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President Obama Meets Pakistan President Zardari On Sidelines At NATO Summit
2012-05-21 19:58:03 (222 weeks ago)
Posted By: Intellpuke
U.S. President Barack Obama met Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Chicago on Monday, but made no attempt to end a diplomatic standoff over Afghanistan supply routes – a stand-off that has cast a shadow over the meeting of world leaders.

President Obama spoke to Zardari as part of scheduled three-way talks with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, but U.S. officials were at pains to draw a distinction between these exchanges and formal bilateral talks.

The U.S. President declined to meet Zadari one-to-one because Pakistan is refusing to re-open its Afghanistan border to NATO, which means the U.S. and others are having to resupply their military forces through the slower routes from the north and Russia.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking at a press conference in Chicago, reflected the irritation with Pakistan, describing the blocked routes as "frustrating". Cameron said he expected a deal eventually, but not at the NATO meeting, which was drawing to a close on Monday afternoon.

In its final communique, NATO formally committed to its withdrawal of the 130,000-strong international force from Afghanistan based on a timetable agreed earlier by President Obama and Karzai. All international combat troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2014. The communique said a smaller force would remain to help "train, advise and assist" the Afghan army.

The communique does not say how many troops will be left but U.S. commanders in Kabul are looking at a NATO force of around 15,000-20,000.

(story continues below)

Reflecting the public mood in NATO countries tired of the war, the communique said the withdrawal timetable is "irreversible".

President Obama, at the opening of the second day of the NATO summit Monday morning, demonstrated his displeasure with the Pakistan government by singling out for mention the Central Asia countries and Russia that have stepped in to replace the Pakistan supply route. He made no mention of Pakistan, even though Zardari was in the room at the time.

To ram home the point, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Pantetta also held a meeting at the NATO summit with senior ministers from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Panetta expressed his "deep appreciation" for their support.

Pakistan has a crucial role in Afghanistan because of its close ties to the Taliban and other insurgent groups challenging the Afghanistan government.

Zardari was invited late to the NATO summit, and the Obama Administration had high hopes that he would arrive in Chicago prepared to announce the opening of the supply routes.

Zardari, in talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a series of demands, offering to reopen the supply routes only if the U.S. was prepared to pay a higher charge for each vehicle using it, from $250 to as much as $5,000 per vehicle. Zardari also wants a review of the U.S. policy of drone attacks against targets inside Pakistan and a public apology for the killing of its troops.

Pakistan will regard it as a humiliation that President Obama refused to grant Zardari a full bilateral meeting, particularly as he met President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan in Chicago on Sunday an hour before the NATO summit opened.

The Obama Administration has expressed regret over the killing of the Pakistan troops but is reluctant to issue an apology, concerned this will be portrayed by Republicans as a sign of weakness.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Sunday that NATO realized it could not solve Afghanistan's problems without including Pakistan in the solution. He expressed hope the supply route issue would be resolved soon.

The White House national security spokesman, Ben Rhodes, said issues such as the reopening of supply lines were not normally dealt with at presidential level. Rhodes said: "The invitation to attend this summit was extended by NATO of course. We obviously supported that. It's important for Pakistan to be here because as we contemplate the future of the region, they are obviously going to be a part of that picture.

"What I would say is, frankly, the types of issues that are being worked through about the reopening of the supply lines are not the type of issues that get hammered out at the presidential level. These are things that working-level negotiating teams sit down and address."

Intellpuke: You can read this article by Guardian Washington, D.C., Bureau Chief Ewen MacAskill, reporting from the NATO summit in Chicago, Illinois, in context here:

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