It is a great pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Luksic on his second visit to NATO Headquarters. We have just had a very good meeting. We talked about Montenegro’s growing cooperation with NATO and Montenegro’s reform efforts.
Montenegro is an important partner for the Alliance and an important aspirant to NATO membership. I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister for his country’s commitment to reforms. These will be vital for future membership in NATO, especially political and defence reforms.
Montenegro’s reforms are ambitious and on the right path. Yet there still remains a lot to be done and we encourage Montenegro to continue its efforts, especially in reinforcing the rule of law and fighting corruption and organised crime.
We also discussed other issues of common interest, including developments in the Balkan region. We know and we appreciate Montenegro’s active contribution to cooperation and security in the region. We look forward to continued practical cooperation with Montenegro in all areas that are important for regional security.
In a few minutes, the Prime Minister will address the North Atlantic Council. We will have the opportunity to discuss our preparations for our summit meeting in May in Chicago.
I also expect us to discuss our operation in Afghanistan. We are grateful for Montenegro’s contribution to ISAF. Afghanistan is our top operational priority and in Chicago, we will decide how we will continue to support Afghan security forces as they assume more responsibility for security in their own country. We will discuss our strategy with our partners in ISAF – and we look very much forward to hearing the Prime Minister’s views today.
IGOR LUKŠIĆ (Prime Minister of Montenegro): Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. Representatives of media, let me once again say that we've had very good meetings, a very cordial meeting, and it was a little bit more than one year ago when I was here for the first visit to NATO Headquarters when I had also a very good meeting with Secretary General Rasmussen.
Today's meeting has been the opportunity to exchange views over the progress that has been made in the past year, and I took the opportunity to inform the Secretary General about the implementation of the annual national programme, which is part of the second Membership Action Plan.
As you know, in the meantime, we successfully concluded the first Membership Action Plan mid-last year and we're now in the middle of dealing with all the items, all the outstanding issues that we need to deal with in order to prepare Montenegro for the invitation, whenever it comes, and whenever member states think that Montenegro is ready to be invited to become part of the NATO Alliance.
We believe that NATO remains a guarantor of peace and stability in our region. We believe that the NATO integration process and the EU integration process go hand-in-hand. Not only because of overlapping goals, and as you know, our European integration process involves a lot of effort to deal with organized crime, anti-corruption activities and the rule of law. But it also means that regional stability is a necessary precondition, a necessary platform for the prosperity of the Western Balkans and Montenegro included.
Therefore, I believe that all the contacts we've had so far, today's meetings, last week Admiral Stavridis' meeting, are always a good opportunity to discuss progress, discuss future activities, future issues, and to really act as partners as Montenegro aspires one day to become part of the family. And therefore, it is up to us to meet all the necessary rules of the game.
So, once again, I'd like to thank the Secretary General for the continued support, and I'd like to once again to take the opportunity to thank member states for the support they have shown in the period of state of emergency because of weather conditions. It was vital support for Montenegrin people and I'm sure Montenegrin people appreciate very much the support they received. Thank you very much, once again.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): We've got time for a few questions. Montenegrin TV.
Q: National Television of Montenegro. One question for Mr. General Secretary. We already know that the forthcoming summit in Chicago will not be an enlargement summit. Anyway, can we expect some future... some new guidelines for Montenegro, having in mind the fact that our country may be faster than other candidates making progress towards NATO membership? That opinion we heard last week from Mr. Stavridis in our country. So can you just comment?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I can confirm that I don't expect new invitations to be extended at the Chicago Summit. However, I would expect us to reiterate that NATO's door remains open. And I would also envisage that the progress made in Montenegro, as well as in other aspiring countries, will be appropriately reflected at the Summit.
It's a fact that we have seen significant progress. The Montenegrin authorities have made a great effort to make progress on necessary reforms. Not only because of NATO, not only because of the European Union, but because it is in Montenegro's own interest. But I think that should be reflected at the Summit.
You asked me whether we will issue new guidelines? No, because the guidelines are very clear, and we work with Montenegro within the Membership Action Plan and we are now in the second cycle of the Membership Action Plan and Montenegro is progressing well.
OANA LUNGESCU: Associated Press.
Q: Two questions, Secretary General. One is on the Summit. Has there been any progress in arranging for President Putin to attend the NATO-Russia Council there? And the second on Afghanistan: do you think ISAF can get back on track after the series of reverses in recent weeks?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First on a possible NATO-Russia meeting in Chicago. I have discussed this personally with President-elect Putin and we have agreed that the timing is difficult for a NATO-Russia Summit in Chicago because Russia has a very busy domestic political calendar.
However, we have also agreed that we will meet bilaterally as soon as possible after Prime Minister Putin's inauguration as new president of Russia. And, furthermore, I can confirm that we will have a meeting with Russia next month at the level of Foreign Ministers, and that shows that we are all committed to dialogue and to practical cooperation. And this will continue until Chicago and it will continue after Chicago because our relationship with Russia isn't just about one day or one meeting, it's about the long term.
Now, on Afghanistan, despite some spectacular incidents recently, I would like to stress that overall we are on the right track, we are making clear progress in Afghanistan. We have seen a decline in the number of enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan. The gradual transition of lead responsibility for the security to the Afghan Security Forces is on track. We have already implemented transition in areas representing almost half of the Afghan population and we have had a very positive experience as far as the first part of transition is concerned.
So transition is on track and will continue and be completed by the end of 2014.
So there is no change of timelines. There is no change of strategy. There is no change of goal. We will continue on the path that we outlined when we had our last Summit in Lisbon in December 2010.
OANA LUNGESCU: We have one final question from our Montenegrin colleagues.
Q: (Inaudible...) Television, Montenegro. Back to our subject. If not in Chicago, can we expect, or can we hope for membership status on the next summit after that? Can we wish for it? Is it realistic to be a member maybe for year or two? I don't know when the next time it will be.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that my vision is to see Montenegro, as well as all other countries in the Western Balkans, integrated in our Euro-Atlantic structures. That is, in the European Union and NATO. That's clearly our goal.
I think it's premature to outline concrete timelines. The most important thing now is step-by-step to make progress in the right direction. Montenegro has already made significant progress in a very short time. It's not that long ago that we granted Membership Action Plan to Montenegro. And what we have seen so far has been very, very impressive.
And I would expect Montenegro to continue such fast progress. And let me also stress that each individual aspirant country will be judged upon its own merits. So it's very much up to Montenegro herself to make the necessary progress that one day will lead to membership of NATO. But today it's premature to outline concrete timelines.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. Enjoy the rest of this sunny afternoon. Thank you.