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US withdraws negotiating team from Pakistan

By Lalit K Jha
June 11, 2012 23:05 IST
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In a fresh jolt to United States-Pakistan ties, the Pentagon on Monday said it is withdrawing its team of negotiators from Pakistan for a "short period of time", after talks failed to lift the six-month blockade of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's supply routes to war-torn Afghanistan.

"I believe that some of the team left over the weekend and the remainder of the team will leave shortly," George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters, adding, "This was a US decision".

"The decision was reached to bring the team home for a short period of time," Little added.

The team of negotiators had been in Pakistan for about six weeks, he said, as US officials had believed they were close to a deal with Islamabad to lift the blockade on NATO convoys.

But no breakthrough seemed imminent and there was no scheduled date for resumption of the negotiations, Little said.

The US would continue to maintain a "dialogue" with Pakistan and the departure of the negotiating team did not mean Washington had given up discussions with Islamabad, he said.

"That's not to be taken as a sign of our unwillingness to continue the dialogue with Pakistanis on this issue," he said, adding that the negotiators are "prepared to return at any moment."

The move came after Pakistan Army's chief General Ashfaq Kayani refused last week to meet US Assistant Defence Secretary Peter Lavoy, who travelled to Pakistan to try to resolve the dispute, officials said.

Lavoy "was hoping to meet with General Kayani to work through this issue," Little said.

The negotiating team was in Pakistan to ensure opening up of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, which was blocked by Islamabad following the November 26 cross-border air strike that resulted in the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers.

That incident had brought US-Pak ties to its lowest level, with Pakistan demanding an unconditional apology from the US. However, the Obama administration has refused to offer one.

According to media reports, Pakistan had demanded $5,000 for each truck carrying supplies across its territory for NATO troops in Afghanistan. However, it was brought down to about $1,800-2,000 during negotiations.

The routes through Pakistan is of huge logistical importance for US troops as they plan a large-scale withdrawal of combat troops and equipment by the end of 2014.

The bilateral ties have gone for a toss since the beginning of last year.

The first dent came up when a Central Intelligence Agency contractor Raymond Davis was involved in a shooting on the busy streets of Peshawar last January.

Then in May, US Navy SEALs commandos, in a daring unilateral raid, flew in from Afghanistan into the garrison town of Abbottabad killing then Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

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Lalit K Jha
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