Press conference by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
following the meetings of the NATO Defence Ministers
We have just finished a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission with the Ukrainian First Deputy Minister of Defence.
This was a timely and constructive meeting.
The NATO-Ukraine Commission provides a forum for regular political consultations, based on the common values of democracy and the rule of law. Today, we all stressed our commitment to those shared values.
NATO has a long-standing partnership with Ukraine. Today, we made clear that NATO stands ready to support democratic development, defence reforms, military cooperation, and democratic control over the security sector.
Only the people of Ukraine can determine their country’s future. NATO respects their choice and stands by them.
I am extremely concerned about the most recent developments in Crimea. This morning’s action by an armed group is dangerous and irresponsible.
I urge Russia not to take any action that could escalate tension or create misunderstanding. I urge the new Ukrainian leadership to continue its efforts to establish an inclusive political process that reflects the democratic aspirations of the entire Ukrainian people. And I urge all parties to step back from confrontation, refrain from provocative actions and return to the path of dialogue.
There is a need for all concerned to take a responsible stance and to work for stability.
We emphasise the importance of an inclusive political process based on democratic values and respect for human rights, minorities and the rule of law, which fulfills the democratic aspirations of the entire Ukrainian people.
As in all democracies, the only way forward is for all parties to respect those values.
Today, we also discussed our mission in Afghanistan. And our continued efforts to support the Afghan Security Forces in this final year of transition.
Through ISAF, we have made our countries more secure - by denying a safe haven for international terrorists. And we have made Afghanistan stronger, by training and mentoring the Afghan Security Forces.
The Afghan security forces are creating the conditions for secure elections. They have primary responsibility. But we are working with them to provide logistical support.
We reaffirmed the critical importance that these elections are transparent, inclusive and credible, and produce results acceptable to the Afghan people.
This will help provide the certainty and predictability that Afghans and the international community expect.
We are focused on completing ISAF. But we also need certainty and predictability to launch our new mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces after 2014.
As we have made clear, this new mission requires the conclusion of the US-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement and a NATO Status of Forces Agreement. If the Bilateral Security Agreement is not signed, we cannot conclude the Status of Force Agreement. And without the necessary legal framework, there simply cannot be a deployment after 2014. No security agreement. No troops and trainers. These are the hard facts.
So today, we agreed the need to plan for all possible outcomes. Including the possibility that we may not be able to deploy to Afghanistan after 2014, due to the persistent delays we have seen.
Let me be clear, that is not the outcome we want. And it is not the outcome that we think is in the interest of the Afghan people. However, it might be the unfortunate outcome if there is no security agreement in due time. This is what is at stake.
And with that, I am ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Reuters.
Q: Sorry. Justina (?), Reuters. I was wondering whether Ukraine has actually specifically asked for assistance from NATO, regarding the current situation. And what assistance would NATO be willing to provide... and for example.... you know, specifically to Ukraine? And would it... would it have anything... you know would NATO be willing to protect Ukraine's territorial integrity?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Ukraine has not requested any specific assistance. In today's meeting in the NATO-Ukraine Commission, we have reaffirmed our intention to further develop our partnership within the NATO-Ukraine Commission. We have an excellent cooperation, practical cooperation with Ukraine when it comes to reforms of the defence sector. We appreciate that Ukraine contributes to all NATO-led military operations and contributes to the NATO Response Force. And today we reaffirmed from both sides that we stand ready to further develop that engagement.
OANA LUNGESCU: German Television.
Q: Kai Niklasch, German Television ZDF. Secretary General, you said, you would urge Russia not to take any actions that could lead to misunderstanding. Are the exercises close to the Ukrainian border already actions that could lead to misunderstanding? Where would be the red line? This is my first question.
The second one is are you glad that Ukraine and Georgia did not come to this step before NATO membership in 2008 when countries such as Germany and others kept them out and said it's not the time for the privileged membership?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: This last part of the question is a bit hypothetical. I mean relatives are as they are. And we have excellent partnerships with both Georgia and Ukraine. As you all know, they have chosen different paths, different relationships with NATO. We fully respect that. It's their decision, how they want their relationship with NATO to develop. As regards to the Russian exercise, the Russians informed us about this exercise. And the Russians have made clear that this exercise has nothing to do with ongoing events in Ukraine.
