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US-Pakistan talks to restart after airstrike probe

March 23, 2012

Marc Grossman talks to the media. — AP File Photo

BRUSSELS: The United States and Pakistan will resume talks on the possible reopening of supply routes to Afghanistan after Pakistan completes its probe into an airstrike that killed 24 of its soldiers, a senior US official said on Friday.

Marc Grossman, US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said he respected the work of a Pakistani parliamentary commission, which recommended on Monday that Pakistan should demand an unconditional apology from the US before the routes are reopened. It also called for an end to American drone attacks inside Pakistan.

The US has expressed regret for the Nov. 26 border incident but avoided formally apologizing. US officials were reportedly preparing to do that last month but postponed that after US soldiers burned copies of the Quran in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani panel investigating the attack began its work in January and is expected to submit its recommendations to the government soon.

Once Pakistan's government has the commission's recommendations, ''we'll then be in a conversation with the government of Pakistan about how to go forward,'' Grossman said in response to a question about the possible reopening of the supply routes.

The route from Pakistan's port of Karachi to landlocked Afghanistan has been Nato's main logistics link for its forces during most of the 11-year war. But over the last two years, the alliance has increasingly focused on the more secure routes from the north, through Russia and the Central Asian nations.

Today, almost all supplies are delivered overland through the so-called Northern Distribution Network. Last month, Moscow unexpectedly unveiled plans to permit the US and other Nato nations to use a Russian air base in the city of Ulyanovsk as a hub for their air bridge to Afghanistan.

Pakistan, which had supported the Taliban in Afghanistan, sided with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, earning Pakistan billions of dollars in aid and ending its international isolation.

Islamabad needs international assistance to keep its economy afloat, while the US needs its help in reaching a deal with the Afghan Taliban, whose leaders are believed to be on its soil and subject to the influence of its security forces.

Grossman is on a tour of European capitals focused on securing funding for the Afghan security forces following the 2014 withdrawal of most US and Nato forces. The allies estimate the government will need $4.1 billion annually to pay for the 350,000-strong army and police.

On Friday, Grossman briefed a meeting of Nato's governing body, the North Atlantic Council, which consists of the ambassadors of all 28 member states.

He said it's important that many countries share the cost of creating ''a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan,'' a key issue to be discussed at a Nato summit in Chicago in May.