United States Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has ruled out paying Pakistan USD 5,000 per truck carrying vital supplies across its territory for NATO troops in Afghanistan, citing financial challenges faced by America.
Panetta headed to this weekend's NATO summit prepared to confront Pakistan over what he considers "price-gouging" for transport of supplies to Afghanistan and hoping for a "consensus" among allies over the war effort.
Pakistani officials have demanded USD 5,000 as a condition for re-opening supply routes that have been closed to the alliance after a NATO border raid that killed 24 Pakistani troops in November last year.
"Considering the financial challenges that we're facing, that's not likely," Panetta was quoted as saying of the Pakistani demand in an interview to Los Angeles Times.
Before the supply routes were closed in November, NATO convoys were paying an average of about USD 250 a truck, a senior US official said.
US officials are hopeful they can resolve the dispute, perhaps at the summit.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari accepted a last-minute invitation to attend the meetings, although he is not expected to meet one-on-one with President Barack Obama, officials said.
The US has shifted deliveries to different routes through Russia and other countries to Afghanistan's north.
But the massive withdrawals of equipment due to unfold over the next two and a half years as troops leave the country will be "significantly" more difficult if routes in Pakistan aren't used, the Pentagon acknowledged in a report last month.
Thousands of trucks a day carrying supplies would go through multiple border crossings from Pakistan to Afghanistan, making the fees a potentially massive source of revenue for the cash-strapped government in Islamabad.
The Obama administration hopes the two-day summit will highlight what Panetta called a "consensus" within NATO about how to disengage militarily by the end of 2014.