Pak set to reopen NATO routes; Zardari to attend summit

Posted By: Pti
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Islamabad, May 17: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari will attend NATO's upcoming Chicago summit as Islamabad looks all set to end the six-month blockade of the military alliance's supply routes to Afghanistan.

NATO extended an "unconditional" invitation for its summit next week to Zardari and supply routes for foreign troops in Afghanistan will be reopened after negotiations conclude with the US, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said today.

Both the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, Pakistan's highest body on security issues, and the federal cabinet have endorsed the President's participation in the NATO Summit in Chicago after the invitation was sent by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, he said.

A final decision on reopening the "Ground Lines of Communication" or supply routes for NATO troops in Afghanistan will depend on the outcome of talks between the US and different ministries and organisations of Pakistan, Gilani told reporters on the sidelines of an official event.

"We have directed the concerned departments to conclude their negotiations. The talks are still underway," he said. Pakistan closed the supply routes after a cross-border NATO air strike killed 24 of its soldiers in November. Islamabad and Washington were unable to put their ties on an even keel as Pakistan had been insisting on an unconditional apology from the US for the air strike.

Though Pakistani leaders, including Foreign Minister Khar, have sought to project participation in the NATO Summit and the demand for an apology from the US as separate issues, analysts have noted that Islamabad has climbed down on both the apology and demand to end US drone strikes.

The Foreign Office today announced that President Zardari would attend the NATO Summit during May 20-21 as both the Defence Committee of the Cabinet and the cabinet had endorsed the invitation.

Zardari, who will be accompanied by Khar and Zardari, who will be accompanied by Khar and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, will address the expanded ISAF meeting of NATO and meet various heads of state and government on the margins of the summit.

Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Khan said Pakistan would abide by recommendations made by a joint sitting of parliament "both in letter and spirit" while conducting negotiations for reopening the NATO supply routes.

He described media reports about the talks between Pakistan and the US as "speculative". "As decided by the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, negotiations on NATO supply, the question of an apology, fresh border ground rules and cessation of drone attacks are being carried out in a transparent manner," Khan said.

"Pakistan continues to remain engaged with the US on all issues and decisions would be taken in the best national interest," he said. Reports in the Western media said Pakistani and American officials had been haggling over the customs duties and fees to be paid for NATO supplies transported through the country.


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