By Mike Mount and Elise Labott
Talks between the United States and Pakistan are intensifying in part in an effort to get Pakistan to decide to reopen its border, allowing war supplies to flow into Afghanistan, ahead of the NATO meeting in Chicago next week.
It is unclear if the negotiations will be finished in the coming days, two senior U.S. officials said, and they questioned whether enough progress was being made on reopening the supply routes for the administration to issue an invitation to President Asif Ali Zardari to attend a major NATO summit, also in Chicago, this weekend.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan met Saturday in Islamabad with the head of Pakistan's Army to try to improve border coordination between the two countries, six months after a U.S. military airstrike mistakenly killed 24 Pakistan soldiers near the Afghan-Pakistan border.
One of the key conversations between Gen. John Allen and Pakistani Gen. Ashfaq Kayani was a discussion to reopen the main supply routes through Pakistan into Afghanistan that bring in NATO and U.S. military equipment, according to U.S. military officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the meetings.
The routes were closed last November by Pakistan in retaliation for the accidental U.S. attack. Since the route closures, the United States has been pressuring Pakistan to reopen them, to no avail.
"In almost every Afghanistan discussion with Pakistan, the U.S. will ask about reopening the supply routes," according to a U.S. military official.
A team of four to five U.S. officials arrived in late April and have been negotiating with the Pakistanis. Officials have been tight-lipped on how the discussions are going but said they will continue this week.
Officials said the two commanders also discussed improving tactical coordination across the border and Allen was encouraged that the Pakistanis have agreed to pursue operations in the future, something that could prevent more accidents like the one in November as well as tightening passages used by insurgents to cross between Afghanistan into the lawless areas of western Pakistan.
Allen said he was "very encouraged" by the weekend conversations on how the United States and Pakistan "could make Afghanistan more secure by supporting each other for a safe and secure border," according to Allen's spokesman, Brig. Gen Stephen Twitty.
One topic that was not brought up was U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan's tribal region and along the border with Afghanistan, a politically sensitive issue with the Pakistani government.
"Gen. Allen and Gen. Kayani made sure to keep the focus on border issues," Twitty said.