You can say this for the Pentagon and the White House: When they want, they know how to keep expectations so low they can almost make a news story not a story.
On Monday, DoD Press Secretary George Little told reporters that the U.S. team that had been negotiating with Pakistan for the reopening of its ground supply routes had come home with no deal. That doesn't mean Washington is giving up, he said, but he and the rest of the government continued their shrugs over the prospects of making progress.
There have been unofficial reports, as many from Islamabad as from Washington, that the two sides were close to a deal. Yes, the Pakistanis might begin charging exorbitant rates for supply trucks, but at least the southern land routes would be open and the frenemies involved could have a nice happy story about how their relationship was on the mend.
You didn't hear any official talk like that, however, probably because no one in authority wanted to set him or herself up for the real possibility that the negotiations could collapse. Little told reporters Monday the American team working this had been in Pakistan for about six weeks before it returned home, and he did not describe how much (or little) progress it was leaving behind.
Here was context from the AP's Bob Burns:
There have been a number of sticking points in the talks to reopen the border. Pakistan has demanded an apology for the November deaths, while Washington will only go so far as to express regret for the deaths. There have also been tough negotiations over the fee that Pakistan would charge for each truck to cross its territory. Before the November attack, the cost had been $250 per truck. As of late May, Pakistan was demanding $5,000 per truck and the U.S. had countered with $500. It's unclear where that issue stood as of Monday.Again -- is anyone surprised that Pakistan is unwilling to make a deal in this climate?
Last week, Pakistani-U.S. relations hit a new low. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited India, Pakistan's archrival, and Afghanistan and in each locale openly expressed frustration with the Pakistani's government willingness to help the U.S. in the war on terror, and acknowledged aloud that "the whole idea" was to leave Pakistan in the dark about the secret raid that killed Osama bin Laden in an Army garrison town in Pakistan last year.
The basic question for Pentagon and White House leaders remains the same: Despite Washington's willingness to keep negotiating, is the reopening of the supply routes a question of when -- or if?