French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said in an interview with "L'Orient-Le Jour" that using the route through Uzbekistan to withdraw NATO troops from Afghanistan was too costly.
Longuet did not say how much the cost was to use the route through Uzbekistan, the last leg of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) that runs from Europe to Afghanistan.
Recent reports have claimed the United States is paying Central Asian governments some $500 million annually to use the route. Estimates are that some 75 percent of nonlethal military cargo headed for Afghanistan now transits the NDN and most of that enters Afghanistan from Uzbekistan.
Longuet said the route was "not optimal" for withdrawing NATO forces but conceded the better option -- via Pakistan -- was currently more complicated due to "spoiled relations" between NATO countries, particularly the U.S., and the Pakistani government.
That chill in ties followed a November 26 NATO air strike that hit Pakistani troops on Pakistan's side of the Afghan border, killing 26 soldiers.
Pakistani authorities responded by closing the land route used by NATO forces going into Afghanistan and ordering a U.S. drone base in Pakistan closed.
Even prior to the attack on Pakistani forces, NATO was already shipping more of its cargo via the NDN. NATO invited the Turkmen and Uzbek presidents to the alliance's summit in Bucharest in April 2008 to discuss passage into Afghanistan as supply routes through Pakistan's tribal areas increasingly came under attack by militants. That NATO meeting laid the foundations for the NDN.
NATO countries intend to complete the drawdown of their forces in Afghanistan by 2014. With Pakistani routes at best insecure, NATO, as Longuet said, sees NDN as the way out of Afghanistan for its troops and equipment. Longuet said negotiations for an exit route are currently under way with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
The NDN begins in Latvia then goes to Russia, Kazakhstan, and into Uzbekistan. NATO also uses an air base in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and the U.S. uses the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan.
Compiled from agency reports