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Pakistan 'reopening supply lines'

Pakistan is reopening supply lines into Afghanistan after the US issued an apology for the November killing of 24 Pakistani troops in a Nato airstrike, the Obama administration said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she told Pakistan's foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar in a telephone conversation that the US is "sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military".

She said both sides acknowledged mistakes that resulted in deaths. The incident badly damaged already strained relations between the two countries and forced the US and its allies to send supplies via costlier northern routes into Afghanistan.

Mrs Clinton said Ms Khar informed her that the Pakistani-Afghan supply lines are opening. She said Pakistan will not charge any transit fee, the subject of an earlier negotiation.

"We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military," Mrs Clinton said in a statement, recounting her discussion with Ms Khar. "I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives."

It is the first time any US official has formally apologised for the deaths, a step hotly debated within the Obama administration and one demanded by Pakistan while its supply routes remained closed for seven months. It came as key Pakistani civilian and military leaders were meeting this evening in Islamabad to discuss whether to reopen Nato supply routes.

Mrs Clinton said a decision had been reached.

"I am pleased that Foreign Minister Khar has informed me that the ground supply lines into Afghanistan are opening," Mrs Clinton said. She said Pakistan will not charge any transit fee, the subject of an earlier negotiation, and that the reopening would help the US draw down its war in Afghanistan "at a much lower cost".

"This is a tangible demonstration of Pakistan's support for a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan and our shared objectives in the region," she said, calling the agreement "critically important to the men and women who are fighting terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan".

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta also welcomed Pakistan's decision. "As I have made clear, we remain committed to improving our partnership with Pakistan and to working closely together as our two nations confront common security challenges in the region," he said.

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