OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon. It's very good to see everybody here again at Résidence Palace. The Secretary General will start with a statement and then he'll be happy to take your questions.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): Thank you very much. I have just returned from Russia where the ambassadors of the NATO-Russia Council had an excellent meeting with President Medvedev, Foreign Minister Lavrov and senior officials in the city of Sochi.
This meeting was symbolic because it shows our mutual desire to move NATO and Russia towards a strategic partnership. But it was also highly practical because it gave us the chance to discuss some of the key challenges facing us, such as terrorism, the situation in Afghanistan, and missile defence. Those are real challenges. They demand real solutions. And the best way to solve them would be through a real strategic partnership; the kind of partnership NATO and Russia want.
NATO has made it clear from the start that we want to pursue cooperation on missile defence with Russia. And we are proposing a realistic way forward: two independent systems with a common purpose and the mechanisms to exchange data so they can each be more effective.
We discussed missile defence in Sochi and I hope the realism that characterized these discussions will continue to guide us in the months ahead. It should shape our negotiations as we begin to look forward to a possible Summit with Russia next spring. Because we want a real partnership. We want to find a real answer to real threats. And if we can find it it could be a real breakthrough for us all.
I also had the opportunity in Sochi to meet South African President Zuma, and to brief him on the progress we have made in our operation to protect the people of Libya in full conformity with our United Nations mandate.
And that progress is significant. This is a complex operation, conducted over a vast area. It is almost 1,000 kilometres from Benghazi to Nalut. The threat to Libyan civilians from Qadhafi's forces reaches from one end of that space to the other and so do our operations.
But we are doing it with care, we are doing it with precision and we are doing it with success.
Since this operation began we have damaged or destroyed over 2,700 legitimate military targets, over 600 tanks and artillery pieces, almost 800 ammunition stores and bunkers. And the result is clear to see. Qadhafi's attempts to take Misrata by force have failed. His attempts to drive his tanks into Ajdabiya have failed. His attempts to crush the cities of the western mountains have failed.
Yes, he is still a threat. His forces are still shelling city streets indiscriminately, he is still using violence and terror in the areas which he holds. But his plans to retake the country by force have fallen apart. In cities like Misrata and Benghazi people can once more begin to plan a normal life, they can start to plan for their families and their future.
Qadhafi may try and portray NATO as a problem. He may claim that we are preventing a peaceful solution, but the truth is that without NATO and our partners there would have been no peace to aim for. Remember the tanks in the streets of Misrata. Remember the shelling of the western mountains. That is Qadhafi's so-called peaceful solution, and that is why we must keep on with this mission, because without NATO there would be a massacre. Qadhafi would be free to use his tanks and missiles on towns and markets. We will not let that happen. We will keep on with our operation until there is a peaceful solution, a political solution. The solution that the Libyan people and the whole world want to see.
Momentum is against Qadhafi. His economic strength to sustain a war against his people is declining. His ministers and generals are deserting and the international community has turned against him. For Qadhafi it is game over.
Finally, let me turn to Afghanistan. This morning I met General John Allen. In a few days he will take up his post as the commander of our operation in Afghanistan. We discussed our strategy at this pivotal moment in our most important operation. We both agreed that the strategy is the right one.
This month will mark a milestone in our mission. Afghan forces will shortly take the lead for security in seven provinces and districts which are home to a quarter of the population.
Ce qui veut dire que plus de sept millions d'Afghans vont voir leur police et leur armée assurer leur sécurité dans leur pays. C'est le premier pas vers la prise en charge de la sécurité par les Afghans dans l'ensemble du pays.
L'OTAN et nos partenaires au sein de la FIAS se félicitent de ce développement, tout comme la population afghane. En fait, les seuls qui ne s'en félicitent pas, ce sont les insurgés. Et là, nous avons bien vu ces dernières semaines jusqu'à quel extrême ces groupes sont prêts à aller pour que l'Afghanistan revienne en arrière.
Ils ont fait exploser des bombes dans des hôpitaux. Ils ont pris d'assaut un hôtel avec une rare violence. Ils ont fait couler le sang d'Afghans innocents partout et à chaque fois qu'ils en avaient l'occasion.
Je condamne absolument toutes ces attaques. Ces attaques ont clairement pour but de faire échouer le processus de transition et de déstabiliser le pays. Mais ce qu'elles montrent surtout, c'est la faillite des extrémistes. Car ces attaques ne peuvent qu'inciter la population à se retourner contre cette volonté meurtrière. Ils ne peuvent pas arrêter la transition, ni faire qu'on revienne en arrière.
Les forces de sécurité nationales afghanes y verront. Elles comptent maintenant environ 60 000 hommes et femmes. Des milliers d'autres sont en formation. Et la capacité de ces forces continue de croître.
L'avenir de l'Afghanistan, c'est un pays géré par les Afghans, défendu par les Afghans et déterminé … [inaudible] la vie des Afghans. L'OTAN et la communauté internationale toute entière sont résolus à promouvoir ces objectifs pendant la transition et au-delà.
Finalement, j'ai appris que Pascal Mallet, vous êtes là, renommé correspondant de l'Agence France Presse va quitter Bruxelles. Monsieur Mallet nous avons apprécié votre grand intérêt pour l'OTAN et votre sens critique. Vous allez nous manquer.
