by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen following the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at the level of Defence Ministers
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): We'll make a short opening statement. And then we'll have time for only a few questions this evening. Secretary General.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): Thank you very much. We have just finished a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. I can truly say this was an important meeting because it is the first time that defence ministers have met in three years; and because we discussed issues that matter to us all.
We're also taking stock of work on missile defence since our historic Lisbon summit. We're coming closer to reaching agreement on the key principles which should govern this cooperation. Transparency, confidence building and mutual reassurance will guide our work in the NATO-Russia Council in the months and years ahead.
The missile threat is real and we need a real defence. We want real cooperation with Russia on missile defence. Our vision is two independent systems with one goal: two systems that would exchange information to make the defence of NATO territory and of Russian territory more effective.
We also discussed the progress of NATO's mission to protect the people of Libya. As part of the international community, NATO and Russia share a clear goal: to ensure the people of Libya can shape their own future in freedom.
NATO and Russia also share an interest in a stable Afghanistan. One excellent example of cooperation is the transit for Afghanistan which is being used by Allies and other ISAF contributors.
Counter-narcotics training conducted in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council is another success story. And the Helicopter Trust Fund is a timely initiative which can greatly benefit Afghan security forces. We are working on tangible projects to counter terrorism; the exchange of classified information; developing technology able to detect explosive devices; and ways to improve protection of critical infrastructure.
And as I speak, NATO and Russian fighter jets are holding their first ever joint exercise over Poland and the Black Sea. The Cooperative Air Space Initiative aims to prevent attacks such as 9/11 by sharing information and coordinating interceptions of renegade aircraft.
This is good news. And it comes just days after a Russian submarine joined for the first time a NATO submarine rescue exercise. So our military cooperation is making steady progress.
Finally, I'm happy to confirm that the next... that next month the NATO-Russia Council at the level of ambassadors will meet in Russia in the city of Sochi. And with that, I'm ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU: Please don't forget to introduce yourselves and your media. Over there.
Q: Hello, Priit Simson. I am from Estonian Daily Eesti Paevaleht. My question is that Russians have repeatedly asked for assurances concerning the missile shield. Have you got some kind of understanding by now what kind of assurances do they have in mind? And this issue, was it raised again this time?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, it is an issue we have discussed. I also discussed it in a bilateral meeting with Russian minister of Defence. And of course, I understand very well the request for assurance. But I also have a very clear answer to that request, namely the best assurance you could ever get would be to engage in a sincere and close cooperation on missile defence. That's the best guarantee you can get. Let me stress, the NATO based missile defence system is not in any way directed against Russia. We do not consider Russia a threat to NATO countries, nor do NATO countries constitute a threat against Russia.
And in that very spirit of positive cooperation, we should develop a missile defence architecture based on two independent systems but with one common purpose and exchange data to make the whole system much more effective.
So my answer to your question is: "Yes, the best possible assurance you could get would be to engage in a committed cooperation."
OANA LUNGESCU: Davis Boss Latvian TV 3. I was just coming back from Russian Defence Minister's press conference. And he sounded terribly pessimistic about your discussion. So I was wondering... Basically, he was saying: "We're being ignored. We're not being heard. Our suggestions are basically not being heard by NATO." I was wondering what is the way forward for this. Do you see any room for compromise here? And what is the way forward for discussions on missile defence?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, actually, I have listened. I have heard. I've also conveyed some very clear messages to the Russian minister. And my main message not only to the minister but to the Russian people is that NATO does not constitute a threat against Russia. So it would be in the interest of Russia to engage in a positive cooperation with NATO and focus on real security challenges. Instead of some ghosts of the past that don't exist any longer. So I base my optimism on the fact that both Russia and NATO Allies are faced with the same missile threat. And it would be of mutual benefit to cooperate militarily because we could make the whole system much more effective if we exchange data and engage in cooperation in other areas as well. Politically because it would be very clear to everybody that a Russian missile defence system, a NATO missile defence system are not directed against each other. They are defence systems with the aim to protect our populations against a common threat. And all in all such cooperation would contribute to an improvement of the overall security environment in Europe and North America. So that's a perspective. And we are still at the very early stage of this process.
My time perspective is the summit, next spring, in May 2012. And I hope we can find common solutions before that summit.
OANA LUNGESCU: We have time for two more questions. And the lady at the back.
Q: Giovanna Pancheri, Sky-TG24, Italy. If I may get back a little bit to Libya about the possibility of increasing their own effort, can you tell us if there is any states that agreed with these requests. And if... what state according to you should increase anyway its own export. Thank you please.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Hum, well, I have in general terms asked Allies to broaden their support for our operation in Libya. First of all, let me stress that all 28 aides... allies have agreed to extend our operation beyond the current 90 days mandate. So, we have extended our operation for a further three months, from the end of June. And Allies will provide the necessary assets for continuing our operation.
But I think for the sustainability of this operation, it would be good to broaden the support. And in general terms I have requested such broadened support either by increased contributions or new contributions or more flexible use of the assets provided for the operation.
But I will leave it to each individual Ally to make announcements if they do have announcements. What counts today is a common commitment to continue our operation beyond the current 90 days mandate.
Q: My name is Darius …..(inaudible). I'm from News Agency Baltic News Service. I have a question about missile defence. From what you heard in the meeting with Mr. Serdyukov, how could you describe the Russian position what they're telling about sectorial approach to missile defence? Do Russians still want to look after some NATO territories?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Right from the outset, we have made clear that we are not ready to accept the sectorial approach. We have made clear that NATO is responsible for the protection of NATO territory. I think it goes without saying that's the essence of our defence alliance. Once a country has become member of NATO, there is not only an expectation but I would say an obligation to protect that country against any attack. That follows from Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. So we have made clear right from the outset that NATO is not going to outsource the defence of a NATO Allies to third countries.
Well, we are right now in a process where we negotiate and discuss with our Russian partners. I would call it quite a natural process. We took a very important decision in Lisbon. And we have now initiated this process, you can't expect us to reach an agreement right from the beginning of that process. The Russians have their positions and their interests. We have our positions and our interests. And now the political challenge is to build a bridge. And we have still some time. As I stated before I have the summit in May next year as my time horizon. So I would expect us to make steady progress. It will be hard work. But I'm still optimistic. I think at the end of the day we can reach a solution.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much, the Secretary General will be back with you tomorrow.