|Rezaul H Laskar,
Islamabad, May 15 - Pakistan's top civil and military leadership today endorsed President Asif Ali Zardari's participation in a crucial NATO Summit in Chicago and directed officials to conclude negotiations with the US on ending a nearly six-month blockade of supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan.
The Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC), the country's highest decision-making body on security issues, welcomed the NATO Secretary General's "unconditional invitation" to the President to attend the summit to be held during May 20-21.
"The DCC fully endorsed the visit of the President for the summit," said an official statement.
The meeting of the DCC, which was chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, "authorised officers of relevant ministries (and) departments to conclude the ongoing negotiations on the new terms and conditions for resumption of Ground Lines of Communications" or NATO supply routes, the statement said.
These negotiations should be conducted on the basis of recommendations adopted during a joint session of parliament that reviewed Pakistan-US ties, the DCC decided.
The new terms and conditions for reopening the supply routes "should incorporate a clause, as recommended by parliament, to the effect that only non-lethal cargo would be allowed to transit through Pakistan to Afghanistan", the statement said.
Pakistan closed the supply routes after a cross-border NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
Islamabad and Washington have struggled to put their relationship on an even keel since then, largely due to Pakistan's insistence on an unconditional apology for the NATO attack.
Senior American leaders have expressed regret for the NATO attack but stopped short of offering a formal apology.
Western leaders also linked Pakistan's participation in the summit in Chicago to the reopening of the NATO supply routes.
The meeting of the DCC was attended by the Defence, Interior, Foreign and Information Ministers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the three service chiefs and the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
The DCC also reviewed Pakistan's cooperation in security and stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan by the world community.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said all government departments had been directed to conclude the ongoing negotiations for reopening the NATO supply routes "as soon as possible".
"As far as the supply of weapons is concerned, the parliamentary resolution is already there and it has clear instructions (on this issue). As far as terms and conditions and rates (for NATO supplies) are concerned, talks are underway and it was decided today that they should be concluded soon," Kaira said.
The DCC further decided that Pakistani military authorities should "negotiate fresh border ground rules" with NATO and the International Security Assistance Force to ensure that incidents like the NATO air strike do not recur, the statement said.
The committee decided that the Foreign Ministry "would continue to remain engaged with the government of the US on other parliamentary recommendations", including the issue of an apology for the NATO attack and cessation of US drone attacks.
The DCC also discussed parliament's "call for expulsion of foreign fighters, if found, on the Pakistani side", the statement said. PTI