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Soldiers' deaths jeopardize French-Afghan ties

Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered his condolences to France's defense minister Sunday, following the killing of four French troops by an Afghan soldier.

The shooting Friday in eastern Afghanistan provoked a sharp reaction from Paris, prompting President Nicolas Sarkozy to suspend training missions and threaten to withdraw French troops early from the country.

Sunday, Karzai met with French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet in Kabul and discussed the killings and Afghan-French relations.

Karzai's office said Longuet still sounded prepared to sign a long-term partnership to keep French forces in Afghanistan for years. The Afghan government expects the deal to be signed next week, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai.

The shooting last week was the second in which an Afghan soldier has turned on French forces since France first sent forces here, and it is the latest in a rising number of assaults in which Afghan security forces or infiltrators have turned their guns on coalition troops.

Before the meeting with Karzai, Longuet said his mission in Kabul was to "evaluate the attitude our officials should take" in the future.

Karzai's office said the Afghan government is investigating the shooting.

"France is an old and sincere historic friend of the Afghan nation and has remained as such," Karzai told Longuet, according to the statement, in an apparent move to smooth relations.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe spoke by phone Saturday night with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton about the French troops' deaths and Paris' intentions in Afghanistan.

The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Longuet will give Sarkozy a report on his visit to Kabul. The president will then "draw all the conclusions from the attack," the ministry said, in a reference to whether Paris will maintain its mission in the coalition.

Karzai is to visit Paris on Friday, a trip scheduled before the killings.

Longuet's trip coincides with a visit by Marc Grossman, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who began meeting with Karzai and Afghan officials on Saturday. The United States is trying to negotiate its own long-term partnership agreement, along with supporting plans to bring the Taliban insurgency into formal talks for the first time.