of about 2,500 Afghan elders endorsed the deal last month and recommended that Karzai sign it before the end of the year.
Karzai, however, wants to defer signing the agreement, saying it should be left to his successor after April's presidential election unless the US agrees to his conditions.
While Karzai's refusal to sign the security deal has frustrated the Obama administration, officials in Washington have so far ruled out abandoning efforts to extend the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Karzai seemed to indicate that the situation was not likely to result in a zero troop option. "I don't think the Americans are thinking seriously of the zero option. It's a brinkmanship that they play with us," he said.
But he also said Afghans could not be threatened or pushed into a deal on the grounds that they would lose billions of dollars badly needed to shore up the Afghan economy and rebuild its battered infrastructure.
"Afghanistan, as poor as it is, is not a country that takes threats," Karzai said. "I have told U.S. officials that our poverty may be our strength. We do not have much to lose."
The Afghan leader, who is on a three-day visit to India, held talks Friday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss regional security and the future of Afghanistan.
The two countries agreed to deepen their defense and security cooperation, with India promising to help train Afghan troops and assist with equipping Afghan security forces, according to a joint statement issued by the two nations.
No details were given on what kind of equipment New Delhi would supply to Kabul.
India has invested more than $2 billion in Afghan infrastructure, including highways, hospitals and rural electricity projects.
Karzai, who earned his college degree in India, is a frequent visitor to the country and has traveled to New Delhi more than a half dozen times in the past few years.