Islamabad: President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday left for Chicago to attend a crucial NATO Summit that will focus on the Afghan war though army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was not part of his delegation.

Zardari left for the US shortly after midnight to attend the NATO Summit in Chicago during May 20-21.

Pakistani officials have said Zardari was extended an unconditional invitation by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen though analysts believe the move was linked to Islamabad's decision to move towards reopening the supply routes.

Kayani's decision not to attend the summit triggered speculation in diplomatic circles in Islamabad.

In a move influenced by the army's desire to distance itself from any move to reopen the NATO supply routes, Kayani decided to stay away from the summit in Chicago, The Express Tribune quoted its sources as saying.

"General Kayani was considering attending the summit but he eventually decided against it," an unnamed official told the daily. The official did not cite any specific reasons behind Kayani's decision.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar too confirmed Kayani was not travelling to Chicago as part of Zardari's entourage.

Zardari will address the expanded International Security Assistance Force meeting of NATO and meet various heads of state and government on the margins of the summit.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jillani are part of the President's team.

Meanwhile, Pakistani and American officials continued hectic negotiations on a deal to reopen the NATO supply routes, which were closed in November last year after a cross border air strike by US-led forces that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Efforts to reopen the supply lines were held up by Pakistan's insistence on an unconditional apology and an end to US drone strikes.

Diplomatic sources said that the deal on the supply routes hinged on negotiations on some crucial issues, including the fee to be paid to Pakistan for every NATO container and tanker passing through its territory and security for supply convoys.

Though reports in the Western media have said Pakistan has demanded between USD 1,500 and USD 5,000 for every container, the sources, who were familiar with the negotiations, said the US would be agree to pay about USD 500 to USD 700 for every container.

Some reports have suggested that a levy of about USD 1,500 per container would increase the cost of the US-led war effort in Afghanistan by about a million dollars a day or USD 365 million a year.

The sources said a deal is expected to be finalised soon so that the supply routes can be reopened next week.

Talking to reporters in Lahore, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said his government had not yet "reached a final decision" on reopening the supply lines.

However, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet and the federal cabinet had and endorsed President Zardari's participation in the NATO Summit, he said.


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