Today has been a very productive day. We have just discussed the road ahead in Afghanistan.
We discussed it with NATO’s 28 Allies, with 22 non-NATO members of ISAF, with the Afghan foreign and defence ministers, with the European Union High Representative, with the United Nations Special Representative. And the foreign minister of Japan.
All this to stress that this is truly a world-wide effort. At our summit in Chicago, one month from now, all these countries and organisations will come together at the highest level. Other countries who have an interest in Afghanistan’s stability will join us too. I expect the leaders of around 60 countries and international organisations to join us. This will be the biggest summit NATO has ever held.
And the reason is simple: Afghanistan is a concern for the whole world. We all want to see a country that is safer, stronger and more stable. That is what we are building together. And we are making progress.
We are making progress on the ground. We have now trained more than 330,000 Afghan security forces. Afghan soldiers and police are providing security for areas where half the country’s population lives – and I expect them to step forward in more areas soon, as transition takes hold across the country.
We are also seeing progress in our long-term relationship. A number of Allies have concluded, or are concluding, strategic agreements with Afghanistan. These agreements provide a strong foundation for Afghanistan’s future security.
And we are seeing progress in the international support for Afghanistan’s long-term transformation and reconstruction – putting in place the agreements reached at the Bonn Conference in December, and paving the way for the Tokyo Conference in July.
All these strands will come together in Chicago, as NATO and our partners set out how we will make sure the transition to Afghan security responsibility succeeds by the end of 2014 – and how we will support Afghanistan once transition is completed.
For NATO, that will mean approving a concrete and concerted plan for managing the final stages of transition, as the main focus of our efforts shifts from combat to training, advice and assistance. And it will mean approving a plan for our engagement after the end of transition in 2014.
For the international community, it will mean setting out how to support Afghanistan once transition is complete. That will include funding sustainable and sufficient Afghan security forces. NATO and our ISAF partners will carry our fair share of that task. But of course, this is a commitment for the whole international community.
And for our Afghan partners, it will mean making sure that they carry through their own commitments -- strengthening democracy and the rule of law, supporting human rights, including women’s rights, and tackling corruption.
We all want to see a secure Afghanistan in a stable region. And our continued commitment to that goal is clear.
And with that, I am ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): We'll start with the Afghan Press.
Q: Yes, Pakistan has long been saying that it is supporting the NATO mission in Afghanistan. But there was some criticism. They suggested that Pakistan is not doing enough to support NATO mission. International security forces have long been targeted by some insurgents who are coming from Pakistan. And my question is that: "Is NATO considering some kind of military action against insurgents in tribal areas of Pakistan or not?"
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I would like to stress that we operate within a United Nations' mandate that covers Afghanistan and Afghanistan only. So NATO and ISAF operate only in Afghanistan.
And when it comes to our relationship with Pakistan, my main point is to stress that we need a positive engagement of Pakistan if we are to ensure long-term peace and stability not only in Afghanistan but in the region as such. So we want a strong and positive cooperation and relationship with Pakistan. Having said that, we have two problems in our relationship with Pakistan.
The first is a very immediate challenge to see the transit routes through Pakistan reopened. It is of course an essential element in our operation in Afghanistan that we can cooperate with Pakistan when it comes to transit. So we hope to see these transit routes reopened as soon as possible. That's one thing.
And the other problem is that it is a fact that terrorists operating in Afghanistan... terrorists attacking Afghan people and our troops do have safe havens in Pakistan. And that's why we urge Pakistan to step up efforts in the fight against these terrorists that operate from tribal areas in safe havens in Pakistan. And I do believe that it is in the self-interest of Pakistan as well to ensure long-term peace and stability in the region by fighting these terrorist groups and extremists.
OANA LUNGESCU: DPA.
Q: Thank you, Alvise Armellini from German Press Agency DPA. Foreign Minister Lavrov just previously told us: A) That he thinks that Russia and China think that setting artificial dates for withdrawal from Afghanistan is a wrong strategy. So he seemed to suggest that NATO should stay even longer than 2014. And something he said regarding your invitation for Russia to participate at the meeting on Afghanistan in Chicago. He said that before replying to this offer, Russia would like to be invited permanently to ISAF meetings. Is there any chance of that happening? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: On the latter, we have invited Russia to participate in Chicago because we like to... we would like to include Russia, and by the way a number of Central Asian countries in our deliberations when it comes to the future development in Afghanistan. We do believe that it is in the interest of Russia and countries in the region to participate in that discussion. We have not made any decision as regards more permanent arrangements. But let me inform you that actually Russia has a very privileged partnership with NATO and an excellent basis for discussing and consulting with NATO when it comes to our operation in Afghanistan.
No other partner has a special council as Russia does. Within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council we can consult on everything. And we have even established a special committee to deal with Afghanistan. So Russia has a very privileged access to discuss with NATO in a direct dialogue all issues of interest when it comes to Afghanistan. So we are engaged in a dialogue with Russia on... actually a permanent dialogue with Russia when it comes to Afghanistan.
Now, your first question, we have not set any artificial deadline or timeline. The timeline we have outlined has been carefully prepared and agreed with our Afghan partners. Actually, it was President Karzai himself who outlined a roadmap leading to a gradual transition of lead responsibility for the security to the Afghan Security Forces to be completed by the end of 2014. It's definitely not artificial. It has been carefully examined. It's been carefully discussed with our Afghan partners and agreed.
But having said that, I fully agree that we shouldn't abandon Afghanistan and just leave and leave behind a possible security vacuum. On the contrary, we have a common interest in leaving behind a strong Afghan Security Force that can guarantee peace and stability and security in Afghanistan also beyond 2014. And this is the reason why we appeal to the whole international community to contribute to financing a strong Afghan Security Force after 2014. It's not just a responsibility for NATO or ISAF. We will highly appreciate contributions from Russia, from China, from other international partners that are stakeholders in what is going on in Afghanistan and in the region. So I think that's the best response to that statement that we would welcome financial contributions from Russia, China and other countries to ensure strong, sustainable Afghan Security Force beyond 2014.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. That is all we have for... time for. Thank you very much for your hard work during the jumbo. And hope to see you at the Chicago Summit, thank you.