Today I am visiting Kosovo with the ambassadors of all 28 NATO Allies and our partners in KFOR. This visit is a powerful symbol of our commitment to stability and security in this region. It also demonstrates our strong support to the brave and professional servicemen and women of KFOR.
NATO is fully committed to the stability and security of the Western Balkans --nowhere more than in Kosovo. For the past 12 years, the NATO-led mission here has helped preserve a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo – firmly, fairly and impartially.
We have already come a long way. Over the last 12 years, we have been able to reduce our force from over 50,000 to just over a tenth of that size. That is a measure of our success.
As the security situation continues to improve, our goal remains to keep on moving towards a smaller, more flexible, deterrent presence.
We will do this in a gradual and careful manner. We will take into account the overall evolution in Kosovo over a sustained period of time. And the growing ability of local institutions to deal with law and order challenges in Kosovo.
Make no mistake. We will make sure that KFOR remains robust and credible. We will make sure that it has the support that it needs, for as long as it needs, under our United Nations mandate. And KFOR and EULEX will continue to work hand in hand, in a complementary fashion.
Because we are committed to the Euro-Atlantic future of this region. And we will continue to work with all our partners to make it a reality. We all know that the future of the Western Balkans lies in building peaceful cooperation, not a return to the conflicts of the past.
Today, we see in Kosovo that political problems remain. They need to be addressed through dialogue. This is why we support the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, facilitated by the European Union.
I call on all leaders, and all communities, across this region to show responsibility and restraint. I call on all leaders and all communities to choose dialogue, not confrontation. Because the people of this region deserve a better future, as part of the Euro-Atlantic community.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): (...) And with that, I'm ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): And please don't forget to introduce yourself and the media you represent. We'll go over there.
Q: Fatos Bytyci from Reuters New Agency. Mister Secretary General. Yesterday, Russia said that they will not deliver fighter planes to Syria. What's your reaction on this? And do you have any independent confirmation whether this is a temporary or a permanent decision by Russia.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Actually, I can't hear anything.
OANA LUNGESCU: Can you repeat your question please? Maybe hold your microphone a bit further.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, maybe a bit slowly because the acoustics are not too good.
Q: Yesterday, Russia said they will not deliver fighter planes to Syria. What's your reaction on this? And do you have any independent confirmation whether this is a permanent or just a temporary decision by Russia authorities?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I have no such information. And of course I urge all international actors to do their utmost to implement the Six-Point Annan Plan. I consider that the best possible platform for finding a political solution to the problems in Syria. And I think that also Russia has a responsibility to facilitate a political solution and use its influence in Damascus to facilitate such a political solution.
OANA LUNGESCU: Lady over there.
Q: (Inaudible) Rasmussen.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Where? Here, OK.
Q: Andrija VIrijevic (sp?), Radio Television Serbia.
OANA LUNGESCU: (Inaudible)
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, but it doesn't work.
Q: Andrija VIrijevic (sp?), Radio Television Serbia. (SPEAKS IN SERBIAN)... Kosovo.
OANA LUNGESCU: One....
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, but that's translation I don't need a translation. Yes, OK.
OANA LUNGESCU: Try again please.
Q: (SPEAKS IN SERBIAN)
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: My advice is to pursue a pro-European approach. It's my firm belief that the future of Serbia lies within Euro-Atlantic integration and first and foremost to take positive steps towards a future membership of the European Union. To achieve that goal, it's also important to engage in positive and constructive regional cooperation. And I hope the new political leadership in Belgrade will pursue such a constructive and positive pro-European approach. As far as NATO is concerned. I would very much like to see an improved relationship, an improved partnership between Serbia and NATO. I understand very well that there may be a bit more scepticism in Serbia as regards NATO. But anyway I will do what I can to make progress in our relationship with Serbia. Serbia has a key role to play in this region to promote security and stability. And I hope Serbia and the new political leadership in Serbia will live up to their responsibilities.
OANA LUNGESCU: Lady over there.
Q: (SPEAKS IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, we are not tired. But of course, we would very like to see substantial progress in the security situation. But first and foremost, I think we should focus on what has happened during the last 10 to 12 years. As I indicated in my introduction we have actually seen substantial progress going from a force of around 50,000 to now between five and six thousand troops.
That's clearly an indication of progress in security in Kosovo and in the region. We appreciate that. But during the last year or so we have seen some violence in the northern part of Kosovo. And I would like to stress that we will take the necessary steps to ensure that KFOR can fully implement the United Nations' mandate: that is to maintain a safe and secure environment and the freedom of movement.
Having said that, we also realize that there's no military solution solely to the problems. We need a political process... a political process that will also lead to full integration of the northern parts of Kosovo in the Kosovo society. That takes efforts from Belgrade but also political courage and determination from the political authorities in Pristina.
OANA LUNGESCU: One last question, the lady over there.
Q: (SPEAKS IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, in the near future we will maintain the current troop level. Of course, it's still our goal to create the conditions for a further reduction. But we realize that as long as the security situation in the north is as volatile as it is, we'll have to maintain the present troop level. Again, let me stress that we take it seriously to fully implement the United Nations' mandate. And in order to do that, under current circumstances, it's our assessment that we need a troop level of the current five to six thousand. So we have for the time being postponed any decision to further reduce the number of KFOR troops in Kosovo.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much.