The Cable

Levin and McCain: Don’t pay Pakistan exorbitant trucking fees

The United States should not pay upwards of $5,000 for each truck Pakistan lets through to Afghanistan to aid the war effort, both leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee told The Cable today.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met at this weekend's NATO summit in Chicago and President Barack Obama met with Zardari in a three-way exchange with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But the United States and Pakistan were not able to finalize the details of a deal to reopen the ground lines of communication through which the U.S. sends goods to troops in Afghanistan. Those supply lines have been closed since ISAF forces accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in two border outposts last November and refused to apologize for it.

One American official told the New York Times that Pakistan wants "upwards of $5,000" for each truck that crosses through its territory, whereas the fee paid by the United States before last November was about $250 per truck.

"I think that's called extortion," Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) told The Cable Tuesday. "We can't look at aid in that light. It's now becoming a matter of principle."

Senate Armed Services Committee head Carl Levin (D-MI) told The Cable there's no way the United States should pay Pakistan fees anywhere near that level.

"Whatever the cost of the security has been, we ought to continue whatever level of support that was. This looks to me to be totally inappropriate," he said.

Levin's committee is working on the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill this week behind closed doors. That bill could contain new restrictions on U.S. aid to Pakistan.

UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed new restrictions on aid to Pakistan in their mark up of the fiscal 2013 State and foreign ops appropriations bill. The bill would withhold all counterinsurgency funds for Pakistan until the Pakistani government reopens the cargo supply lines to Afghanistan.

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The Cable

Crocker stepping down for health reasons

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker will leave his post due to health concerns, the State Department confirmed today.

"Today, Ambassador Ryan Crocker confirmed to the Afghan Government, U.S. Mission Afghanistan, and the ISAF community that he intends to depart his post for health reasons in mid-summer, following the Kabul and Tokyo conferences," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "Ambassador Crocker's tenure has been marked by enormous achievements: the Bonn Conference, the conclusion of the Strategic Partnership Agreement, and the two Memoranda of Understanding on detentions and special operations, and the Chicago NATO Summit."

The Tokyo conference on Afghanistan is scheduled to take place in July.

Crocker came out of retirement in January 2011 to take up the Kabul envoy post. From 2009 until 2011 he was dean of the George Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University. Previously, he was the top U.S. official in Kabul following the fall of the Taliban and reopened the U.S. Embassy there in 2003.

Two State Department officials also confirmed to The Cable that Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman will step down soon to become the U.N.'s under secretary for political affairs, replacing Lynn Pascoe. That was first reported in March by the U.N. blog Inner City Press, and was reported again by Reuters Monday.

At the U.N., Feltman will be in charge of coordinating that body's response to crises in the Middle East, among other places. There is no word on Feltman's replacement, but we're told by an administration source that State is considering bringing in someone to temporarily fill in for Feltman in the assistant secretary role.