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US halts talks with Pakistan on supply routes. Could ties get any worse?

A US negotiating team will leave Pakistan without an agreement on the routes, the Pentagon says. Both sides stand to gain from a deal, but 'the over-all crisis in the relationship won out.'

By Staff writer / June 11, 2012

Oil tankers, which were used to transport NATO fuel supplies to neighboring Afghanistan, are parked in a compound in Karachi, Pakistan, Monday, June 11.

Shakil Adil/AP

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Washington

The Obama administration has called off negotiations with Pakistan aimed at reopening supply routes for the war in Afghanistan, baring the depths to which US-Pakistan relations have plunged in recent months.

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The Pentagon announced Monday that the US negotiating team that had been locked in discussions with Pakistani officials for months would leave the country without securing a deal. The announcement left some experts in US-Pakistan relations comparing the new low point in relations to 1989, when the US cut off aid to Pakistan over its unveiling of a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

“There are always peaks and valleys in any diplomatic relations, but in US-Pakistan relations it’s been almost all valleys for a good period of time now,” says Malou Innocent, a specialist in South Asian issues at the Cato Institute in Washington. “The question now is, how much lower can the valleys go?”

At the State Department, a spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said the US has no plans for resuming the talks, and suggested that a return to negotiations was now in Pakistan’s hands.  

Pakistan closed its borders to truck convoys supplying US and NATO troops in Afghanistan last November, after US forces launched airstrikes against a Pakistani border outpost, killing two dozen border soldiers. A deal to reopen the border seemed near as NATO leaders met at a summit in Chicago in May, but talks remained snagged on two contentious points: Pakistan’s demand that the US offer a formal apology for the November border outpost attack, and Pakistan’s demand that the US pay considerably higher fees for each of the thousands of trucks carrying supplies into Afghanistan.

The United States refused to go beyond the “regret” President Obama expressed over the botched border attack, and it balked at the significantly higher truck fees Pakistan sought, with some officials calling the demand “blackmail.”

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