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US confirms progress in talks with Pakistan

Publication Date : 15-05-2012

 

The United States and Pakistan have made considerable progress towards reopening Nato supply lines, the US State Department said yesterday, but warned that it would be premature to say they have reached an agreement.

At a regular briefing, the department’s spokesperson Victoria Nuland made it clear that the US team, which was negotiating this issue with Pakistani officials in Islamabad, did not have the mandate to offer an apology to Pakistan over the Salala incident.

Pakistan closed ground supply lines to Afghanistan after a US air raid killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in Salala on November 26.

Also, there has not yet been any announcement in Washington on whether Pakistan will be invited to the May 20-21 Nato summit if it agrees to reopen the routes, as Nato and US officials had earlier indicated.

After a meeting with US Special Representative Marc Grossman in Washington on Monday, Pakistan’s Ambassador Sherry Rehman expressed similar views.

“We are still talking but it is premature to say the ground lines are opening until I have signals from the DCC (Defence Committee of the Cabinet) where the decision has to be made.”

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s statement earlier yesterday that Pakistan had made its point on this issue and now was the time to reopen the routes, surprised the State Department as well as the Pakistan Embassy in Washington.

Diplomatic observers noted that it must have been particularly embarrassing for the ambassador, who was sent to negotiate some of Pakistan’s demands with Mr Grossman, when the minister made the announcement in Islamabad, pre-empting her talking points.

Asked to comment on the foreign minister’s statement, the State Department’s spokesperson said: “Our team is still in Islamabad working on the land route issue. My understanding this morning is that they have made considerable progress but they are still working. They are not yet finished with the Pakistanis.”

When a reporter asked how important this expected resolution for inviting Pakistan to Chicago was, Nuland referred to Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s statement on Friday, indicating that the invitation hinged on the reopening of routes.

“He didn’t make a direct link. He did say, however, that this is something that we want to resolve, that we think is important to resolve, and it’s important for support for Afghanistan,” Nuland explained.

Nuland said that the State Department was heading the interagency team, which was negotiating the routes issue with the Pakistanis.

Asked if Pakistan was attaching preconditions for reopening the supply lines, she said: “I’m not going to get into the substance of the discussion. But we’re having a full review with the government of Pakistan on how this transit system works and all of the issues are on the table in that context.”

Commenting on Khar’s statement that there will be problems for Pakistan if land routes were not opened, Nuland said: “This is an issue that we’ve been working on for a long time; that it’s an issue that is something that we’ve tried to cooperate with Pakistan on for a long time.”

She noted that Khar and Ambassador Grossman had discussed this issue before and after his visit to Islamabad two weeks ago.

The visit, she said, aimed at “kicking off the whole reengagements strategy” and it was in that context that the US began the formal negotiations on supply routes.

“So it’s good news if Foreign Minister Khar is making positive statements about the importance of this for Pakistan, for Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan, for their relationship with us,” she said, adding, “but as I said, we haven’t yet completed the negotiations.”

Asked to comment on Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s statement that the US must meet some of Pakistan’s demands before the doors were opened, she said: “There is a full discussion under way about all aspects of this, but we haven’t yet come to a conclusion on all the pieces.”

Commenting on Pakistan’s demand for an apology over the Salala incident, she said: “The team that’s working on this is a technical team … that question is outside their purview.”

Nuland added: “We’ve said that we very much regret this incident and we want to move forward and we want to re-engage.”

 

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