U.S. President Barack Obama, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (Pete Souza/White …
President Barack Obama spoke briefly with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of a NATO summit as the uneasy allies looked to drain the poison from their wounded relations. Obama said he would not "paper over" tensions hampering efforts to negotiate a reopening of supply routes through Pakistan to NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.
"We're actually making diligent progress on it," Obama said at a press conference wrapping up the two-day gathering in his hometown of Chicago. Pakistan shut the supply lines after a November 2011 incident in which a U.S. airstrike on Pakistani soil killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
"I don't want to paper over real challenges there," he said. "There's no doubt that there have been tensions between ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and Pakistan, the United States and Pakistan over the last several months. I think they are being worked through."
Relations with Pakistan have been rocky -- or worse -- since the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad. American officials have suggested that some Pakistani government officials must have known that he was hiding there.
"But ultimately it is in our interest to see a successful, stable Pakistan. And it is in Pakistan's interests to work with us and the world community to ensure that they themselves are not consumed by extremism," Obama said, vowing: "We're going to keep on going at this."
"Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan," the president said. Unless they can work together, "neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability and prosperity that it needs."
"We share a common enemy in the extremists that are found not only in Afghanistan, but also within Pakistan, and that we need to work through some of the tensions that have inevitably arisen after ten years of our military presence in that region," Obama said. "President Zardari shared with me his belief that these issues can get worked through."
NATO invited Zardari to the summit at the last minute amid signs that Pakistan could soon reopen the ground supply lines. Obama said he knew before coming to Chicago that a deal would not be sealed here.
American and NATO officials say the closure of the routes has not hurt the alliance's war on the Taliban, but that they would be crucial to the plan to withdraw the ISAF's 130,000 troops by the end of 2014.
"So far, the closure of the transit routes have not had a major impact on our operations in Afghanistan," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters.
"But it goes without saying that it will be quite a logistical challenge to draw down the number of troops in the coming months and years," Rasmussen said. "So we need a number of transit routes, and obviously the transit routes through Pakistan are of great importance, and I would expect a reopening of the transit routes in the very near future."
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