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INTERNATIONAL > Pakistan, US close to agree on reopening NATO route

ISLAMABAD

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NATO’s fuel tanker trucks are seen parked along a road in Karachi. AFP photo

NATO’s fuel tanker trucks are seen parked along a road in Karachi. AFP photo

The United States and Pakistan are expected to agree soon on the reopening of land routes crucial to supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan, a Pakistani official said on July 2.

A senior Pakistani security official told Reuters a deal could be announced soon, potentially ending the long stalemate following a U.S. air attack last November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan.

Senior Pakistani government and defense officials were due to meet to discuss the supply routes yesterday, a day after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides headed back to Washington following talks with Pakistani officials. “Things are looking very optimistic,” another Pakistani government official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

While U.S. diplomats say they have made headway in recent talks, the two sides have appeared to have been on the brink of a deal before. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the routes, which have become a major headache for NATO nations as they seek to keep troops equipped in Afghanistan, with new Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf when she called him over the weekend, the State Department said. Pakistani media reported that Gen. John Allen, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, visited Islamabad on July 1 for the second time in less than a week.

Route cut-off costs billions

NATO nations are anxious to reach an agreement, in part because shipping supplies into land-locked Afghanistan from the north costs 2-1/2 times as much as through Pakistan. As Pakistan weighs the decision, the Pentagon has asked Congress to shift billions of dollars in the defense budget to pay for added fuel costs to ferry supplies to Afghanistan, Agence France-Presse quoted U.S. officials as saying.
In a letter to congressional defense committees, the Pentagon requested “reprogramming” $8.2 billion in funds previously approved to finance more urgent priorities, officials said. A large portion of the request was due to the costs “associated with the extended closure of the ground lines of communication” in Pakistan, spokesman Captain John Kirby told reporters.

July/04/2012

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