Clinton discussed with Khar language of apology statement

New York: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had discussed with her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar the "language" of her statement apologising for the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border NATO air raid while she was working on its draft during the last several weeks.

Ending a bitter seven-month row between the two nations, Clinton issued a statement yesterday in which she reiterated America`s "deepest regrets" and said: "sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military," in the attack that brought relations between US and Pakistan to all time low.

Following the apology, Pakistan agreed to re-open the NATO supply routes into Afghanistan that it had closed in retaliation of the attacks.

The New York Times quoted people with knowledge of the process as saying that Clinton began working on drafts of the statement she released yesterday several weeks ago.

At one point she even began discussing the language of the statement with Khar, a person with knowledge about the process said. "This was jointly done," said the person.

"It was Clinton`s increasingly cordial relationship with the young Pakistani foreign minister that paid dividends in resolving the dispute," American officials said, adding that while the State Department had issued the statement, it had been coordinated with Clinton`s Pakistani counterpart Khar.

The stalemate had threatened to jeopardise counter-terror cooperation, complicated US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and forced America to pay more than a billion dollars extra shipping fees to use an alternative route through Central Asia to get the NATO supplies into Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials said they had misjudged NATO`s ability to adapt to the closing of the supply routes and use the alternative route, which was costing up to an extra USD 100 million a month.

Clinton spoke with Khar over telephone and said in a statement that "we are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again."

The NYT said the accord came together on Monday in Islamabad after weeks of "behind-the-scenes phone calls, e-mails and meetings" between one of Clinton`s deputies, Thomas Nides, and a top Pakistani diplomat.

"The agreement reflected a growing realization by Pakistani officials that they had overplayed their hand, misjudging NATO`s resolve, and a recognition on both sides that the impasse risked transforming an often rocky relationship into a permanently toxic one at a critically inopportune time," it said.

In conveying the apology, Clinton and her top aides worked closely with senior White House and Pentagon officials and carefully calibrated what she would say in her phone call to Khar to avoid an explicit mention of what one top State Department official called "the A-word" ? "apology."

Instead, Clinton opted for the softer "sorry" to meet Pakistan`s longstanding demand for a more formal apology for the air strikes, the New York Times report added. The deal is still being seen as carrying risks for both governments.

While critics of Pakistan`s weak civilian government assailed the accord as a sellout to the United States, it offers potential fodder for Republicans who contend that President Barack Obama says "sorry" too readily.

"The apology will lower the temperature on US-Pakistan relations," the NYT reported quoted South Asia analyst Shamila Chaudhary as saying. "However, relations are not on the mend. They remain very much broken and will remain so unless the two countries resolve broader policy differences on Afghanistan."

As part of the agreement, Pakistan agreed not to charge a higher transit fee for each truck carrying NATO`s nonlethal supplies from Pakistan into Afghanistan, after initially demanding as much as USD 5,000 for each truck.

In return, the administration will ask Congress to reimburse Pakistan about USD 1.2 billion for costs incurred by 150,000 Pakistani troops carrying out counterinsurgency operations along the border with Afghanistan, a senior American official said.

Officials said Pakistan, at times, seemingly undermined its own effort to obtain an expression of contrition.

The administration was seriously considering an apology when Afghan insurgents hit multiple targets in simultaneous attacks on Kabul in April, officials said.

Later, Nides and Pakistan`s finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh were designated by their governments to begin negotiations to end the stalemate. Nides, a former executive at Morgan Stanley, and Shaikh exchanged e-mails and phone calls to work out a political deal.

At the same time, according to officials, Pakistani army`s chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani pressed his government to resolve the issue, which had put Pakistan at odds with the more than 40 countries with troops in Afghanistan whose supplies were affected.