President Barack Obama on Tuesday said a small force of troops from America and its allies could remain in Afghanistan after 2014 if it signed the bilateral security agreement as negotiated.
That force will have “two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda,” he said in his fifth State of the Union address.
“For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country,” he added.
India is keenly watching developments in Afghanistan as the US prepares to wrap up its combat mission there. And New Delhi has urged Kabul to sign the security agreement.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai has refused to sign, demanding a US guarantees on getting the Taliban to talk peace and preventing foreign troops from entering Afghan homes.
The stalemate continues. And it got a nod, and possibly more from the president in a speech that is traditionally heavy on domestic issues and concerns.
Also on foreign affairs, he said he would veto any move to impose new sanctions on Iran, saying diplomacy deserves to be given a chance to prevent the country from going nuclear.
The State of the Union address is a traditional annual event at which the president lays out his agenda for the year -- before a joint session of congress.
It’s mostly divided in three parts -- the economy is almost always the starting, and the dominating point, followed by a laundry list of other domestic issues, and then, finally, foreign affairs.
Looking relaxed and confident, the president began with the economy, which he said was doing fine but “average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled”. He said he will now go it alone if needed to fix it.
He offered a set of proposals, some of which would require congressional action and, he said, “I’m eager to work with all of you”.
“But America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
He has used executive action sparingly compared to his predecessors specially Bill Clinton and George W Bush who were way ahead of him at this stage of their respective presidencies.
The president said he wants year 2014 to be a “year of action”.
And, of interest to India would be immigration reforms that he would be pushing for. The US senate has already passed an omnibus bill, which hurts Indian tech companies here.
The House of Representatives has shown inclination yet to adopt and pass the same bill, preferring instead a piecemeal approach. It is considering a bill on IT visas that does not target Indian firms.