WASHINGTON — Pakistan agreed Tuesday to reopen Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) for NATO troops to Afghanistan after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said US was ‘sorry’ for the deaths of 24 Pakistani troops in last November’s American airstrikes at Salala, the State Department said.

“We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military,” Clinton said in a belated expression of remorse that apparently ended a 7-month-old standoff between the two countries.

In a statement, the top US diplomat recounted her discussion with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in a telephone call. “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.”

The Obama administration has so far refused to say it was sorry for the Nov 26 incident along the Pak-Afghan border.

The attack and its aftermath strained ties between the two countries, and Pakistan closed the US and NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. The closure forced the US to bring in supplies for troops by air and through more-expensive supply routes via Central Asian nations.

Pakistan had demanded an apology before agreeing to reopen the border crossings, but US officials said such a statement was unjustified. Pentagon opponents of an apology pointed to mistakes by both US and Pakistani forces during the November incident, and US officials said they also worried that an apology, however mild, could hurt President Barack Obama’s standing in an election year.

Clinton said her Pakistani counterpart Khar also assured her by phone Tuesday that Islamabad will not charge any transit fee in the ‘larger interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region’.

“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. “This will also help the United States and ISAF conduct the planned drawdown at a much lower cost”.

In her statement, Secretary Clinton said “I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November...” Clinton also took the opportunity to praise Pakistan’s massive sacrifices and contribution to the fight against terror.

 “As I told the former Prime Minister of Pakistan (Yousuf Raza Gilani) days after the Salala incident, America respects Pakistan’s sovereignty and is committed to working together in pursuit of shared objectives on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect.”

Secretary Clinton said Foreign Minister Khar and she talked about the “importance of taking coordinated action against terrorists who threaten Pakistan, the United States, and the region; of supporting Afghanistan’s security, stability, and efforts towards reconciliation; and of continuing to work together to advance the many other shared interests we have, from increasing trade and investment to strengthening our people-to-people ties.”

 “Our countries should have a relationship that is enduring, strategic, and carefully defined, and that enhances the security and prosperity of both our nations and the region,” she added.

“Foreign Minister Khar has informed me that, consistent with current practice, no lethal equipment will transit the GLOC into Afghanistan except for equipping the ANSF. In concluding the call, I reiterated our deep appreciation to the Government and the people of Pakistan for their many sacrifices and their critical contribution to the ongoing fight against terrorism and extremism.”

AFP adds: The United States will release about $1.1 billion to Pakistan’s military as part of a deal that will see Islamabad lift a blockade on NATO supply convoys into Afghanistan, a US official said Tuesday.

The money, from a US “coalition support fund” designed to reimburse Pakistan for the cost of counter-insurgency operations, had been withheld due to tensions between the two countries and Islamabad’s closure of the supply routes.

The $1.1 billion that will be freed up under the border deal does not include large sums that Pakistan says it is owed, said the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “This is the amount that has been approved and already gone through the process,” the US official told AFP.