by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the beginning of the Summit meetings of Heads of State and Government in Chicago
Chicago is a world-class city and leaders from around the world are coming here today. I would particularly like to thank the people of this great city for making all of us feel so welcome.
We’re gathering here in Chicago for a crucial summit at a crucial time. We will take decisions important for the security of North America and Europe, and for the future of our Alliance.
Our summit has three key priorities. Keeping Afghanistan secure now and in the years to come. Keeping NATO strong and capable in the 21st century. And keeping our global network of partners solid.
Today, we will focus on security in an age of austerity. We will ensure that the Alliance has the capabilities to deal with the security challenges of the future – even as we tackle the economic challenges of the present.
We will adopt a concrete package of multinational projects which can provide greater security for all our citizens at lower cost. We will embrace a renewed culture of cooperation, which we call Smart Defence. And I expect we will take the first step to make our missile defence system operational.
Tomorrow, we will shape the next stage in our engagement with Afghanistan. We will complete transition of security responsibility to the Afghans by the end of 2014, but we will continue to support them for the long-term.
Together with our ISAF partners, we will meet President Karzai, leaders of many countries in the region and beyond, and key international organisations. This will be a powerful demonstration of the commitment of the whole international community to the future of Afghanistan.
We will also meet thirteen of our most active partners around the globe – from Europe, to Asia, and the Middle East. Because today’s security challenges are global and they need global solutions.
That is why NATO will continue to cooperate with partners from right round the world. We will build on our successes – so that we can provide more security for NATO, for our partners, and for the world.
Moderator: We have time for just a couple of questions. To the centre, (inaudible).
Question: (Off microphone)
Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Secretary General of NATO): There will be no rush for the exit. We will stay committed to our operation in Afghanistan and see it through to a successful end. Our goal, our strategy, our timetable remain unchanged.
As regards President Hollande's statement, first of all, I'm not surprised that the newly-elected President Hollande wants to keep his pledges. I think that's rule number one for a politician, to keep your promises.
I've also taken note of the fact that President Hollande has stated that France will be prepared to support Afghanistan in a different way, and that's very much in accordance with the strategy we outlined already when we met in Lisbon two years ago.
We are in the process of gradually handing over lead responsibility to the Afghans. And as we do that, the role of our troops can gradually change from combat to support, and the number of our troops can also gradually be reduced.
But all that will take place in a coordinated manner, and based on consultations within our Alliance. So I feel confident that we will maintain solidarity within our coalition.
Question: Secretary General, do you expect there to be--
Question: (Speaks in French without interpretation.)
Are you hoping that the President of Pakistan will finally agree to reopen the supply routes to Afghanistan, and do it at a reasonable price, for NATO?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: The question is about transit routes through Pakistan.
Yes, I do hope that we will see a re-opening of the transit routes in the very near future. We have for quite some time had a dialogue with Pakistan. We have negotiated. These negotiations will continue. But I'm hopeful that they will be concluded in a positive manner so that we will see a reopening of the transit routes in the very near future.
Question: (Off microphone)
Moderator: OK, that's your question.
Question: Oh, no. I'll take the question. That was my question.
There are expected to be increased protests today. We've already seen a bit of conflict in the streets of Chicago. Are you concerned that what's happening around the summit, around McCormick Place, may take away from the work that's being done here?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: No. I'm not concerned about distracting attention from our summit.
I am pleased that we, the peoples of NATO countries, live in free societies where freedom of expression is a fundamental value. And that also includes the possibility to express your views through demonstrations.
I would expect that certain such demonstrations would take place in a peaceful manner.
Let me stress that we have reached out to the groups of protesters. One of my Assistant Secretary Generals met recently with representatives of the protesters. So they got an opportunity to convey their messages directly to NATO, and we got an opportunity to explain exactly what NATO stands for.
Moderator: To the back.
Question: (Inaudible) Sir, (inaudible) Canada to extend its present military presence in Afghanistan past 2014. Wondering what role you see for Canada past 2014 in Afghanistan, and the response you've pursued so far.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: The question regards Canada's presence in Afghanistan in the longer term.
Let me stress that my statement was not in particular addressed to to Canada. It's it's a general statement from me as Secretary General of of NATO that I would appreciate if NATO Allies and also ISAF partners would continue to contribute to the NATO-led training mission that will start in 2015.
And that also answers the second part of your question. I I hope that Canada would be in a position to contribute to training activities also after 2014. Already today Canada conducts training activities in Afghanistan, and we appreciate that contribution. I hope to see a continued contribution after 2014.
But having said that, let me also stress that, at the end of the day, it is a national decision.
Moderator: One more question. At the back.
Question: Mr. (inaudible) Afghanistan (inaudible) America. Do you think the decision of France to withdraw its troops at the end of this year, as the President mentioned, will impact the decision of other NATO members in terms of their military involvement in Afghanistan before 2015?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: I I think the clear message from this summit will be that we stay committed to our operation in Afghanistan; that we will continue to transfer, to hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans, according to the plan we have laid out already when we met in Lisbon in 2010.
This process has, as you all know, already started. Today around half of the Afghan population lives in areas where the Afghans have taken lead responsibility. Soon it will be three-quarters. And this process will be completed by the end of 2014.
And that will also be the message from this summit, that we will continue that transition process according to the plans we have laid out already.
Moderator: Thank you. That's all we have time for now. But obviously there will be a press conference in the next couple of hours.