WASHINGTON — The United States, which has been dragging its feet in tendering an apology to Pakistan over the Nov 26 cross-border NATO attack killing 24 Pakistani soldiers, now appears to be ready to do so, according to an American media report.An indication for the apology came as Washington outlined plans for the visit to Pakistan later this month of General James Mattis, commander of US Central Command, in what was called an important step in healing the rift between the two nations.The New York Times reported Tuesday that the State Department is supporting a proposal circulating in the Obama administration for the US to issue a formal apology for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers.“We’ve felt an apology would be helpful in creating some space,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed American official as saying. The official, according to the Times, has been briefed on the State Department’s view and spoke on condition of anonymity as internal discussions continued.The Times cited Pakistani officials as saying that they will probably reopen NATO supply lines running through their territory, which have been closed for more than two months. Soon after the lethal airstrike, the White House decided that President Barack Obama would not offer formal condolences to Pakistan, overruling State Department officials who argued for such a show of remorse to help salvage relations, the Times pointed out. Pentagon officials had balked, saying the statements from other American officials had been sufficient. Some administration aides said at the time that they worried that if Obama decided to overrule the military and apologise to Pakistan, it could become ammunition for his Republican opponents in the presidential campaign.A State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, would not comment on the proposal.American election politics are also on the minds of Pakistani strategists, the Times said in its report written jointly by its correspondent in Washington and Islamabad. A senior security official in Islamabad, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak publicly on the issue, said the military was cognizant of Obama’s domestic political constraints, and noted that Pakistan may also have elections this year, probably in the fall.“Unfortunately there is election fever on both sides of the divide this year,” the official said. “That limits the room for manoeuvre.”During his upcoming visit, Gen Mattis will meet Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistan Army Chief of Staff, to discuss the investigations of the NATO attack, as well as new border coordination procedures to prevent a recurrence of the episode.Mattis’s visit, the first by a high-ranking American official since the November confrontation was to have begun Thursday, but has been postponed by at least a week pending what is expected to be a spirited debate in the Pakistan’s Parliament over a new security policy toward the United States, the Times said.Pakistani and American officials are quietly optimistic that both events will trigger a chain of public engagements and private negotiations that will reboot the two nations’ frayed strategic relationship, although along more narrowly defined lines than before, the report said.American officials in Washington said the thaw had already started, unofficially. Relations between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, had slowly improved since the nadir after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May, they said.Intelligence officials from the two countries have resumed discussions about ‘joint targeting’, officials here added — probably a reference to CIA-directed drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt, the Times said. On the military side, Pakistan’s generals had started discussions over border coordination and the resumption of Coalition Support Funds, the main United States subsidy to Pakistani military operations.An unnamed senior Pakistani security official also struck a cautiously positive note, the report said. “We have to meet, we have to talk, we have to bring this relationship back on track,” he was quoted as saying. “Both of us need each other. But from now on there will be no free rides, no carte blanche — things need to be institutionalised.”The starting point for the new relationship is expected to be General Mattis’s visit, the stated purpose of which is to formally present to Pakistan the Central Command’s findings in the Nov 26 incident. General Mattis will try to learn what is possible in the relationship regarding training, arms sales and improving border coordination centres, the newspaper said. Depending on how the visit goes, other American officials, including Marc Grossman, the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, could follow.Pakistani officials say they will soon reopen the NATO supply route to Afghanistan, although they will seek an unspecified tariff on all goods passing through. American officials say they are open to paying, but point out that the alternative northern supply route into Afghanistan, through Central Asia, has picked up much of the slack in recent months.The crisis has also altered the CIA-led drone programme. In December, Pakistan expelled all Americans from Shamsi base, which had been used by the CIA to launch drone strikes against militant targets in the tribal belt along the Afghan border. But the drone strikes have continued, from bases in southern Afghanistan