OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Good evening. Thank you very much for being here. The Secretary General of NATO will start with a short statement in his capacity as Chairman of the NATO-Georgia Commission. Secretary General.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): Thank you. The last time the North Atlantic Council visited Georgia, three years ago, we launched the NATO-Georgia Commission as a way of building our partnership. Today that partnership is vigorous and it is vibrant, based on political dialogue, shared security concerns, and practical cooperation.
Our visit today and tomorrow will make that partnership even stronger. It will move us closer towards Georgia's ambition of joining the Alliance. It is a unique opportunity to assess how far we have come in deepening our partnership and to identify priorities for further work.
Our meeting this afternoon was dedicated to the domestic reforms that Georgia has undertaken. You have taken significant steps in promoting freedom of expression and economic growth, fighting corruption and ensuring that the military is properly sized and structured.
You have achieved a lot. Georgia is on the right track. And you have come a long way. But you are not yet reached your destination. Georgians want to live in a full mature modern democracy. Our message today is keep up the momentum. Keep strengthening your democracy. Keep building the pillars of a free and democratic state, the rule of law, the freedom of the judiciary and the media, the fight against corruption, the involvement of civil society.
In particular, keep the momentum in electoral reform. The elections in 2012 and 2013 will be a litmus test of your democracy and we look forward to seeing the necessary reforms introduced.
Let me be clear, NATO and Georgia are already close partners. You are the second largest non-NATO contributor to our operation in Afghanistan. That is a priceless contribution and the best proof of your commitment to our Alliance.
NATO fully supports your reforms. We fully support your aspirations to join our Alliance. We agreed in Bucharest in 2008 that you will join our Alliance and that decision stands.
And we fully support your sovereignty and territorial integrity within your internationally-recognized borders. We welcome your commitment to non-violence and your engagement policy with those regions.
And let me take this opportunity today to congratulate Georgia on the WTO agreement with Russia. It is an important agreement. Russian membership of the World Trade Organization will enhance free trade in line with our ambition to engage Russia in a constructive economic, political and security cooperation. We welcome that the Swiss-mediated agreement will allow the presence of international monitors along Georgia's internationally-recognized borders. And I commend the Georgian and Russian authorities for their constructive approach, which has made this agreement possible. That pragmatism confirms our confidence in Georgia.
Georgia is important for NATO and I know that NATO is important for Georgia. We are already close and we want to move even closer.
OANA LUNGESCU: We've got just over ten minutes for a couple of questions. Please identify yourself and your organization. Rustavi.
Q: (Inaudible), Rustavi 2. Let me ask here, Mr. Secretary General, as you know greater part of Georgian population support Georgia's integration into NATO. You mentioned that Georgia is now closer to NATO than it was a few years ago. Can you just clarify and explain what does it mean and before you leave, what could you tell to Georgians, what could be Georgia's expectation in the newest [nearest] future in this regard towards membership of NATO?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Once again, let me stress that the decision we took at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008 still stands. That is a clear statement from NATO that Georgia will become a member of NATO.
Since then we have established the NATO-Georgia Commission and within that Commission we have worked together to promote reforms in Georgia. NATO has assisted Georgia in moving those reforms forward.
So when I say Georgia has moved closer to NATO I'm referring to the fact that our annual assessment clearly demonstrates that Georgia has carried through a number of reforms that are required for a future membership of NATO. So progress has been made, but of course there's still some work to do and this is also the reason why I'm not able to present to you any timetable as to when Georgia can expect to become a member of NATO. That will very much depend on further progress.
OANA LUNGESCU: The lady over there.
Q: (Inaudible...) First Channel. Mr. Secretary General, Russia's Ambassador to NATO, Mr. Rogozin, has actually said that it's a fact that Georgia and Ukraine are not NATO member is an achievement for (inaudible) foreign policy. What do you think, does Moscow has some successful... successful is it vetoing Georgia to implementing Bucharest Summit decisions, that Georgia became NATO member?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that no non-NATO member is in a position to veto any enlargement of NATO. It is NATO that decides on future enlargement. And I would like to stress that our open-door policy is based on the fundamental principle that each and every sovereign nation has a right to decide its Alliance affiliation herself.
