NATO meet starts without deal on Pak supply lines

Obama won’t meet Zardari directly without deal; payment issues sticking point,say US officials

Written by New York Times | Chicago | Published:May 21, 2012 1:32 am

A NATO summit meeting here to discuss long-term security for Afghanistan opened on Sunday in the shadow of continuing tension between the US and Pakistan over an unfinished deal to reopen supply routes for the war.

US and Pakistani officials had expressed optimism last week that an agreement was imminent. Negotiators were narrowing their differences after three weeks of intense deliberations,they said,and it was hoped that an invitation for Pakistan to attend the summit would engender the good will needed to close the deal.

The invitation was accepted,and Pakistan’s president,Asif Ali Zardari,arrived in Chicago on Saturday. But a deal on the supply lines remained elusive,and President Obama would not meet directly with Zardari without it,American officials said.

The supply lines were closed in late November after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in American airstrikes along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Though US officials publicly played down any sort of tension involving the supply line deal,in private conversations some acknowledged that it continued to be an issue. “When NATO extended the invitation,we thought it would move the Pakistanis off the dime,” said a senior American official,adding that without the deal,it would be “really uncomfortable” for Zardari at the summit. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

US officials said the main sticking point was the amount NATO would pay for each truck carrying supplies from Karachi,on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast,to the Afghan border. Before the closure,the cost per truck was about $250. Pakistan is now asking for “upward of $5,000,” another American official said.

“We’re not anticipating necessarily closing out those negotiations this weekend,” Ben Rhodes,a deputy national security adviser,said Saturday. “It’s our sense that both sides want to get it done,it will get done,” he said. “But right now,we’re in a process of negotiation about how exactly that’s going to happen.”

Meanwhile Sunday,Obama said the NATO alliance agreed on a vision for post-2014 Afghanistan. He met Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the sidelines of the the NATO summit to discuss Afghanistan’s post-conflict future.

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