Obama does not mention Pak in address

Washington: In an apparent snub to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, his US counterpart Barack Obama today did not mention Pakistan in his opening remarks at the NATO Summit meeting on Afghanistan and instead welcomed the presence of officials from the Central Asia and Russia.

"I want to welcome the presence of (Afghan) President (Hamid) Karzai, as well as officials from Central Asia and Russia, nations that have an important perspective and that continue to provide critical transit for ISAF supplies," host Obama said in his opening remarks to the ongoing NATO Summit in Chicago. Today`s meetings focused on Afghanistan.

When Obama made this statement, Zardari was occupying a seat on the round table along with his Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. For the last few days, the US media has been reporting that Obama did not meet Zardari during the conference because of the Pakistan`s inability to reopen the NATO supply route to Afghanistan, which were closed by Islamabad in retaliation of the November 26 incident in which 24 Pak soldiers were killed in a cross border fire.

Both US and Pak official insist that progress has been made in their negotiations on this issue, but they haven`t reached a deal yet. In his remarks, Obama said at the meeting that the participating countries can agree on NATO`s long-term relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, including their support of Afghan security forces. "So we have a lot of work to do," he said.

Obama said two years ago in Lisbon, they agreed on a framework for transition in Afghanistan that would allow them to responsibly wind down the war. "We agreed that this transition to Afghan lead for security would begin in 2011 and that it would conclude in 2014. At the same time, we said that we would seek a long-term partnership with Afghanistan and the Afghan people," he said.

"Over the past two years we`ve made important progress. Our forces broke the Taliban`s momentum, more Afghans are reclaiming their communities, Afghan security forces have grown stronger, and the transition that we agreed to in Lisbon is well under way," he said. "This past week we saw more progress. We very much welcome President Karzai`s announcement of the third group of areas to begin transition. This means that 75 per cent of the Afghan people live in areas where Afghan forces will be moving into the lead," Obama added.

He said today they will decide the next phase of the transition, the next milestone. "We`ll set a goal for Afghan forces to take the lead for combat operations across the country in 2013, next year, so that ISAF can move to a supporting role. This role will be another step toward Afghans taking full lead for their security, as agreed to, by 2014 when the ISAF combat mission will end," Obama said.