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U.S. apology for NATO strike not good enough, says Pakistan foreign minister

By Reza Sayah, CNN
updated 10:49 AM EDT, Mon March 26, 2012
  • Deadly airstrike forced complete review of Pakistan's relations with U.S., foreign minister says
  • Parliamentary debate this week could mend relations, restore trust, says Hina Rabbani Khar
  • She says Pakistan is prepared to play crucial role in Afghan peace talks
  • She rejects claims that Pakistan has ties to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's foreign minister says an apology by the U.S. government for the NATO airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers would not satisfy the Pakistani government, and the attack demanded a reassessment of Islamabad's partnership with the United States.

"The incident was grave enough for an apology not to be good enough," said Foreign Minster Hina Rabbani Khar in a wide-ranging interview with CNN at her home in Islamabad.

"This did require a complete relook at the terms of engagement with the United States of America."

In November, U.S.-Pakistan relations plunged to an all-time low when NATO fighter jets attacked a Pakistani checkpoint near the Afghan border, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. The U.S. government expressed regret over the incident but has yet to issue a direct apology.

The NATO airstrike was the latest in a string of incidents that increased tensions between Islamabad and Washington, including the killing of two Pakistani men by a CIA contractor and the U.S. decision to raid Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan without notifying Pakistani authorities.

But it was the NATO airstrike that put some of the most crucial aspects of U.S.-Pakistan relations on hold.

Pakistan FM on peace with Afghanistan

Soon after the incident, Islamabad boycotted a conference on the Afghan peace process in Germany and shut down supply routes used to transport NATO supplies from Pakistan's port city of Karachi to Afghanistan.

This week Pakistani lawmakers are set to debate and vote on terms of re-engagement with Washington. The conditions include charging fees for NATO goods transported through Pakistan, an end to U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil, and an "unconditional apology" for the deadly NATO airstrike.

Khar said the new terms could help mend U.S.-Pakistan relations and restore the trust and respect that have eroded between the two countries.

"We were partners for the past 10 years. Did we get the respect that a partner deserves? A partner which has lost many lives, a partner which has had huge economic costs? I think we must look at this relationship in a more realistic, in a more pragmatic manner, rather than a philosophical manner."

Pakistan's first woman foreign minister, and the nation's youngest ever, added that Pakistan is prepared to play a "crucial supportive role" in the Afghan peace talks. Khar rejected claims that Islamabad has links to Mullah Omar and can persuade the Afghan Taliban leader to take part in the negotiations.

"If what you're trying to get out of me is if we have links to Mullah Omar or not, the answer to that is no," said Khar.

Washington and Kabul view Pakistan as a crucial player in the Afghan peace talks because of the perception that Islamabad maintains ties to the leadership of the Afghan Taliban.

"I think that the perception of what Pakistan is able to do is blown out of proportion most of the time," said Khar.

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