During his visit to Tehran, Mr. Karzai and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani decided to sign a comprehensive "friendship" pact that would also cover "regional security" issues.

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has reached out to Iran to counter attempts by the United States to push Kabul to sign a security pact that would keep thousands of U.S. troops on the ground beyond the official withdrawal deadline of 2014.

During his visit to Tehran, Mr. Karzai and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani decided to sign a comprehensive “friendship” pact that would also cover “regional security” issues.

“Afghanistan agreed on a long-term friendship and cooperation pact with Iran,” Reuters quoted Aimal Faizi, Mr. Karzai’s spokesman as saying. “The pact will be for long-term political, security, economic and cultural cooperation, and regional peace.”

A joint communiqué issued after the talks on Sunday assigns the foreign ministers of the two countries to work out the details of the accord.

In tune with this decision, Iran reinforced its opposition to the presence of foreign forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. “We are concerned about tension arising out of the presence of foreign forces in the region, believing that all foreign forces should get out of the region and the task of guaranteeing Afghan security should be entrusted to the country’s people,” IRNA quoted Mr. Rouhani as saying. The meeting between the two Presidents follows warnings from the U.S. that it would be ready to exercises the “zero option”— implying that no troops would be available after 2014, at a time when Afghan security forces appeared unready .

Working in the tandem with the Americans, NATO has also threatened that its forces would not supplement U.S troops after 2014, in case a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Kabul and Washington was not signed.

Despite all the pressures, Mr. Faizi, the presidential spokesman said on Saturday that the warnings of a complete withdrawal were “more a tactical manoeuvre to put pressure on President Karzai to sign [the pact] as soon as possible.” “We believe there’s no deadline,” he observed.

Apparently, Mr. Karzai has been seeking the return of Afghan citizens from the Guantanamo Bay — the U.S. detention centre, in order to facilitate the launch of the “peace process” with the Taliban ahead of the exit timeline of U.S. and NATO forces from the country.