The U.S. Defense Department said on Monday that negotiation with Pakistan on the reopening of NATO supply routes shut down by Islamabad last year has been put on hold, but insisted that the talks had not broken down.
The U.S.-Pakistan negotiations were aimed at convincing Islamabad to re-open NATO supply routes passing through its territory. Pakistan had shut down ground routes that had been used to resupply foreign coalition forces in Afghanistan after a NATO air strike accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
"The [ground lines of communication] remain an open issue. We've not reached a resolution yet with the Pakistanis on reopening the ground supply routes. We hope to resolve the issue soon. We haven't gotten to 'yes' yet, but this is something we're going to continue to work very hard [on] with our Pakistani counterparts," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters in Washington.
Stressing that American officials will continue to work through the office of the defense representative in Pakistan to try to resolve the matter, Little said: "We will continue to have dialogue. So while the issue is not resolved, the talking has not stalled."
Little emphasized that the U.S. negotiating team's departure from Pakistan should not be construed as a sign of unwillingness to continue the dialogue, and insisted that all members of the team are prepared to return to Islamabad at any moment to continue discussions in person.
Little said he thought there was agreement, in concept, that the supply routes could be reopened, adding: "Both sides would like to be able to reopen the ground supply routes. There are some specific issues that need to [be] worked through."
The Press Secretary acknowledged that it is possible to continue the mission in Afghanistan without the Pakistani ground supply routes, but stressed that having them open would provide more options and would be less expensive.
"The more options you have available to you when you're mounting a major logistics effort like supplying the war effort in Afghanistan, and in bringing people and equipment out, the better," he said.
On Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta's recent comments that Washington was running out of patience with Pakistan, Little said they reflected the U.S. administration's frustration over Islamist militants using the country as a base for launching attacks on foreign coalition troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
"The comments … were largely directed at the problem of the Haqqani network and the safe haven in Pakistan. "We've made our concerns known for a very long time about the safe havens in Pakistan, and the ability of the Haqqani network to cross the border and conduct attacks inside Afghanistan. The Secretary's remarks on the trip were focused [on that]," the spokesman said.
Stating that Haqqani network's ability to conduct operations inside Afghanistan remains a "very serious concern" for the United States, Little said: "We believe that it's important, as [Panetta] indicated, that the Pakistanis do their part, on their side of the border, to stop the Haqqanis from mounting operations."
"This is something we need to work through with the Pakistanis. We believe that we can establish a relationship that produces the kind of action we believe is required on their side of the border," he added.
Another issue of tension between Washington and Islamabad is the continued U.S. drone strikes on militant targets in Pakistan. The Pakistan government has often protested strongly against such cross-border missile attacks, stressing that such strikes violate its sovereignty.
by RTT Staff Writer
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