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US officials agonize over apology to Pakistan for November soldier deaths

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December 8, 2011: The Pakistan flag waves in the foreground as protesters hold placards during a rally in support of Pakistan army in Islamabad.Reuters

For nearly six months after U.S.-led forces accidentally killed two dozen Pakistani troops at the Afghanistan border, officials at the highest reaches of the Obama administration have been locked in a heated debate over what might appear to be a small step -- apologizing for the loss.

The U.S. had expressed "regret" for the Nov. 26 deaths. But whether to publicly apologize, at the risk of appearing weak to Pakistan or American voters, was argued in dozens of video conference calls, nearly 20 high-level White House meetings and hundreds of confidential emails.

The administration came to the brink of saying sorry several times. One mission to deliver an apology by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was aborted mid-flight.

Pakistan has kept closed an important supply route for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, with the delay extracting a steep price that U.S. officials say will only go up. Islamabad this week indicated that it would reopen the supply route in return for up to a 30-fold increase in the passage fees, officials said. The U.S. last year moved 35,000 shipping containers through Pakistan, paying the country nearly $200 in fees for each, congressional officials said.

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