Afghan President Hamid Karzai has suspended talks with the United States about the role of foreign troops in Afghanistan after 2014, following US and Taliban announcements that they would soon pursue talks in Qatar.
Announcements that the US and Taliban will meet in Doha, Qatar, initially without the Afghan government, drew a terse reaction on Wednesday from the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"In view of the contradiction between acts and the statements made by the United States of America in regard to the peace process, the Afghan government suspended the negotiations, currently underway in Kabul between Afghan and US delegations on the bilateral security agreement," Karzai said in a statement issued by his office.
The BBC reported on Wednesday that US Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken by phone with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to try to defuse tension.
Karzai had previously said his government cannot be sidelined during any peace talks with the Taliban. Since 2001, the Islamist militia has waged a campaign against his government and US-led international forces.
The Taliban opened an office in Doha on Tuesday.
An Afghan government official quoted by the news agency Reuters said: "The suspension of the talks will continue until there is clarity from the US."
At the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, US President Barack Obama cautioned that peace talks with the Taliban would be neither quick nor easy, but said their office opening was an "important first step." He insisted that the Taliban renounced ties with al-Qaeda and commit to protecting women and minorities.
Negotiations on the Bilaterial Security Agreement (BSA) between Washington and Kabul began earlier this year. If completed, the BSA will define the shape of the presence sought by the US beyond the 2014 end to NATO combat operations.
In Iraq, negotiations on a similar pact ended in collapse and resulted in the US pulling all of its troops out of that country.
Taliban claims Bagram attack
In a further development, the Taliban claimed responsibility on Wednesday for an attack on the Bagram Air Base late on Tuesday, in which four American soldiers were killed. A Taliban spokesman said two rockets had been fired into the base.
"There is no cease-fire [with the US] now. They are attacking us and we are attacking them," Taliban spokesman Mohammad Sohail Shaheen told the Al-Jazeera news channel.
Also on Tuesday, five Afghan police officers were killed - apparently by Taliban infiltrators - at a security outpost in Helmand province.
American officials said US and Taliban representatives would hold bilateral meetings in the coming days - possibly on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Afghan forces formally took the lead from the US-led NATO coalition for security nationwide. Afghan security forces trained by NATO now number around 352,000.
Tuesday's handover opens the way for the departure of a majority of coalition forces within 18 months. The NATO-led force, which currently numbers about 100,000 from 48 countries, including Germany, is to be halved by the end of this year.
By the end of 2014, all combat troops are to leave and be replaced by a smaller force that would provide training and advice.
ipj/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)