Hagel warns Pakistan leaders over border protests

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (right) speaks during a meeting with Afghan military leaders in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Sunday, Dec 8, 2013. Mr Hagel warned Pakistani leaders on Monday, Dec 9, 2013, that if they do not resolve protests stal
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (right) speaks during a meeting with Afghan military leaders in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Sunday, Dec 8, 2013. Mr Hagel warned Pakistani leaders on Monday, Dec 9, 2013, that if they do not resolve protests stalling some military shipments across the border with Afghanistan, it could be difficult to maintain political support in Washington for an aid programme that has sent billions of dollars to Islamabad, defence officials said. -- PHOTO: AP

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Pakistani leaders on Monday that if they do not resolve protests stalling some military shipments across the border with Afghanistan, it could be difficult to maintain political support in Washington for an aid programme that has sent billions of dollars to Islamabad, defence officials said.

In response, the officials said, Hagel received assurances from the Pakistanis that they would take "immediate action" to resolve the shipment problem. The officials did not provide details on how that might be done.

Just last week, anti-American protests along one of the primary border crossing routes in Pakistan prompted the US to stop the shipments from Torkham Gate through Karachi last week, due to worries about the safety of the truckers. The protests centre on the CIA's drone programme that has targeted and killed many terrorists, but has caused civilian casualties.

The defence officials said Hagel described a political reality on Capitol Hill that could complicate support for the billions of dollars of aid Pakistan now receives. It was Hagel's intent to try and pre-empt any problems with the aid, said the officials who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the private meetings publicly on the record.

Hagel had back-to-back meetings on Monday with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the new army chief, General Tahaeel Sharif, in a move to further repair what has been a strained and sputtering relationship between Washington and Islamabad. Defence officials said Hagel is first high ranking US official to meet with the Army chief, who took over at the end of last month.

After leaving Islamabad, he flew to Saudi Arabia where he is meeting with Crown Prince Salman.

During the Pakistan meetings some of the more contentious issues also were raised, including Islamabad's opposition to ongoing CIA drone strikes and Washington's frustration with Pakistan's reluctance to go after the Haqqani terrorist network, which operates along the border and conducts attacks on US and coalition troops in Afghanistan. The officials acknowledged that little progress was made other than to agree to continue talking.