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Kerry pushes back on Afghan deal: No US troops beyond 2020

The U.S. will not be in Afghanistan for an "extended period of time," Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday.

The U.S. will not be in Afghanistan for an "extended period of time," Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday, refuting reports that a deal reached this week would ensure an American military presence and financial obligation through 2024. 

"Let me push back very clearly,” Kerry told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell. “It is way shorter than any kind of years and years." 

Kerry announced that an agreement had been reached Wednesday governing future relations between the U.S. military and the Afghan government. A draft obtained by NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel on Tuesday extended to 2024 and beyond

Kerry told Mitchell that the purpose of a continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan past the end of 2014 would be to train and advise the Afghan military, consistent with a version of the agreement posted on the website of the Afghan ministry of foreign affairs.

While Kerry said an agreement had been reached, one has not yet been signed. Afghan President Hamid Karzai convened a council of tribal elders, called a Loya Jirga, to debate the deal. Though not required by law, Karzai has said he would not sign on to an agreement without the approval of the Loya Jirga. He also told the group of elders Thursday that a bilateral agreement would not be signed until his successor is elected in April.

The State Department pushed for an agreement by the end of this year, noting in Thursday’s daily briefing that “signing sooner rather than later is essential.”

Karzai told the tribal leaders Thursday that “the U.S. will be leaving 10,000 to 15,000 troops in Afghanistan” after the end of 2014, including U.S., ISAF and NATO forces. “This [bilateral security agreement] is for 10 years and not forever,” Karzai told the Loya Jirga, according to a translation by an NBC News producer.

"I have no contemplation that I've heard from the president or otherwise that it is about some years and years," Kerry told Mitchell on Thursday.

Asked if he meant that the deal extends through 2020 or 2024, Kerry said "no, ma'am." 

In the U.S., a handful of senators are backing legislation that would require President Obama to seek congressional approval in order to continue an American presence in Afghanistan past the end of 2014.

In his State of the Union address in February, President Obama said that “by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”

Secretary Kerry also called North Korea’s detainment of 85-year-old American citizen and Korean War veteran Merrill Newman one of many “disturbing choices by the North Koreans.”

Kerry said that the North Korean government “needs to recognize the dangerous steps it has been taking on many fronts,” including the “treatment of its citizens, the startup of its nuclear reactor, [and] its rededication to a nuclear policy.”

Kerry called for Newman’s release, noting that the North Koreans have detained other people as well. 

“This is obviously one of those moments where North Korea needs to figure out where it’s heading [and] recognize that the United States of America is not engaging in belligerent, threatening behavior,” Kerry said. He noted that the Chinese are being “helpful.” As North Korea’s most important ally and key source of food and fuel, China is in a more favorable position to broker a deal for Newman’s release. 

Kerry also called recent comments by Ayatollah Khamenei “inflammatory” and “unnecessary” after the Iranian Supreme Leader called Israel a “rabid dog.” Israel strongly opposes any easing of sanctions by the U.S. as a step toward resolving the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

“The last thing we need are names and back and forth” while negotiations are ongoing in Geneva, Kerry said.

Kerry told Mitchell that the U.S. obviously disagrees with Khamenei’s comments and that “we stand by our friends in Israel completely.”