Washington: The White House has ruled out an apology to Islamabad for 26 November incident in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a NATO cross border fire and said it is time that the two countries move ahead, two days after such a demand was made Pakistan People’s Party leader Bilawal Bhutto.
“I wouldn’t have anything new to offer on that beyond what we have said, which we deeply regret the incident. We have thoroughly investigated it. We shared the results of the that investigation with the Pakistanis,” Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor, told foreign journalists when asked about his reaction in Bhutto’s demand.
“We believe there’s a basis for us to move forward and move beyond that particular incident, to take steps to make sure that that doesn’t happen again, to be respectful of Pakistani sovereignty and to be in, frankly, better communication in that areas so that we don’t see repeated incidents on the border,” he said at a conference at Foreign Press Center here.
Responding to another question, Rhodes said a bilateral meeting between US President Barack Obama and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari was never planned on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Chicago.
“On the matter of a bilateral meeting, the president didn’t host any formal bilateral meetings except for the one with President Karzai, given the fact that there was a very busy NATO summit schedule. So it was always our intention to really focus his time on these multilateral meetings,” he said.
He said that the meeting with President Karzai was a priority as Afghanistan was the focus of the summit.
President Obama was able to meet on the margins of the meetings with a handful of leaders that included President Zardari, he added.
“They met twice around the margins of the ISAF session. These weren’t extensive talks. They were rather brief. But one of them was a one-on-one between President Obama and President Zardari, and the other one was a trilateral discussion amongst President Obama, President Zardari and President Karzai,” Rhodes said.
He said, in their conversations with Pakistan including the president’s conversations, the US has reaffirmed a commitment to work to reset US-Pakistan relationship. There’s obviously been a period of tension for a variety of reasons.
“We have also been respectful of the process that’s been under way in Pakistan since November that led into the parliamentary review of the bilateral relationship. So we certainly wanted to see that process concluded,” he said.
“Since that process concluded, we started to talk at the working level about how to cooperate more effectively on a range of areas, and that includes counterterrorism, that includes supporting a stable Afghanistan and a stable South Asia more broadly. That also includes deepening economic ties between our two countries,” he said.
“As he did with Prime Minister (Yousuf Raza) Gilani in Seoul, President Obama communicated to President Zardari a commitment to move forward with a reset of our relationship on those topics. The supply lines came up in that context.
“I think the view of our government is that we are committed to seeing these supply lines reopened. The Pakistani government has made similar statements. So we believe that both sides share the goal of seeing a reopening of those supply lines,” he said.
Rhodes said what’s happening now is a set of discussions at kind of the technical level about exactly how that can get done.
“I think both President Obama and President Zardari, their instruction and their commitment is to see that this issue can be resolved, and it’s one of the areas where we hope to move forward and more effectively with Pakistan,” he added.
The US, he said, believes that Pakistan can be a part of that process, can be a part of the solution in terms of stabilising Afghanistan in the long term.
“And so part of the reason for the three leaders to have those discussions was to try to continue to jump-start that initiative. And we hope to continue to talk to the Pakistanis about that going forward,” Rhodes said.