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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pakistani president to attend NATO summit on Afghanistan

President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan will attend the NATO summit meeting about Afghanistan in Chicago this weekend, his office said in a statement Thursday. NATO had invited Zardari to the conference on Tuesday, just days after the organization's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, had suggested that the neighbor of Afghanistan would not be included because of the continued closure of Pakistan's border with Afghanistan to war supplies. The decision to attend the meeting was made in consultation with Pakistan's top military and civilian leaders, the statement from Zardari's office said. Tensions between Pakistan and Western forces operating in Afghanistan have been high since NATO airstrikes killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers in November. The closure of the border with Afghanistan to NATO supply routes was one of the measures Islamabad employed to show its displeasure over the airstrikes. Talks to reopen the border have intensified ahead of the Chicago meetings. U.S. negotiators have been in Pakistan since late April, and this past weekend, Gen. John Allen, who oversees all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and his Afghan counterpart were in Pakistan for discussions that included talks about the border situation. Analysts have described the NATO summit invitation as an incentive for Zardari to reopen the routes. But Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Zardari, said Tuesday that the invitation to the meeting was unconditional and was not linked to the opening of ground lines of communication for NATO or to any other issue. Senior Pakistani military and civilian officials met in Islamabad Tuesday evening but did not come up with a recommendation on lifting the blockade on the two NATO supply routes through Pakistan. The summit meeting will include Afghan President Hamid Karzai, along with NATO allies and International Security Assistance Force contributors. There also will be representatives from Russia, Japan and key international organizations including the United Nations and European Union. Zardari will make a speech in Chicago and also meet with various international leaders on the margins of the summit, his office said Thursday. A senior official with the Obama administration had stressed earlier in the week that the invitation to Pakistan was from NATO and that it was not clear if President Obama would meet with Zardari. "It doesn't necessarily impact what we do with the Pakistanis" at the summit, the official said. Obama met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in March during a nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea

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