Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is my first visit to Turkmenistan as Secretary General of NATO, and I have been looking forward to this opportunity. Because I am keen to underline how much your country - and this entire region -- matters to the Alliance. And to discuss our many shared security interests, and the vital importance of closer cooperation between us.
NATO has been transforming itself in order to be better able to deal with what are clearly the defining security threats of this century: the scourge of terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and "failed states" causing instability in their own region and well beyond.
This transformation process has advanced well. NATO has already demonstrated not just its preparedness, but also its ability, to tackle the new challenges to our security, whenever and wherever they arise. Last year, NATO assumed command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. This year, we have expanded our role in Afghanistan - by enhancing the number of NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and helping to create a safe environment for the recent presidential elections. The election was an historic event and a critical step towards democracy in Afghanistan. NATO forces made an important contribution to the peaceful conduct of the elections in difficult circumstances, and the Alliance will remain committed to supporting Afghanistan's security and stability.
We have also enhanced our role in Iraq, by offering to help train Iraq's security forces, to assist with their equipment, as well as in other, technical areas.
While NATO is engaged in these new areas, it remains committed to the Balkans. For a decade, the Alliance has been involved in bringing peace and security to this war-torn part of Europe. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, we are about to bring our successful peace mission to an end, and continue our engagement in a different configuration to help with defence reform. In Kosovo, we will continue our peace mission to help ensure stability and security for as long as it is needed.
A key element of NATO's reorientation to address new threats is to make better use of the partnership relations that we have developed over the past decade. The new challenges to our security know no borders. Meeting these challenges, and defeating them, requires the closest possible international cooperation. And NATO is committed to such a multilateral, cooperative effort.
In addition to fostering closer relations with other institutions - such as the United Nations and the European Union - we are determined to work more closely with all our Partner countries as well. This includes stronger ties with Russia, which is a key factor in Euro-Atlantic security, and a strategic partner of the Alliance. And it includes closer cooperation with the countries of Central Asia - who may be geographically distant, but who are of vital importance in the new security environment.
This is the main reason why NATO Allies decided at their Istanbul Summit meeting in June to focus their attention and efforts to Central Asia and the Caucasus. Alliance leaders also agreed to enhance contacts between NATO and these countries in order to ensure proper implementation of this strategic policy shift. A Secretary General's Special Representative for the two regions was appointed - Mr Robert Simmons is here with me today. He will be back in the region regularly, and report directly to me on his contacts in your country and further efforts to develop our relations. In addition, a NATO liaison officer will be deployed to Central Asia, to help our Partners here to benefit in the most efficient way from NATO's cooperation and assistance programmes.
We know that the countries of Central Asia understand the new security challenges. Indeed, they are confronted with them even more directly, and more permanently, than most of the NATO Allies. We also know, and very much appreciate, that the countries in this region are interested in cooperating with NATO to deal with these new challenges.
Today, NATO Allies and Turkmenistan share a strong interest in the development of a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Afghanistan. We have regularly consulted our Partners on the security situation in the region, in the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, bringing together the 26 NATO Allies and our 20 Partner countries. I am pleased that Turkmenistan has supported the analysis and objectives of the Alliance. We highly appreciate the constructive approach Turkmenistan has shown to the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan, and I am certain that we will continue our mutually beneficial cooperation.
What is true for Afghanistan is true for the broader agenda of our relationship. Our cooperation in the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace initiative have brought us much closer. In the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council we have been able to foster a common approach to security issues, and enhance our cooperation.
I firmly believe that it is in all our interests now to build on this existing cooperation between us, and to expand it to new areas, where your own country and all the other countries of Central Asia can benefit from advice and assistance, and where NATO has valuable experience to share.
Let me also stress that NATO, first and foremost, is an Alliance about values. NATO countries share values like democracy, fundamental freedoms, human rights and the rule of law. These are values not only for the Allies but also our Partners. The more we share these fundamental values, the stronger our Partnership will be. In turn, we will stand stronger together against the threats to our security, like terrorism.
We want, through our Partnership policy, to help our Partners with reforms leading to more effective defence institutions. This includes the difficult task of bringing security services and military forces under effective democratic control, and making sure that they are appropriately sized, structured and funded to meet the requirements that are made of them in the new security environment.
We also want to help the militaries of all our Partners to become increasingly interoperable with NATO, in order to allow them to work as smoothly as possible with our own forces.
But there is a lot on offer, as well, in areas that many people would not immediately associate with NATO. Partnership projects range from disaster preparedness, to defence conversion, to scientific and technical cooperation. A good example is the Virtual Silk Highway, a NATO-sponsored project that has established Internet connectivity between the countries of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the rest of the world. NATO is also encouraging its member nations, Partner countries and other international donors to set up Partnership for Peace Trust Funds, in order to help Partner countries to cope with the consequences of defence reform. For example, in Tajikistan last spring, a Trust Fund helped to destroy the last remaining stockpile of anti-personnel landmines.
NATO is making a determined effort to promote cooperation with Turkmenistan, with your region, and within your region. But it is clear that the countries of Central Asia themselves have a major role to play as well. They have to identify what they see as their principal security concerns, and their priorities for cooperation with the Alliance. More fundamentally, they have to show the necessary political will, to press ahead with political and economic reforms, to streamline their military establishments, and to work together with their neighbours to address regional problems such as drug smuggling and human trafficking.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The opportunities are there for a strong and productive partnership between Turkmenistan and NATO. But it is clear that it will require commitment from both sides. NATO will do its part. We encourage you to do yours. To build a partnership that will help us to move forward in this new century, and that will reinforce security in this entire region and beyond.