Pakistan 'to move on' over NATO supply lines

Sajjad Tarakzai
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Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar says Pakistan has "made a point"

Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar addresses a press conference at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad. She said it was time for Pakistan to "move on" and repair relations with the United States and NATO

Pakistan said Monday it was time to "move on" and repair relations with the United States and NATO, the strongest sign yet that it is ready to reopen supply routes into Afghanistan closed for nearly six months.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar made the remarks one day before Pakistani leaders are to discuss ending the blockade, and so cave in to a key demand from the West in time to attend a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21.

Islamabad shut its Afghan border to NATO supplies after US air strikes killed 24 soldiers on November 26, provoking a major crisis in Pakistani-US relations on top of the outcry from the raid that killed Osama bin Laden the previous May.

"It was important to make a point, Pakistan has made a point and we now need to move on and go into a positive zone and try to conduct our relations," Pakistan's foreign minister told a news conference.

"We are trying to put this relationship, you know, in a positive zone and I am quite sure that we will be successful in doing so."

Pakistan has made what have so far been futile calls for an end to US drone strikes targeting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda on its soil and a formal apology for the November killings.

But analysts believe it has no choice but to reopen the border when US cash is needed to help boost state coffers ahead of the next budget.

Asked whether Islamabad would allow a resumption of NATO supplies, Information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said a decision would be made within days.

"There are a lot of sensitivities," he told reporters. "How we can share things with you which are under discussion? We will share it in the next three to four days."

On Monday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani briefed President Asif Ali Zardari, army chief of staff General Ashfaq Kayani and ministers on his visit to Britain, the second largest contributor to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

The presidency said the talks discussed "regional security" but did not refer explicitly to NATO.

Pakistani and US officials spent the weekend locked in talks on reaching an understanding to govern fees, logistics and other obligations should trucks again carry NATO supplies through Pakistan.

The supply line negotiating team arrived in the country with US special envoy Marc Grossman, who visited in April, and stayed on after he left, officials said.

Pakistan's defence committee of the cabinet, the country's top civilian and military leaders, is to meet Tuesday to discuss ending the blockade and repairing US relations.

Pakistan's parliament has demanded an end to US drone strikes on Pakistani soil, but American officials consider the attacks a vital weapon in the war on Al-Qaeda.

Islamabad reiterated Monday that it would still like an apology for the November air strikes with the foreign minister saying it was "on the table".

The United States has expressed regret for the deaths, which an American and NATO investigation said stemmed from mistakes made on both sides.

In a further sign that tensions are easing, Pakistan on Sunday hosted the most senior talks with NATO and the Afghan military in nearly a year.

US General John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, said he was "very encouraged" by the talks, which concentrated on improving border coordination.