US calls back supply route negotiators from Pakistan
12 June, 2012
WASHINGTON: The United States has withdrawn negotiators from Pakistan after talks failed to produce an agreement on reopening NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, the Pentagon said on Monday.
"The decision was reached to bring the team home for a short period of time," Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.
The team of negotiators had been in Pakistan for about six weeks, he said, as US officials had believed they were close to a deal with Islamabad to lift the blockade on NATO convoys.
But no breakthrough was imminent and there was no scheduled date for a resumption of the negotiations, Little said.
The US, however, would continue to maintain a "dialogue" with Pakistan and the departure of the expert negotiating team did not mean Washington had given up discussions with Islamabad, he said.
"That's not to be taken as a sign of our unwillingness to continue the dialogue with Pakistanis on this issue," he said, adding that the negotiators are "prepared to return at any moment".
Pakistan shut its border to NATO supply convoys after a botched US air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in Salala in November last year.
Members of the negotiating team started to leave over the weekend and the remainder of the negotiators would soon return to the US, Little said.
The comments came after Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, refused last week to meet US Assistant Defence Secretary Peter Lavoy, who travelled to Pakistan to try to resolve the dispute, officials said.
Lavoy "was hoping to meet with General Kayani to work through this issue", Little said.
With the Pakistani roads shut, the US-led NATO force has relied on cargo flights and northern supply routes — negotiated with Russia and a network of governments in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
But the northern routes are much longer and more expensive than the Pakistan roads.
"The more options you have available to you when you're mounting a major logistics effort, like supplying the war effort in Afghanistan, the better," Little said.
"As a technical matter, we could in theory do our work without the ground supply routes. It would certainly be better to have them open and less costly."
Little said the decision to withdraw the negotiating team was not imposed by Pakistan. He said the team of negotiators had been there for about six weeks and deserved a rest.
"I believe that some of the team left over the weekend and the remainder of the team will leave shortly," Little told reporters. "This was a United States decision."