Time to mend relations with US: Hina Rabbani Khar

Pakistan signals a climb-down from its demand for an unconditional US` apology for reopening key NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.

Islamabad: Pakistan on Monday said it was time to "move on" and mend relations with the US, signalling a climb-down from its demand for an unconditional American apology for reopening key NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.

"It was important to make a point. Pakistan has made the point and we now need to move on and go into a positive zone of trying to conduct our relations," Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said.

Khar made the comments during a news conference when she was asked about reopening supply routes to Afghanistan that were closed after the cross border NATO raid in November last year that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Khar`s remarks assume significance as they came a day before a meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, Pakistan`s highest decision-making body on security issues that is expected to discuss the reopening of the supply routes and the country`s participation in a NATO Summit in Chicago during May 20-21.

"As far as the question of an apology is concerned, Parliament has categorically said that the government should seek an apology from the US. We have (sought) an apology from the US," she said in response to another question about Pakistan`s demand for an unconditional apology for the NATO attack.

Khar did not say whether Islamabad would insist on the apology.

Official sources said that President Asif Ali Zardari was not averse to participating in the NATO summit if Pakistan and the US are able to agree on some sort of face-saving arrangement.

Khar`s remarks seemed to indicate that the government is preparing the grounds for reopening the supply routes, a key condition for participating in the NATO summit.

The Foreign Minister said Pakistan needs "closure" on the issue of the NATO air strike so that the country could "move on" with the task of resetting relations with the US.

A joint session of Parliament recently adopted a resolution that demanded an unconditional apology from the US for the November NATO attack.

Islamabad`s insistence on an apology has held up efforts to put Pakistan-US ties back on an even keel after a year of crises, including the NATO attack and the unilateral American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The government has sought an apology from the US for the NATO attack "because this is about trying to get closure", she said.

"This is something which is on the table, which we have very clearly articulated to them (the US), we have conveyed to them at every level," Khar added.

Pakistan wants to continue acting as "an enabler and facilitator" for Western countries working for peace and stability in Afghanistan as it is interested in the same objective, Khar said during the news conference she addressed along with Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira.

At the same time, this should not be perceived in the "context of repercussions" for not reopening the supply routes, she said.

"There is no coercion over here...I have said that Pakistan`s choice is to be an enabler and facilitator for peace and stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan has already bent backwards to be able to do that," she said.

While backing the efforts of NATO and the US in Afghanistan, Pakistan has suffered at a "huge cost" to its infrastructure and law and order, Khar contended.

"Going forward, we will want our role as an enabler and a facilitator to be more recognised, to be more visible and be appreciated a little more than it has been so far," she said.

The current process of resetting the relationship with the US is based on recommendations adopted during a recent joint session of Parliament," Khar and Kaira said.

"We are in the process of discussing and negotiating on the same terms presented by Parliament, which represents the will and aspirations of the 180 million people of Pakistan," Khar said.

The ministers said it was unrealistic to expect a breakthrough in the first round of talks held with the US recently.

Regarding Pakistan`s supposed obligation to keep the supply routes open, given that the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan is a UN-mandated mission, Khar said Islamabad was not "bound" as the UN resolution only called for "facilitation”.

She rubbished reports of sanctions being slapped on Pakistan because of the closure of the supply routes, the Express Tribune reported.

Khar said the parliamentary review had provided a framework and a "great deal of clarity" for discussions with the US and this had strengthened the government`s position, Khar said.

Pakistan and the US have struggled to put their ties back on an even keel after a year of crises, including the NATO air strike and the unilateral American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad.


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