OANA LUNGESCU: 1TV Afghanistan, here.
Q: Yesterday, in your doorstep remarks you said that in this meeting NATO will assess its gap in Afghanistan. What was the result of this assessment and also NATO's weaknesses in the current mission on Afghanistan? And what NATO has not achieved that want to achieve in the Resolute Support to nation in Afghanistan?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Our assessment of our ISAF mission is positive. We have achieved a lot of progress. We have built a strong Afghan security force, a level of around 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police. Since June last year, they have been in the lead of security responsibility all over Afghanistan. The Afghanistan security forces are growing stronger and stronger. And we feel confident that they can take full responsibility for the security by the end of this year as planned. So overall, our assessment is positive.
However, we also believe that our continued assistance is needed. And this is why we have reaffirmed our commitment to a NATO-led training mission with the aim to train, advise, assist the Afghan security forces after 2014. We are ready.
Obviously, we will need an invitation to do that. And I have commented on that already. So the decision we took today is two-fold. On the one hand, we reaffirm our commitment to a Resolute Support training mission after 2014. But on the other hand, we also had to ask our military authorities to plan for alternatives; because we don't know yet whether an appropriate legal framework will enter into force. And we don't know whether we'll get an invitation. So this is the reason why we had to take this two-fold decision today.
Q: NATO's gap...
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, there's still work to do. And there's still ten months left of the ISAF mission. And we're still working with the Afghan security forces to further develop their capacity and their capability.
OANA LUNGESCU: Kuwaiti News Agency.
Q: Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency. On another region, Mister Secretary General, you'll be travelling to Kuwait next week. Can you please tell us what is the purpose of the visit and the topics that you will discuss? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I look very much forward to visiting Kuwait in the coming week. I will use that opportunity to mark the 10th anniversary of our Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Kuwait is one of our partners... one of our four partners within the so-called Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. It was established 10 years ago in Istanbul. So this is an excellent opportunity to mark the 10th anniversary of this partnership.
I will also discuss the Joint NATO-Istanbul Cooperation Regional Centre that Kuwait has generously offered to establish. And I will see how NATO, Kuwait and our other partners in the Gulf region can work together more closely.
OANA LUNGESCU: NPR-CBS.
Q: Thank you, Terri Schultz with NPR-CBS. Do you take Russia at its word that their readiness exercises have nothing to do with Ukraine? And if that were the case, wouldn't it have been the normal course that you have been informed of them before yesterday? For example, with Steadfast Jazz, you even invited the Russians to come. So isn't that a little bit... aren't you skeptical with the idea that it has nothing to do with Ukraine? And secondly, when NATO says it will uphold the inviolability of borders and the territorial integrity what does that mean Ukraine would actually have the right to ask for if it felt threatened not being a full member of NATO of course? Thanks.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, we don't have any information that contradicts the information we have got from the Russian side. Having said that, obviously, it doesn't make things easier that there is coincidence between the timing of this exercise and the ongoing events in Ukraine.
As regards the wording in our declaration on full respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, this is actually not new language from our side. It is language you will find in the founding documents that established the NATO-Ukraine Commission. So we just used this opportunity to repeat what we said many years ago in our founding documents.
OANA LUNGESCU: Japanese Media.
Q: Hi, Takasha with NHK Broadcasting. Yesterday, you mentioned that Ukraine is the most important security issue in Europe. Understanding that, I would like to have a very simple question. How much is the NATO concerned about the possible Russian military intervention in that area?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We have no information indicating that Russia has any plans to intervene militarily. In my statements today I have been very balanced and urged all parties, on all sides, to not take steps that can escalate the situation. On the contrary, we need steps that can cool down the whole situation. And that's a responsibility for all parties involved.
OANA LUNGESCU: One last question. ITAR-TASS.
Q: ITAR-TASS News Agency. Mister Secretary General, a few days, you have praised the Ukrainian Army for staying neutral in the political conflict in this country. Is this position still consistent in the light of tensions in Crimea, thank you?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I have no information indicating that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are involved or intend to be involved in the political crisis. On the contrary, the First Deputy Minister of Defence has just reiterated in the NATO-Ukraine Commission that it is a fundamental principle for the Ukrainian Armed Forces that they stay neutral. What we need is a political solution. What we need is a constructive dialogue. What we need is an inclusive political process in Ukraine.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much indeed.