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Signs Grow That Pakistan May Reopen NATO Supply Line To Afghanistan
2012-07-03 02:42:51 (221 weeks ago)
Posted By: Intellpuke

U.S. and Pakistani officials have expressed optimism that Islamabad is close to reopening its Afghan border to NATO troop supplies after a seven-month blockade, a move that could significantly reduce tension between the two countries.

The row over the supply line, which Pakistan closed in November in retaliation for U.S. air strikes that killed 24 of its troops, has driven the bilateral relationship to new lows, threatening U.S. prospects in Afghanistan.

The two sides have been in deadlock for months because of disagreements over transit payments and Washington's refusal to apologize for the deadly attack, which it says was an accident.

The Pakistani government has also been worried about the inevitable political backlash from reopening the route, given the high levels of anti-American sentiment in the country.

While the exact details of a deal remain unclear, signs are growing that a breakthrough could be imminent.

(story continues below)

Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf called a meeting of the Defense Committee of the cabinet on Tuesday to decide whether to reopen the supply line, according to a senior Pakistani official. "The environment seems to be optimistic," said the official.

The decision to call the meeting followed a visit tio Islamabad on Monday by a high-level U.S. delegation that included the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy, James Miller, and the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Thomas Nides, said a senior U.S. official. The visit was Allen's second in under a week.

The latest trip was a prime example of how "quiet diplomacy can play a significant role to get things done", said the official.

The U.S. had addressed Pakistan's demands for higher transit fees by offering extensive road construction projects, said the U.S. official, without providing specific figures.

Before the November attack, Pakistan was charging $250 (£160) for each truck; afterwards, Pakistan demanded $5,000, and the U.S. countered with $500. It is unclear where the deal currently stands.

The U.S. has compensated for the closed route by using a much longer, more expensive supply line that runs into Pakistan through central Asia. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the route is costing an extra $100 million a month now, and that figure could grow as the U.S. starts to withdraw equipment in advance of the 2014 troop deadline for pulling out from Afghanistan.

The issue that has bogged down negotiations the most is the U.S. refusal to apologize for the November attack, which Washington has said was conducted in self-defense after Pakistani troops fired on U.S. forces.

The Obama administration is apparently worried that apologizing could expose it to criticism from Republicans, given anger over Pakistan's alleged support for militants fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

However, senior officials have expressed regret over the November incident, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

While a deal seems more likely, it is by no means guaranteed. Pakistan appeared close to reopening the supply line in May, prompting NATO to invite Zardari to a summit in Chicago largely focused on the Afghan war. When Pakistan failed to follow through, President Obama made his anger clear by refusing to have a private meeting with Zardari.

Intellpuke: You can read this Associated Press article in context here:

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