US withdrawing negotiators from Pakistan as supply routes remain closed
WASHINGTON — The United States is pulling a team of negotiators out of Pakistan after weeks of fruitless talks aimed at reopening ground supply lines into Afghanistan, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.
“Some of the team has left Pakistan,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said. “We expect the other members of the team to leave soon unless circumstances change.”
After months of worsening relations, Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani in recent days refused to meet with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Peter Lavoy to discuss the supply issue.
The supply lines through Pakistan are the easiest route for many of the supplies critical to the NATO war effort in Afghanistan. Pakistan closed the lines in November after NATO forces accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers during an operation near the border. Pakistani officials sought a public apology, but the United States has not obliged.
The Pentagon instead has since beefed up supply lines through northern Afghanistan, though officials say the route is significantly more expensive.
Negotiations have been going on for about six weeks amid rising tension and mutual recriminations. Pakistan has demanded payment of $5,000 per vehicle to reopen the supply lines, a figure the United States has deemed exorbitant. On a trip last week through Asia, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was harshly critical of Pakistan’s failure to tamp down the activities of Haqqani network operating out of Pakistan.
Little said the Pentagon’s military representative in Islamabad would continue talking with lower-level Pakistani officials about the supply issue, and the full negotiating team would resume talks if prospects brighten for a solution.
“The members of the team that are leaving, or have left, are prepared to return to Islamabad at any moment to continue discussions in person,” he said.