American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari didn’t meet formally but did have a brief conversation during the Chicago NATO summit, the Pentagon press secretary said today.
Speaking to reporters, George Little said the two men had a friendly exchange. Panetta believes it’s important the two nations come to agreement on the movement of NATO military supplies through Pakistan to Afghanistan, Little added.
Pakistan has prohibited NATO from moving food and other supplies over its roads since Nov. 26, 2011, when a cross-border attack by NATO forces near a border coordination center in Afghanistan’s Kunar province accidently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The two nations are negotiating to reopen those cargo routes, but didn’t reach agreement before the May 20-21 summit in Chicago. One area of disagreement involves the amount Pakistan will charge to allow passage. One widely reported proposal is for NATO to pay $5,000 per cargo container, a massive increase over the approximately $250 NATO paid before the tragic incident.
There currently is an impasse between the two sides as to the charges that may be assigned, the Pentagon press secretary acknowledged.
“The financial side of the equation is one of the issues; we think we can get past it,” Little said. “[It’s] critical that we get past this; it’s critical to both countries.”
Little noted the cargo passage through Pakistan is important, both for the flow of supplies into Afghanistan, and the movement of equipment out as International Security Assistance Forces draw down from Afghanistan. Afghan forces are slated take over security responsibility in 2014.
“Discussions with our Pakistani counterparts continue,” Little said. “We hope to get resolution very soon.”