By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said yesterday that the United States had reached agreements to open "additional logistical routes into Afghanistan" through its Central Asian neighbors to the north, reducing dependence on Pakistan as the main transit route for supplies to U.S. and NATO troops.
Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command, spoke to reporters in Pakistan before heading to Afghanistan, his last stop on a six-nation tour of the region. He is due in Washington today to attend a national security meeting this afternoon with President Obama.
The White House meeting will mark Obama's first formal engagement with the most immediate foreign policy issues he faces, including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, are expected to attend, along with Hillary Rodham Clinton, assuming the Senate, which yesterday delayed a vote on her nomination as secretary of state, votes to confirm her today.
Petraeus, whose command stretches from the Mediterranean to Pakistan's border with India, will provide an update on the region and his trip. Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, will join at least part of the meeting via live videoconference. Their participation leaves open the question of whether Obama will follow former president George W. Bush's practice of consulting directly with military commanders in the field -- Petraeus in particular -- rather than following the formal chain of command through Gates, with Mullen as the president's chief military adviser.
Obama is expected to name former senator George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) as his special envoy to the Middle East. He has promised quick and emphatic presidential involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, but advisers are hesitant to upset a fragile cease-fire begun by Israeli and Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip over the weekend, as well as delicate, ongoing initiatives by Egypt and European governments.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in Egypt for a summit designed to seal the Gaza cease-fire, told reporters on his way back to Paris that the truce should be used as a stepping stone to a wider Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and that he hoped to host a broad international conference in Paris "in a matter of weeks" to launch a new round of negotiations. French diplomatic sources expressed hope that the Obama administration will be willing to play a major role in that effort, once Israel selects new leaders in elections next month.
About three-quarters of "nonlethal" supplies for the 64,000-strong U.S. and NATO force in Afghanistan -- food, fuel, construction materials and other goods -- travel by road from the Pakistani port of Karachi and across the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border through the Khyber Pass. Pakistani transit convoys have repeatedly been attacked in recent months by Taliban fighters.
During an eight-day trip, Petraeus stopped in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan. "There have been agreements reached" over new transit routes, he said, although he offered no specifics. One possible route includes train and truck convoys through Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Correspondent Edward Cody in Paris contributed to this report.