NATO head urges Pakistan to open transit routes in time for summit

BRUSSELS Fri May 11, 2012 9:25pm IST

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses a news conference in Brussels May 11, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses a news conference in Brussels May 11, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggested on Friday that Pakistan could miss out on important talks on the future of Afghanistan if it fails to reopen supply routes in time to secure a place at a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21.

Speaking at a news conference, Rasmussen made no explicit reference to excluding Pakistan - which closed transit routes to Afghanistan after 24 of its soldiers were killed in a NATO cross-border air attack last November.

But he noted that other countries providing supply routes to NATO had been invited to the summit, which will map out a future for Afghanistan after most foreign combat troops are withdrawn at the end of 2014.

"As I mentioned we have actually invited a number of countries from the region, neighbours of Afghanistan, Central Asian countries, Russia, because they provide important transit arrangements to the benefit of our operation," he said in response to a question.

"But as you also know our transit routes through Pakistan are currently blocked so we have to continue our dialogue with Pakistan with a view to finding a solution to that because that's really a matter of concern."

Pakistan has demanded a formal apology from the United States for the cross-border attack before it reopens the supply routes, and has also called for an end to U.S. drone strikes on its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

With neither of those demands likely to be met, the government faces the choice of making an embarrassing climbdown - politically tricky at time anti-Americanism is running high in Pakistan - or continuing to hold out.

Pakistan boycotted an international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn in December in protest against the NATO air strikes.

(Reporting by Sebastian Moffett)

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