Part of the U.S. negotiating team that was in Pakistan to discuss the supply route dispute left the country over the weekend, and the rest will leave shortly, Little told reporters yesterday.
U.S.-Pakistan relations have worsened since November when American helicopters killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in what a Pentagon investigation said was an accidental attack on border posts. Since the incident, Pakistan has refused to let NATO military supplies transit through the country to Afghanistan.
Months of negotiations between the two sides have yet to resolve the dispute, forcing NATO to truck supplies into Afghanistan by the more difficult and expensive northern route through Central Asian states.
Pakistan’s top military official, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, declined to meet with Peter Lavoy, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense, who was visiting the country, according to a report by the News International, a Pakistani publication.
The U.S. team’s departure wasn’t tied to “anything specific,” Little said. The U.S. negotiating team will return home “for a short period of time” and can go back “at any moment,” he said.
There is no timetable for resuming talks, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “I think we need to hear from the Pakistanis when they think that’s a good idea,” she said at a briefing yesterday in Washington.
“I don’t see it as an institutional pullout,” Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., said yesterday in an e-mail. “Pakistan is seeking to be part of the solution for NATO and the U.S. as they transfer security in Afghanistan, not an obstacle.”
U.S. military operations in Afghanistan won’t be deterred by inability to use of supply routes through Pakistan, U.S. Army Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said yesterday.
“I’m confident we can continue this campaign and supply the campaign” as well withdraw troops from Afghanistan as scheduled “with the different means we have for resupply,” Scaparrotti said in a televised news conference from Afghanistan.
Asked about reports that Pakistan wanted to charge $5,000 per truck, up from $250 previously, to let supplies flow, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that “we’re going to pay a fair price.”
“They’re negotiating what the price out to be,” Panetta said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “You know, clearly we’re not about to get gouged.”
Rehman said the supply routes were closed “absent an expression of remorse” over the 24 soldiers killed, not in an effort to gain “a price advantage.”
Last week, Panetta also expressed increasing frustration with Pakistan’s failure to crack down on the Haqqani militant group, which has stepped up attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan.
“We are reaching the limits of our patience here, and for that reason it’s extremely important that Pakistan take action,” Panetta told reporters on June 7 during a visit to Kabul.
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