By Jill Dougherty and Mike Mount
The United States' refusal to apologize for a 2011 military strike that killed two dozen Pakistani troops continues to hold up any final agreement to open transit routes into Afghanistan, a senior Pakistani diplomat tells CNN.
The official described the talks as being in hiatus after U.S. negotiators left the country this week following nearly two months of talks over reopening land routes from Pakistan into Afghanistan that have been used to carry supplies for the war.
The official spoke on background because of the sensitivity of the issue.
U.S. officials had indicated the main sticking point was the significantly increased fees Pakistan was demanding.
"It's not about money," the Pakistan official said.
The official said the killings are an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan, especially during an election year, and the parliament was demanding an official apology. For President Barack Obama, apologizing for something the United States believes was not intentional also could be politically sensitive.
The Pakistani official said the demand was not that President Obama himself necessarily apologize; a gesture from the administration of an apology by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be acceptable. Senior U.S. officials have expressed regret for the killings and have issued condolences.
On Wednesday during a Senate hearing, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, why the United States has not issued an apology if it would allow Pakistan to open the roads used to ship NATO equipment in and out of Afghanistan through Pakistan.
"This is an issue that's still under negotiation, there are discussions that continue with regards to how we'll resolve this and the issue you discussed is one of those areas," Panetta said.
"We expressed the condolences for the mistakes we made, and we've made that clear and we certainly have continued to make clear the mistakes that were made. I think the problem is that at this point they're asking not only for that, but there are other elements to the negotiation that are also involved that have to be resolved," he continued.
On Tuesday during a briefing for Pentagon reporters, Panetta's spokesman, George Little, was asked whether a lack of apology was holding up the negotiations.
"We have made it clear that we have taken responsibility for the mistakes we made with respect to the November 25, 26 border incident, and I would repeat that sense of regret that we have about this incident," he said.
"It's time, we believe, to move forward in the relationship with Pakistan. We do have that opportunity. This relationship is not where it needs to be right now. We all understand that," Little said.
Talks between NATO and Pakistan have been ongoing for several weeks to reopen the lines closed since a November 2011 mistaken attack on Pakistani troops by NATO forces. The attack killed 24 Pakistani troops along the border with Afghanistan.
The NATO alliance in Afghanistan began using a northern distribution route almost immediately after Pakistan closed its borders to supplies coming in and equipment and material leaving Afghanistan.
The northern passageway, however, costs considerably more - more than double what the United States and NATO had been paying Pakistan. Costs for the Pakistani route range from approximately $250 per truck, while trucks passing through the northern route can cost more than $1,200 per truck.
During the negotiations with Pakistan, U.S. and NATO officials said Pakistan wanted to raise its transit rates to as much as $5,000 per truck, something the United States said it would not pay.
During the Wednesday Senate hearing, Panetta said the use of the northern route costs the United States more than $100 million per month.