Pakistan: NATO supply deal looking more likely

Associated Press Modified: July 2, 2012 at 2:46 pm •  Published: July 2, 2012

ISLAMABAD (AP) — U.S. and Pakistani officials expressed optimism Monday that Islamabad was close to reopening its Afghan border to NATO troop supplies after a 7-month blockade, a move that could significantly reduce tension between the two countries.

The tussle over the supply line, which Pakistan closed in November in retaliation for American airstrikes that killed 24 of its troops, has driven the bilateral relationship to new lows, threatening U.S. prospects in Afghanistan.

The two sides have been deadlocked for months because of disagreements over transit payments and Washington's refusal to apologize for the deadly attack, which it insists was an accident.

The Pakistani government has also been worried about the inevitable political backlash from reopening the route, given the high level of anti-American sentiment in the country.

While the exact details of a deal remain unclear, there are growing signs that a breakthrough could be imminent.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf called a meeting of the defense committee of the Cabinet on Tuesday to decide whether to reopen the supply line, according to a senior Pakistani official.

"The environment seems to be optimistic," the official said.

The Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Sherry Rehman, left for Pakistan on Sunday night to be present for the meeting, according to two other Pakistani officials who said it appeared a resolution on the supply line was near.

The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the matter.

The decision to call the Cabinet meeting followed a visit Monday by a high-level American delegation to Islamabad that included the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen; Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller; and Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas Nides, said a senior U.S. official. It was Allen's second visit in less than a week.

The latest trip was a prime example of how "quiet diplomacy can play a significant role to get things done," the official said.

The U.S. addressed Pakistan's demands for higher transit fees by sweetening the deal with extensive road construction projects, the American official said, without providing specific figures.

Before the November attack, Pakistan was charging the U.S. $250 per truck. Afterward, Pakistan demanded $5,000 and the U.S. countered with $500. It's unclear where the deal stands now.

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