US puts supply route talks with Pakistan on hold

A Pakistani man, right, paints an oil tanker, which was used to transport NATO fuel supplies to Afghanistan
Image caption The talks had been aimed at re-opening routes which oil tankers used to supply Nato troops

The US has temporarily pulled out of talks with Pakistan over re-opening vital supply routes to the Nato-led forces in Afghanistan.

"The decision was reached to bring the team home for a short period of time," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

Pakistan said the talks had not broken down - they were "still on".

Islamabad shut a Nato supply route in November after a Nato air strike near the Afghan-Pakistani border which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Part of the US team left Islamabad over the weekend, and the rest will return to the US shortly, Mr Little said.

Mr Little told reporters the team were prepared to return at short notice.

Washington has stopped short of an official apology for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers.

Pakistan's demand for $5,000 for each truck has also been a sticking point.

The closure of the route left thousands of tankers bound for Afghanistan stranded in Pakistan.

Strained friendship

Pakistani foreign office spokesman Mumazam Khan told the BBC Urdu Service the talks were still on and it was "wrong to say that they have been broken down".

Mumazam Khan said that some members of the US team were involved in the technical aspects of the negotiations and they have been called back after they had given their input.

He said that the negotiation were going on at various levels and at some level these were still on.

Nato has been forced to switch to alternative supply routes to Afghanistan through Central Asia, the Caucasus and Russia.

Last week Nato signed deals with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to use their territory for evacuating vehicles and military equipment from Afghanistan ahead of the drawdown of operations there.

Nato has signalled its intention to complete its mission in Afghanistan before the end of 2014.

The US is hoping the use of these routes will force Islamabad to agree to a deal.

However, the alternative routes known as the "northern distribution network" cost even more and Pakistani officials are convinced the US will eventually agree to Pakistan's terms, the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington reports.

The talks started seven weeks ago but have taken place against the background of increased tensions between the two countries in recent months.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta warned last week that the US was "reaching the limits of our patience" with Pakistan.

US officials accuse Pakistan of providing safe havens for militants active in Afghanistan, which Islamabad denies.

Relations were also strained by the killing by US forces of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil in May last year, which many Pakistanis viewed as a violation of sovereignty.