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US Awaits Pakistan's Decision on NATO Supply Routes

Afghanistan-bound NATO trucks are parked after Pakistani authorities blocked a NATO supply line near the border with Afghanistan, September 30, 2010.
Afghanistan-bound NATO trucks are parked after Pakistani authorities blocked a NATO supply line near the border with Afghanistan, September 30, 2010.
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and the United States appear to be edging closer to a deal on the re-opening of NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, according to comments made by Cameron Munter, the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan.

The routes to neighboring Afghanistan have been closed for more than six months, forcing NATO to either fly in supplies or truck them in through Central Asia - a more expensive option.

Munter played down earlier reports that a U.S. negotiating team had walked out of the talks this week. The United States, he said on Wednesday, is waiting on Pakistan.

“The technical team has returned to the United States because their work was largely complete. We are waiting for a political decision from the Pakistani side and we have hope that very soon the supply lines can be open so we can get on with our common goals,” Munter said.

Attempts to come to an understanding have been bogged down in Islamabad’s demands that the U.S. apologize for missile strikes that mistakenly killed Pakistani soldiers and an end to U.S. drone attacks on Pakistani soil.

On the American side, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently bluntly criticized Pakistan for not doing more to eradicate militants hiding in the northwest. The militants frequently launch cross-border attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said Wednesday the conditions set out by her government for the reopening of the routes from the southern port of Karachi up to Afghanistan were no secret to anyone.

“The U.S. side knows very well as to what are the needs and requirements for us to, to enable us to move in that direction, to enable us to take that decision," she said.

This political back-and-forth and the often strong language between the two countries reflects a tense and increasingly polarized relationship.

But Pakistan is seen by many as key to a successful transition in neighboring Afghanistan as international forces begin to leave that country.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, Maleeha Lodhi, says that both Washington and Islamabad have common interests but lack the leadership to put the relationship back on track.

“What we haven’t seen, on both sides, is the kind of leadership that is needed to crack the very difficult issues between the two countries,” said Lodhi.

Speaking in Australia, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he hopes the Pakistan routes would re-open in the not too distant future.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.