NATO supply routes: US will not get gouged by Pakistan
28 May, 2012
WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta vowed on Sunday not to let the United States be "gouged" by Pakistan on the price it charges for overland deliveries of American military supplies to Afghanistan.
Pakistan closed the land route to US supplies in November as punishment for a US air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, but have been in negotiations to reopen the border crossing.
Without the Pakistani supply lines, the US has had to rely on a much longer, more expensive northern route to re-supply its forces in Afghanistan.
US defence officials have said the Pakistanis are demanding several thousand dollars for every truck crossing its border with the supplies, up from $250 per truck before the closure. "We're not about to get gouged in the price. We want a fair price," Panetta said on ABC's 'This Week'.
Commenting on drone strikes in Pakistan's Tribal Areas, Panetta called them "one of the most precise weapons that we have in our arsenal", and said that protecting US security by levelling terrorist targets in countries like Pakistan and Yemen takes priority. "Our responsibility is to defend and protect the United States of America," Panetta said. "And using the operations that we have, using the systems that we have, using the weapons that we have, is absolutely essential to our ability to defend Americans. That's what counts, and that's what we're doing."
Panetta also said it was "disturbing" and "difficult to understand" Pakistan's 33-year prison sentence for Dr Shakeel Afridi who aided the US in finding terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
"It is so difficult to understand and it's so disturbing that they would sentence this doctor to 33 years for helping in the search for the most notorious terrorist in our times," Panetta.
"This doctor was not working against Pakistan. He was working against al Qaeda," Panetta added. "And I hope that ultimately Pakistan understands that, because what they have done here, does not help in the effort to try to reestablish a relationship between the United States and Pakistan."
Afridi's conviction was met with harsh criticism by US officials, amid already-strained relations with Pakistan after the discovery that bin Laden had hidden in the country for more than five years, before Navy SEALs raided his Abbottabad compound and killed him last May. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Afridi's treatment "unjust and unwarranted" on Thursday, while Congress proposed cutting aid to Pakistan by $33 million for each year of Afridi's sentence.
Asked if Pakistan could still be considered a US ally, Panetta acknowledged the "complicated" relationship with the country.
"This has been one of the most complicated relationships that we've had, working with Pakistan," Panetta said.
"It's an up-and-down relationship. There have been periods where we've had good cooperation and they have worked with us. And there have been periods where we've had conflict."
"So our responsibility here is to keep pushing them to understand how important it is for them to work with us to try to deal with the common threats we both face," Panetta added. "And what they did with this doctor doesn't help in the effort to try to do that."