I would also like to stress that our open-door policy is not directed against anyone. And it's definitely not directed against Russia. On the contrary, we want to engage positively with Russia. At our last Summit in Lisbon in November, a year ago, we agreed that we will develop a strategic partnership between NATO and Russia. But at the same time our door remains open because according to our Treaty, NATO can decide to give access to our Alliance to European countries that can contribute to Euro-Atlantic security and that can and will further the principles upon which our Alliance is built. And this is a fundamental principle.
OANA LUNGESCU: The lady there, just in front.
Q: Associated Press. The latest report of International Atomic Energy Agency suggests that Iran has worked on developing nuclear arms, so what will be your reaction to these findings? And does the news that Iran has nuclear capability threaten NATO borders?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I would like to stress that NATO as an Alliance, as an organization, is not engaged in the Iran question. Individual Allies are engaged in the international efforts to find a political and diplomatic solution to the problems related to the Iranian nuclear programme.
Having stressed that NATO, as such, is not engaged, I will, however, urge the Iranian leaders to comply with the relevant United Nations resolutions, and stop their enrichment programme.
Indirectly you may say that NATO Allies have taken steps to prevent potential future threats against NATO territory and NATO populations from any aggressor. We decided last year that we will develop a NATO-based missile defence system. The reason is that more than 30 countries in the world have missile technologies or are acquiring... they have aspirations to acquire missile technologies; some of them with a range sufficient to hit targets on NATO territory.
So for that reason we have decided to develop a NATO-based missile defence system to protect our populations against any attack.
OANA LUNGESCU: The lady over there, last but one row.
Q: Thank you, Mr. General Secretary, Regional TV. What can you say about the cooperation between Georgia and NATO in Afghanistan? What is the future plans of this cooperation that we will help with... we would help Georgia to become a member of NATO? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I would take this opportunity to express very strong appreciation of the significant Georgian contribution to our operation in Afghanistan. We are very grateful. It's a significant contribution. Your soldiers are doing a great job in Afghanistan. They operate in Afghanistan without caveats, which make it possible for our commanders to make flexible use of Georgian troops in Afghanistan.
I pay tribute to the Georgian soldiers for their service and their sacrifice. They make an important contribution to ensuring progress in Afghanistan and preventing the country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists. And this is the reason why we are in Afghanistan.
And of course, the Georgian contribution to our operation in Afghanistan also helps to improve what we call interoperability between Georgian Armed Forces and NATO Armed Forces. Their ability, their capability, to work closely together.
But having said that, and we will work to make further progress in that respect, but having said that, I would also like to stress that there is no direct link between contributions to our operations and future membership of NATO. It is one factor, but there are many elements that have to be fulfilled before a membership can materialize.
OANA LUNGESCU: Yes.
Q: Radio Liberty. In August of this year NATO was the first among international organizations or structures to say that elections in the breakaway region, in Abkhazia were illegal. And we saw the presidential elections are going to take place in South Ossetia, another conflict region. Do you already have a point of view on what is going to take place there? And a couple of minutes ago you said that you are happy with the way the Georgian Government has engagement with these conflict regions. What kind of engagement do you want to see from the Georgian Government? How should it engage with conflict regions? If you can elaborate a little bit.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, I would like to say that our reaction to the upcoming elections in South Ossetia will be exactly the same as our reaction to the elections in Abkhazia.
We pursue a clear non-recognition policy. We have not, and we will not recognize... we have not recognized and we will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
And once again, let me stress that we insist on full respect for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we urge Russia to live up fully to her international obligations in that respect.
As regards the engagement policy, I do believe that the only way to resolve the dispute on the breakaway regions, the only way forward, is dialogue and cooperation and constructive engagement. This is also the reason why we appreciate that the Georgian Government has engaged positively in the so-called Geneva Talks. We are not seeing that much progress, but nevertheless we do believe that such engagement in the Geneva Talks is the only way forward.
And at the same time, we think it is a constructive step that the Georgian President has stated in very clear terms that Georgia will pursue a non-violence policy. And we urge the Georgian Government to engage as closely as possible with the two regions.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. This concludes our press conference. Thank you very much and good evening.