Frustrated Obama avoids meeting Zardari

Chicago: Frustrated at Pakistan’s denial to reopen Nato supplies, US President Barack Obama has avoided an intended meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari on sidelines of Summit on Afghanistan here.

Pakistan had sought an unconditional apology and immediate release of stuck-up coalition support fund (CFS) to reopen Nato supplies blocked after unprovoked Salala attack that had killed score of Pakistani troops. Besides congressional blockades to release of funds to Pakistan, Obama Administration considers tendering an apology could cost in the coming US election.

Thus President Obama and his Pakistani counterparts staying is at loggerheads have marred the success of the Nato Summit that also surfaced conflicting views within the alliance on the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan.

According to the New York Times, a deal to reopen the supply lines fell apart as Obama began talks on ending the NATO alliance’s combat role in Afghanistan in 2013, a year earlier than the announced withdrawal schedule of 2014.

As a two-day NATO summit meeting opened in Chicago, Obama remained at loggerheads with Zardari, refusing even to meet him without a deal on the supply routes, which officials in both sides acknowledged would not be coming soon, it said.

But White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said that President Obama could not meet Zardari as he had a “full slate of summit meetings to attend.”

“The two bilateral meetings really, that he did, are President (Hamid) Karzai for obvious reasons given the focus on Afghanistan here, and the Secretary General of NATO given that it’s traditional for the host to make sure that we’re aligned with the Secretary General heading to the summit.

“But we don’t anticipate any other bilateral meetings so we didn’t draw that linkage. We’re going to continue to work through the issue with the Pakistanis,” he said.

Zardari did, however, meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss the supply routes.

According to the daily, the failure to strike a deal on the supply routes ahead of the summit injects new tension into the relationship.

“When Nato extended the invitation, we thought it would move the Pakistanis off the dime,” a senior American official was quoted as saying.

Without the deal, “it’s going to be really uncomfortable” for Zardari at the summit, which runs through Monday, the official told The New York Times.

But President Obama refused to meet his Pakistani counterpart, with one US official telling The Times: “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.

After weeks of closed-door negotiations with Zardari’s government, US officials did not deny that they are seeking to send the Pakistanis a public message, The Los Angeles Times said.

“If they’re feeling a little bit of pressure this weekend, they should,” a US official was quoted as saying.

“The US and Natoare ready to move beyond this issue,” the Los Angeles Times said, according to which US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is planning to meet with officials from five Central Asian countries that have provided an alternative, but considerably more expensive, northern land route for Nato supplies since Pakistan closed its roads after a cross border air raid killed 24 of its soldiers in November.

The Wall Street Journal said Zardari was invited to attend the summit at the last minute in hopes that would lead to a deal, but the two sides remain at odds over how much the US and its allies should pay Pakistan per container.

According to US officials, Pakistan has proposed raising transit fees per container by as much as 3,000 per cent, or 30-fold, a demand that Washington and its allies have rejected as excessive, the daily reported.

A senior US official said the pressure was meant to make Zardari “feel uncomfortable,” The Journal said.

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