US, Pakistan in talks to end supply blockade | News | DW | 17.05.2012
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US, Pakistan in talks to end supply blockade

The United States and Pakistan are seeking to conclude a deal that would reopen supply lines to coalition forces operating in Afghanistan. The negotiations come ahead of NATO's summit in Chicago.

Pakistani and US negotiators struggled on Wednesday to overcome tensions and finalize the deal, which would lift Islamabad's six-month-long blockade of overland supply routes to NATO forces operating in neighboring Afghanistan.

The US said progress had been made in the talks, a day after Pakistani President Asif Ali Zadari was extended a last minute invitation to the NATO alliance's Chicago summit, which begins on Sunday.

"We have had some progress," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "While the Pakistani political leadership hasn't yet authorized the reopening of the ground transportation routes, we understand that they did endorse the conclusion of the negotiations."

Nuland told reporters that if the deal is concluded "by Chicago, that will send a powerful signal of support from Pakistan to Afghanistan."

'Delicate phase'

But the Associated Press, citing an unnamed Pakistani official, reported that the two sides remained at loggerheads over the amount Washington should pay in transit fees.

Islamabad closed the overland supply routes in November 2011 after NATO helicopters and fighter jets killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two border posts. NATO claims that special forces operating in Afghanistan were fired on from the Pakistani side of the border.

The routes would be used to transport around 25 percent of the non-lethal supplies NATO needs to sustain itself in Afghanistan. Since the closure, NATO has shifted its logistics chain to more expensive routes via Russia and Central Asia.

The US has expressed regret over the friendly-fire incident, but has not issued a formal apology. Washington and Islamabad are struggling to overcome mutual distrust, particularly in the aftermath of the unilateral US raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani warned his cabinet on Wednesday against "emotional decisions, which do not augur well" for Islamabad. Gilani said relations with NATO and the US were in a "delicate phase," in which decisions needed to be taken for Pakistan's "strategic importance" in the region.

slk/ncy (AP, AFP)