ISLAMABAD, May 17: As Thursday inched towards midnight, President Asif Ali Zardari prepared to leave for his much anticipated US trip to participate in the Nato summit only with an agreement in principle on reopening the ground supply routes for coalition forces in Afghanistan, but without a done deal.

“President Zardari will visit Chicago to attend the 25th Nato summit on May 20-21 at the invitation of Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen,” the Foreign Office said ahead of president’s departure.

Mr Zardari is expected to reach Chicago on Saturday, where, according to FO, his engagements include an address to the expanded Isaf meeting of Nato in addition to meeting various heads of state and government on the margins of the summit.

The Defence Committee of the Cabinet, the top consultative body on security policy, while clearing the way for the president’s participation in the Nato summit had directed officials involved in talks over new terms and conditions for the supply route to conclude the agreement.

President Zardari would have ideally liked to travel to Chicago with a finalised deal which in the words of US officials could have conveyed a very strong signal of commitment to peace and stability in Afghanistan.

But what is being described as “tough issues” delayed the actualisation of the deal on supply routes.

Neither side would officially state the sticking points, but, to quote one source, fee structure is one of the major issues.

Although there have been all kinds of figures in the media about the remuneration being asked by Islamabad, one thing that is clear from conversations with Pakistani and US officials is that the Pakistani demand was considered too high.

Lesser contentious issues in the reopening dialogue include guarantees for security of convoys and the category of goods to be transported.

Even then the policy statement made by the DCC, which was later reaffirmed by the federal cabinet calling for early conclusion of the pact, has been welcomed in Washington and other Nato capitals.

Prime Minister Gilani, while speaking to reporters after attending a ceremony related to World Telecom and Information Day, said the decision to open the ‘Ground Lines of Communications’ would depend on the outcome of ongoing talks between different ministries and organisations.

“We have directed the departments concerned to conclude the process,” the prime minister said.

One diplomat opined that it would be difficult for President Zardari to ask world leaders in Chicago to patiently wait for negotiations on routes to conclude.

Routes have been closed for almost six months now following the Salala incident in which 24 Pakistani troops were killed in a Nato attack.

According to US Department of Defence (DoD) assessment, the continued closure of supply routes passing through Pakistan has affected efforts for “equipping and fielding” the Afghan security forces.

The DoD has also warned that failure to resolve the impasse over ground routes would significantly affect the drawdown of coalition forces.

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