WASHINGTON, May 31: The United States would like Nato supply routes to Afghanistan to reopen “very soon”, says the US State Department as five weeks of talks with Pakistan over the issue failed to resolve the dispute.
At a regular news briefing, a State Department spokesman Mark Toner described five weeks of non-stop talks between US and Pakistani experts in Islamabad as “working diligently trying to make progress”.
The assessment follows a Pentagon statement that US drone strikes in Fata were “lawful and precise” while the White House insisted that Dr Shakil Afridi was not working against Pakistan’s interests.
These are three of the four main issues dividing the United States and Pakistan. The fourth – a Pakistani demand for apology over a US air raid that killed 24 of their soldiers in November – also remains unsettled, although Pakistan seems to have stopped insisting on apology.
Pakistan had blocked the supply lines in retaliation for the raid.
“We do remain engaged with Pakistan on reopening these ground lines of communication.
We think that opening them would obviously be an important demonstration of Pakistan’s commitment to the international effort to ensure a prosperous, peaceful Afghanistan,” Mr Toner told reporters.
He did not say if they had a timeline for these negotiations to succeed but added that the United States would like to “reach a resolution very soon”.
When a journalist interpreted his statement as indicating that the talks continued to make progress, Mr Toner reminded him that he had said “diligent progress.”
When another journalist suggested that this meant the talks had been deadlocked, he said these were negotiations and “I am not privy to discuss them here.”
Mr Toner said he believed the talks were making progress because the two sides had continued to meet in Islamabad to talk over these issues.
Mr Toner refused to comment on Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta’s statement last weekend that the US would not be “price gouged by Pakistan”.
“I’m certainly not going to get into our diplomatic conversations with Pakistan over the reopening of the ground lines of communication other than to say we’re continuing to make progress and we hope to reach a resolution soon.”
The State Department official said the US was “raising consistently in our meetings with Pakistani government officials” their decision to sentence Dr Afridi, who helped the CIA trace Osama bin Laden.
“It’s unclear to me what else we could do for his case. But we certainly take it very seriously,” he added.