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U.S. pulls supply route negotiators out of Pakistan

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The United States has withdrawn negotiators from Pakistan after talks failed to produce an agreement on reopening NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Monday.

“The decision was reached to bring the team home for a short period of time,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.

The team of negotiators had been in Pakistan for about six weeks, he said, as U.S. officials had believed they were close to a deal with Islamabad to lift the blockade on NATO convoys.

But no breakthrough was imminent and there was no scheduled time for a resumption of the negotiations, Little said.

Pakistan shut its border to NATO supply convoys in November after a botched U.S. air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Members of the team started to leave over the weekend and the remainder of the negotiators would soon return to the United States.

The comments came after Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, refused last week to meet U.S. assistant defense secretary Peter Lavoy, who traveled to Pakistan to try to resolve the dispute.

The roads through Pakistan are a crucial logistical link for NATO as it plans a large-scale withdrawal of combat troops and equipment by the end of 2014.

But U.S. officials have so far rejected Pakistani proposals to charge steep fees of several thousand dollars for each alliance truck crossing the border.

Washington has also refused to issue an explicit apology for the lethal air raid.

The stalled negotiations also coincide with remarks last Thursday by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in which he accused Islamabad of failing to crack down on Haqqani insurgents operating inside Pakistan and attacking U.S.-led troops in neighboring Afghanistan.