Obama snubs Pak over NATO supply routes

Washington: In a clear snub to Pakistan, US President Barack Obama left off the country from a list of nations he thanked for getting war supplies into Afghanistan, signalling a deepening rift between the two nations.

"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 remarks at the NATO Summit.

Obama`s cold shoulder to Pakistan came despite President Asif Ali Zardari occupying a seat on the round table along with his Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar at the summit. The unmistakable snub came after Obama refused to take out time during the two-day summit in his hometown to see Zardari for a face-to-face bilateral meeting. Pakistan is not a NATO member but was invited to the summit because of its influence in Afghanistan and providing land supply routes to allied forces in that country.

The last minute invitation to Zardari to join the Chicago talks was a sign of US hopes that the rift had heeled. The US President stressed that the only exchange he had with his Pakistani counterpart was short, "very brief, as we were walking into the summit," US media reports said. In an apparent reference to Pakistan, the American President said he "did not want to paper over the cracks" and that there have been tensions between the US-led international force in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last few months.

But ultimately, it was in US interest to have a stable Pakistan, he said adding that it was in the interest of Pakistan to work with America to ensure it is not consumed by extremists. The omission of Pakistan, media reports said, pointed to a prolonged slump in US relations with Pakistan that clouded the NATO summit in Chicago, which broke up without a deal on Afghanistan supply roots.

Islamabad`s ties with Washington plunged to a new low after the NATO air strike on two border posts killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November last year. The two sides have been unable to put their relations on an even keel due to Pakistan`s insistence on an apology and a demand to end US drone strikes. British Prime Minister David Cameron also reflected London`s irritation with Islamabad as he described the blocked roots as "frustrating".

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta also held a meeting at the summit with senior ministers from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which support bases for alternative supply routes to Afghanistan. Panetta expressed his "deep appreciation" for their support.