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Decision to pave way for apology

March 25, 2012

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration’s decision to take no legal action against American soldiers involved in the Salala raid can pave the way for a formal US apology over the incident, diplomatic observers say.

US forces bombed a Pakistani military post on Nov 26, killing 24 soldiers. The United States has expressed regrets over the incident but is refusing to offer a formal apology.

The US media reported on Sunday that a recent Pentagon inquiry concluded that there’s no need for disciplinary action against US military personnel involved in the attack.

Diplomatic observers say that the Pentagon’s decision will allow the Obama administration to accept the Pakistani demand for a formal apology, by giving it room to argue that it has managed to neutralise a more serious demand for legal action against those responsible.

Observers noted that the news was leaked to the media two days before a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Seoul.

Both sides hope that the meeting will lead to an understanding on two key issues, drone strikes in Fata and the reopening of ground supply routes for US and Nato soldiers in Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, a Pakistani parliamentary committee demanded an end to CIA drone strikes and proposed a tariff system to pay for US war supplies to Afghanistan. Pakistan blocked the supply routes after the November incident.

“The administration hopes to modify both those proposals; an Obama-Gilani meeting may set a more friendly tone for follow-on discussions between the two governments,” The Washington Post has reported.

The Post also hoped that the meeting would lead to “a significant warming of the chilled relations” between the two countries.

Official sources in Washington say that Gen James Matthis, Commander of the US Central Command, who is scheduled to arrive in Islamabad next week, may offer an apology to Pakistani military leaders.

Later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to offer a similar apology to Pakistan’s political leadership.

Since the Americans hope to reach some understanding over Nato supply routes in the Obama-Gilani meeting, Gen Mattis may go to Islamabad with detailed proposals for ensuring that the supplies, once resumed, continue without hindrance.

The White House has confirmed that the two leaders will also discuss reconciliation talks with Taliban insurgents and an endgame for the Afghan war.