Thursday, 05 July 2012 13:32
NEW YORK: US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon appearance at a backyard barbecue hosted by Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman signaled Obama administration's decision to resolve its dispute with Pakistan over the Salala incident and get the relationship back on track, a major American newspaper reported Thursday.
Citing US Officials, The Wall Street Journal said that Donilon, played a key role in bringing about a shift in administration's policy not to offer an apology -- as demanded by Pakistan -- over US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November, arguing for a compromise settlement acceptable to both sides.
Noting that Ambassador Rehman shuttled between the State Department and White House following the NATO summit at Chicago, the dispatch said she pressed for the apology, saying it was the only way to get Islamabad to reopen the alliance's supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan.
The Obama administration's message to the Pakistani envoy at the time, as delivered by Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides and others, was: "It isn't going to happen," the Journal said, citing officials involved in the discussions.
"In the weeks that followed, however, the White House had a change of heart," The Wall Street Journal said. Officials said the shift came in a flurry of meetings, and was signalled to Pakistan by Donilon's appearance at the June 26 summer garden party hosted by Rehman.
The shift by the White House was driven by several pressing issues. US officials said the mounting cost of using alternative routes, fears the closures would complicate a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and by the Pentagon's need for Pakistan's cooperation in fighting militants.
On June 13, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress the border closure was costing the Pentagon an extra $100 million a month. Surprised lawmakers pressed the White House to reach a compromise, the Journal said, citing US officials.
Administration officials said Pakistan's cooperation was critical to speeding the withdrawal of heavy equipment from Afghanistan, as well as to reviving stalled negotiations with the Taliban aimed at ending the war.
"Let's just get this done," a senior Obama administration official said of the White House's thinking. The White House dispatched Nides to Islamabad this past weekend with instructions to make it happen.
"Mr. Donilon surprised Pakistani officials by attending a barbecue dinner that Mrs. Rehman held under a tent at her residence in Washington," the Journal said.
Officials said his attendance was seen by the Pakistanis as a clear signal that the White House wanted to resolve the dispute and get the relationship back on track.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her top aides, the newspaper said, have consistently urged an apology for US mistakes in the name of improved relations.
Officials said the White House came to realize that there was no way that Islamabad, in an election year in Pakistan, could reopen the routes without an apology to calm the irate Pakistani public and the military's rank and file.
Copyright APP (Associated Press of Pakistan), 2012