Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is in Chicago for a crucial NATO summit where he is set to discuss the reopening of the Afghan supply routes, but a top U.S. official said the resolution would still take time amid signs of friction between the two sides.
The summit is expected to make important decisions with regard to the future of Afghanistan, and the presence of the Pakistani President was being seen as a sign of improved U.S.-Pak ties.
While the run up to the summit saw hopes mounting of a possible resolution to the issue of reopening of the NATO supply routes, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s comments that Pakistan was demanding quite a high price for reopening of the routes set a negative tone before the meetings.
Mr. Zardari’s first scheduled appointment with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was cancelled, ostensibly because of delay in his arrival at Chicago.
The meeting was now being rescheduled and U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, said the issue of supply routes would take some time to be resolved.
In an interview to Los Angeles Times before arriving in Chicago, Mr. Panetta suggested the demand to pay Pakistan USD 5,000 for each truck carrying supplies across its territory for NATO troops in Afghanistan was not likely to be obliged.
“Considering the financial challenges that we’re facing, that’s not likely,” Mr. Panetta said.
Over the next few days, Mr. Zardari is scheduled to have a series of bilateral meetings with several world leaders attending the Chicago summit including the Afghan President and those from Australia and Turkey.
Meeting with Hillary
U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is scheduled to call on him during his stay in Chicago. Mr. Zardari is also scheduled to address the extended session of the NATO, which would focus on Afghanistan, tomorrow.
“We believe this is going to be resolved... We expect that to take some time,” Mr. Rhodes told reporters travelling on Air Force One to Chicago with the U.S. President Barack Obama.
“Based on the statements they’ve made the negotiations going on, we believe it’s going to be accomplished... We’re not anticipating necessarily closing out those negotiations this weekend,” Mr. Rhodes said, thus ruling out the prospect of reopening of the closed routes before the start of the NATO Chicago Summit today.
Mr. Zardari is accompanied by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbass Jilani, besides his spokesman Farhatullah Babar.
“There have been positive steps, statements made by the Pakistanis, and we’re currently negotiating the opening of the supply lines with them; we expect that to take some time. So there is still work to be done through those negotiations,” said Mr. Rhodes, adding that no bilateral meeting has been planned with the Pakistani President.
“The only bilateral we have scheduled is with (the Afghan President, Hamid) Karzai,” he said.
“President Zardari will of course be in the ISAF session. So the President will certainly have a chance to see him and speak to him,” he said.
The NATO supply routes to Afghanistan were closed by Pakistan after a cross border NATO raid in November last year killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Pakistan has been demanding an apology from the U.S., but the Obama Administration which has said that it deeply regrets the unfortunate incident, has refused to apologise.