Good morning. Thank you very much for coming. So, we will be speaking to you on the Ministerials coming up this week which obviously are an important stepping stone on the way to Chicago.
That part of the briefing will be on background. I will start on the record, and obviously, I am always on the record.
As you know, the Secretary General was in Afghanistan last week. He had the chance to see and assess at first-hand the progress that the Afghan forces are making. He took part in a training session for the Afghan special forces at Camp Morehead just outside Kabul.
The progress is impressive. As we could see on the ground, the Afghan special forces are professional, they are competent, and they are fully committed to keep their country secure.
And we saw that commitment and that ability over the weekend. We saw that in action. You are, I assume, all aware of the insurgent attacks in Afghanistan yesterday. These attacks were planned, coordinated, and they grabed the headlines.
But as I am sure you have also seen, that they did not cause mass casualties. And we have the Afghan forces to thank for that. In Kabul, you must remember that the Afghan forces are in the lead. They dealt with the situation. They defeated the attacks. And they did it largely on their own. They did what they were trained to do, and they did that very effectively.
Clearly, we still face security challenges. This was not the first such attack, and I don’t expect it will be the last. But such attacks don’t change the transition strategy. They don’t change the goal and they don’t change the timeline that we all agreed to at the Lisbon Summit in November 2010. This was also made clear by President Karzai when he met with the Secretary General in Kabul last week.
The Secretary General underlined NATO’s commitment to support Afghanistan throughout the transition period, and after 2014. Because this is a long-term partnership between NATO and Afghanistan. And we fully expect that message to be reinforced at the Chicago summit in just over a month’s time.
Obviously, the ministerial meetings this week are paving the way for the Chicago summit. They will be the last important opportunity for Defence Ministers and Foreign Ministers to meet before Chicago.
Let me just give you a few details about the choreography of what will be quite a complicated two days before we go into the content.
On Wednesday morning, the Secretary General will do a brief doorstep at 9 o’clock at the main entrance before the start of the first session at 9.30. That will be a meeting of defence ministers. They will discuss the capabilities that NATO will need in the coming years, and the best way to acquire them together so that we can make sure that NATO is fit for the future - not just for 2012, but for 2020 and beyond.
After that session, at around 12.40, the Secretary General will give a press conference. Going then, directly into the second working session which will bring together NATO defence and foreign ministers. The main subject there will be Afghanistan, especially NATO’s relationship with Afghanistan after the end of 2014.
The Secretary General will give a second press conference after that at approximately 17:40 and over dinner ministers will discuss more of the preparations for Chicago. I don’t expect any press opportunities afterwards so that is your opportunity to try to get an early night because on the second day, on the Thursday, meetings will start at 8.30 with a session of the NATO-Russia Council on the level of foreign ministers. Minister Lavrov will be joining us, and ministers will discuss the main issues on the NATO-Russia agenda and on the international agenda. As you know, this year we mark the 15th anniversary of the signature of the NATO-Russia Founding Act and the 10th anniversary of the creation of the NATO-Russia Council, so it is going to be a good opportunity to take stock of how far we have come and where we’re going to.
The Secretary General will be giving a short press conference after the meeting, just after 10 o’clock as chairman of the NRC.
Finally, ministers will be joined by our ISAF partners to discuss Afghanistan, and especially the next stages of transition. I also expect the Afghan defence and foreign ministers to join us for that meeting, as well as COMISAF General John Allen and the Senior Civilian Representative, Ambassador Simon Gass.
The Secretary General will give a closing press conference shortly after 1300 and I expect many of the other ministers will want to make statements as well.
So this will conclude what I have to say on the record so far.
We now have until 11:40 so I will give the floor to our expert briefers.