JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary General and the Chairman will each make opening statements and then we'll have time for questions.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): Good morning, it is indeed a great pleasure for me to welcome Prime Minister Spiric and the Foreign Minister and Minister of Defence of Bosnia-Herzegovina. We have had a very fruitful meeting this morning. The Prime Minister has addressed the North Atlantic Council. And I would like to make three points.
Firstly, I want to see all countries in the Balkans integrated in the Euro-Atlantic structures, the European Union and NATO. Slovenia, Croatia and Albania have already joined NATO. Only the name issue stands behind Skopje and NATO. We have granted a Membership Action Plan to Montenegro. I want to see further progress in the relationship between Serbia and NATO, and there is certainly a place on the team for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Secondly, NATO has decided already in December that Bosnia-Herzegovina will join a Membership Action Plan once it achieves the necessary progress in its reform efforts. So it is not if Bosnia-Herzegovina gets a Membership Action Plan, it is a question of when Bosnia-Herzegovina will get a Membership Action Plan.
Which leads me to my final point. It is not very much up to Bosnia-Herzegovina to answer that question when will Bosnia-Herzegovina get the Membership Action Plan.
NATO is not going to list detailed sets of criteria. We will discuss this issue at the next Foreign Ministers' Meeting in April. The North Atlantic Council will visit Bosnia-Herzegovina on the 23rd of March, in three weeks time. And we will basically our decision on an overall assessment of performance in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
We will not ask for the impossible, but we would like to see progress in various fields, and of particular importance is, of course, to have efficient state-level institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
And this is the reason why we want to see further progress in reforms. We appreciate the progress already made. We need to see more. And let me stress that reforms do not constitute a barrier to membership of NATO. On the contrary reforms constitute the bridge which can take Bosnia-Herzegovina to future membership of NATO.
Mr. Prime Minister.
NIKOLA SPIRIC (Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina): Yes, I would like to thank the Secretary General to the NATO for giving me the opportunity, and also my colleagues, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Alkalaj and Minister of Defence, Mr. Cikotic and also our ambassador Nikola Radovanovic to share our views with the NATO.
So we've informed the General Secretary and the Council of the progress Bosnia-Herzegovina has made. The reforms we have conducted, but also the challenges the country has been facing.
The discussions we have initiated here will also continue at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Sarajevo on the 23rd of April.
And this will be an opportunity for us to give our friends new arguments that will show that April and the Tallinn Conference is the time when Bosnia-Herzegovina needs to be granted the MAP.
And we are not here to request to be granted any shortcuts or change of the conditions that other countries had to fulfil on their part to the NATO membership. And what is very important to note is that the MAP constitutes a broad dialogue on the basis of a new very much needed optimism and dialogue within the country will be initiated.
And we also expect to see our progress concerning the implementation of the decision made by the court in Strasbourg in the case Sejdic-Finci versus Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Council of Ministers is going to discuss an action plan to implement this decision tomorrow at its session.
And as for another issue, that is the destruction of the moveable military property, that is arms and ammunitions, that is documented that is currently before the presidency. We are awaiting the presidency's decision.
And the destruction of ammunition of arms is intended to create a more secure and stable alignment for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
And to expect the presidency are to adopt a decision concerning the contribution of our armed forces unit in the operations in Afghanistan.
And all of these should be measurable results that will serve as additional arguments for a positive decision to be hopefully reached at the Tallinn conference.
This has also been an opportunity to inform our friends about the outcome of the visa regime mobilization efforts. And we have fulfilled all the requirements and we expect that as of the 1st of July our citizens will be granted visa-free travel regime and that will be the first benefit our citizens will see.
And we have also informed the distinguished gathering about the ways in which Bosnia-Herzegovina is coping with the facts of the global economic and financial crisis.
So we are here to request that Bosnia-Herzegovina be trusted, that people should have confidence in Bosnia-Herzegovina and that we should work together with a view to having the positive Tallinn decision.
And also His Excellency's visit, recent visit to Sarajevo, was priceless and was incentive for all of us on that basis, that incentive, we can speak about the progress today.
I'd like to personally thank him for his commitment to Bosnia-Herzegovina. And I'm personally convinced that we are treading a good path.
JAMES APPATHURAI: Questions?
Q: Ben Nimmo from DPA, the German Press Agency. For both gentlemen, for a long time there's been concern in the EU and NATO that reforms in Bosnia are stalling because of tensions between the different communities. Why are you confident now that there is the political will to push the reforms through before the April meeting? Thank you.
NIKOLA SPIRIC: Well, fortunately there is no country in Europe or elsewhere in the world that had to go through such a terrible war as Bosnia-Herzegovina did 15 years ago. And since then Bosnia-Herzegovina has seen lots of difficult challenges and difficult times, but it has also made huge progress.
So we have made good reforms and of course, there are some difficult political debates, but none of them endanger the common foreign policy goals of the country, which is the membership to the European Union, NATO and also the good cooperation with the countries in the region.
And I also believe that everyone should focus more on the progress and achievement the country has made. Not only on the weaknesses. Of course, there's no doubt about the fact that the progress has been made. Of course, some may doubt the quality and pace. So I disagree with those who believe that no progress has been seen and those who visited our country 15 years ago, ten years ago or five years ago will witness, will say that a lot has been done.
And discussions on constitutional issues are always fierce in other countries as well. Countries that did not have the difficult past that Bosnia-Herzegovina had.
And sometimes the discussions that are being held in the country may be viewed as having one purpose and that is the destruction. But in Bosnia-Herzegovina I believe there is an evolution of the system in all areas.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: May I just add, I do not want to anticipate the discussions and the outcome of the discussion we are going to have in April. But based on what I have heard in our meetings today I do believe that the political leadership of Bosnia-Herzegovina will take important decisions from now until the NATO Foreign Ministers meet in Tallinn in April.
I do hope that these decisions will carry forward reforms, so that we will be able to grant MAP status to Bosnia-Herzegovina. But I have to stress that the process towards MAP and towards membership of NATO is a condition-based process and this is the reason why I have to reiterate that it is now very much up to Bosnia-Herzegovina herself to decide whether the when will be in April.
JAMES APPATHURAI. Last question. I think there was one more. It's there.
Q: Secretary General, we are now in March. Do you still believe, after all these years of limbo full of the national rhetorics in Bosnia that Bosnia will reach that point of the efficient state government?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I do believe that NATO sent a very important signal to Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Foreign Ministers' meeting in December. We sent the very clear signal that we are committed to Bosnia-Herzegovina; that we want to see progress. That we want to see Bosnia-Herzegovina as a future member of our Alliance.
I also believe that not only the political leadership in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also the people in Bosnia-Herzegovina understood that signal and realize that now it's for Bosnia-Herzegovina to make crucial decisions, to fulfil the necessary criteria.
So this is what gives me some optimism that we send a clear signal and now we expect a response from Bosnia-Herzegovina, a positive response which hopefully will allow us to grant MAP status to Bosnia-Herzegovina. But let me reiterate that we stick to the decision we took in December, that Bosnia-Herzegovina will join MAP once it achieves the necessary progress in its reform efforts and we will make that assessment in April. I hope from now until April that we will be presented with concrete steps from Bosnia-Herzegovina and based on what I have heard today I think there is a fair chance that we will.
JAMES APPATHURAI: That's what we have time for Secretary General.