Obama snubs Zardari over Nato border crossing issue
US president refused a request for bilateral talks with his Pakistani counterpart as a row over supply routes into Afghanistan threatens to overshadow summit
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan was snubbed by US President Barack Obama at the Nato summit over a refusal to back down on demands that troops pay £3,000 (Rs 2.6 lakh) for every lorry crossing the border into Pakistan, it has been claimed.
Tensions between the US and Pakistan have been running high following several incidents, including the US raid in Pakistan that led to the death of Osama bin Laden and a US air strike that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers.
Both countries have been seeking to restore normal relations. Pakistan closed the roads nearly six months ago in protest of an errant Nato air strike that killed Pakistani soldiers.
The two nations are now haggling over the price the alliance will pay, with Pakistan demanding many times more per truck than they were paid a year ago, US officials said.
President Zardari was a last-minute addition to the list of leaders at the summit in President Obama’s hometown. But it remains unclear if he will agree to reopen routes to Nato traffic.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, met President Zardari to discuss efforts to reopen major roads used to supply Nato fighting forces in Afghanistan.
But President Obama refused to meet his Pakistani counterpart, with one US official saying, “Patience with Pakistan is wearing thin, not just in the US but also in the Nato alliance.”
The official added that they were still expecting the “log jam of Nato convoys in Pakistan after this weekend”, forcing the US to use alternative routes — namely through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
White House officials said no deal was in place to reopen the supply lines but they cited “positive” signs in the ongoing discussions. “We believe we’re moving in the right trajectory,” said Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.
Nato leaders will endorse plans to hand over combat command in Afghanistan by mid-2013 and seek practical progress in opening routes to bring an international army of more than 1,30,000 back home from an unpopular, resource-draining war.
The strategy for a gradual exit from Afghanistan is aimed at holding together the multinational force and maintaining security in spite of France’s decision to withdraw troops earlier than scheduled.
The US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, said he was confident a deal would eventually be struck, but “whether it’s in days or weeks, I don’t know.”