Afghan President Hamid Karzai is to visit Iran on Sunday straight after an awkward visit to Kabul by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, an Iranian official said.
To the growing dismay of Washington, Karzai has been refusing to sign a deal allowing NATO troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond next year, a position strongly backed by Iran.
Hagel flew into Kabul on Saturday amid disagreement over whether he would even meet the Afghan president in the face of the security pact row.
U.S. officials said no meeting was scheduled, but in the latest sign of discord between the allies, the president's spokesman said Karzai and Hagel were due to hold talks later Saturday.
Washington and its allies have appealed to Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which lays out the rules for U.S. and other NATO troops to operate in the country after 2014 on a mission focused on training, and countering al-Qaida-linked extremists.
"Secretary Hagel does not plan to meet with President Karzai while in Afghanistan," a senior U.S. defense official told reporters at the start of Hagel's unannounced visit.
"The United States has made its position on the BSA clear. And just two days ago, President Karzai repeated his position to senior U.S. officials that he is not yet ready to sign the BSA and provided no timeline or practical step for doing so."
Iran voiced criticism on Tuesday of the proposed pact, saying it would not serve the interests of its eastern neighbor.
"Iran does not see the signing and ratifying of this security pact to be beneficial for the long-term interests of the people and government of Afghanistan," foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said.
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