After more than a week of hard-line posturing by Afghan and American officials,talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Hamid Karzai on a deal to keep American troops here beyond next year carried on into Saturday evening,hours after they were supposed to have ended.
Officials said the two sides were making progress toward breaking a deadlock that had stymied negotiators since late summer,and raised the distinct possibility of a complete American withdrawal when the NATO combat mission here concludes at the end of next year.
While the officials would not provide details about Saturdays talks,they said the mere fact that Kerry and Karzai were planning to hold a third round of meetings on Saturday,after meeting on Friday evening as well,was a reason for optimism. Would they keep talking, said an Afghan official,if they had nothing to talk about?
Kerry,who was supposed to leave for Europe,upended his schedule to stay in Kabul. His delegation,which included Ambassador James B. Cunningham and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.,the commander of NATO forces here,stayed for lunch with Karzai and the Afghan representatives.
The two sides then sat down again before breaking up around 5 pm with a plan to reconvene in the early evening. Officials would not say when they expected the talks to conclude,or whether a deal was at hand.
Ahead of the trip,a senior State Department official tried to temper expectations,saying Kerry was traveling to Afghanistan only to move the talks forward,not to strike a deal.