And now I'm ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU: Et n'oubliez pas que les micros sont près de votre siège. On va prendre des questions en français and in English. Mais on pourrait peut-être commencer par Pascal, s'il trouve son micro bien sûr.
Q: Merci, Monsieur le Secrétaire général. I will remember all my life when I met you the first time for an interview, you told me at the end, you are like a Dane. It was a compliment, of course.
So, ma question: Est-ce que vous croyez que l'offensive actuelle des rebelles qui viennent de l'Ouest en direction de Tripoli a des chances de succès? Et est-ce que l'OTAN va les assister, les soutenir concrètement? J'ai une deuxième question. Vous allez recevoir mercredi prochain des délégués du Conseil national de transition. Pouvez-vous confirmer cela déjà, ainsi que le fait que vous les recevrez avec le NAC, avec le Conseil de l'Atlantique Nord ou seulement vous-même séparément?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Merci beaucoup. En ce qui concerne l'avancée des forces de l'opposition, ce n'est pas à nous de le dire. Mais c'est clair que Qadhafi perd du terrain chaque jour. Sa machine de guerre est dégradée. Ses généraux et ses ministres le lâchent. Il a perdu le soutien de la communauté internationale. Brièvement, c'est la fin de la partie.
En ce qui concerne le contact avec l'opposition, je peux confirmer que le Conseil de l'OTAN aura une réunion informelle avec M. Jibril et des autres représentants du TNC. Cette réunion aura lieu le 13 juillet. Et en plus, j'ai une rencontre bilatérale avec M. Jibril. En fait, j'ai rencontré M. Jibril avant, au cadre des réunions du groupe international du contact.
OANA LUNGESCU: Reuters.
Q: Secretary General, David Brunnstrom from Reuters. Following on from your trip to Russia, did you hear anything in Russia, or since you've returned, to give credence to reports we've seen in the Russian media quoting high-level sources... a high-level source saying that Qadhafi has been sounding out the possibility of stepping down on condition... on certain conditions, including a political role for his son? And do you see any possibility of any such accommodation?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I have no confirmed information that Colonel Qadhafi has sounded out the possibility to step down. But it's quite clear that the end state must be that he leaves power. That has been clearly stated by the international community and by the opposition in Libya. I see that as the only possible way forward.
OANA LUNGESCU: Romanian Radio.
Q: Secretary General, (inaudible...) Radio Romania. There were some reports after the NATO-Russia Council in Sochi about the fact that during the meeting the Russian president, Medvedev, strongly criticized the Romanian president for some remarks related to events from World War II. These remarks have been seen as a statement against Russia. Could you confirm that or could you give us some more details?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: President Medvedev addressed this issue in a confidential diplomatic framework and in terms appropriate to that framework. The Romanian Ambassador to NATO responded in the same framework and in the same terms. And obviously I will not comment on bilateral issues or misunderstandings.
We all agree that it is important to preserve the Lisbon spirit of open dialogue and cooperation between NATO and Russia and to avoid any actions that could affect that spirit.
OANA LUNGESCU: Associated Press.
Q: Slobo Lekic from the Associated Press. The bombing campaign over Libya is proceeding much longer than originally expected and it's now very likely that it will go until the end of the month at least. We're coming up against Ramadan, which starts on August 1st. Will NATO continue bombing Libya during the month of Ramadan?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: As you all know NATO has been mandated by the United Nations Security Council to protect civilians against any attack and we have been mandated to take all necessary measures to protect the civilian population against such attack. So we would hope that the Qadhafi regime will stop attacking and bombing its own people during the Ramadan.
OANA LUNGESCU: FT Deutschland.
Q: Two questions, first on Qadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, could you imagine him to be the leader of the new Libya instead of his father? Would that be okay for you, for NATO?
And the second question is, France recently delivered weapons to the rebels. What sense does a NATO embargo, arms embargo make if one of the member countries delivers weapons to one of the sides in this Libyan civil war? Thanks.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: As regards a possible successor to Colonel Qadhafi, if I understand you correctly you mentioned one of his sons, who is included in the ICC arrest warrant, so I think the International Criminal Court has already given you the answer. According to the court his place should be in The Hague, and not in Tripoli. So I think that's a clear answer to your question.
And as regards the delivery of weapons, first of all, let me stress that this delivery of weapons has not taken place within the NATO framework and it's not part of the NATO operation. I understand that this delivery of weapons from France has taken place with the aim to protect civilians, with the aim to make civilians capable to defend themselves against attacks.
The NATO operation aims at implementing the UN Security Council Resolution 1973, according to which we are enforcing a No-Fly Zone, an arms embargo and we are protecting civilians. And so far we have implemented that Resolution successfully.
OANA LUNGESCU: Croatian Media.
Q: I'm from Croatian Daily (inaudible...). Back to the missile defence cooperation with Russia. I'm just wondering, do you maybe envisage something more than just mere exchange of information, like in a hypothetical situation that it becomes obvious that Iran might start firing its missiles or North Korea, that there will be some sort of command cooperation or even an ad hoc joint command between NATO and Russia?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We are still working on the architecture and the framework for missile defence cooperation, but one of the elements in practical missile defence cooperation could be to establish a centre or a couple of joint centres that could serve as a framework for exchange of data. That would actually make the whole system much more effective if we could cooperate on exchanging data. We could also envisage the elaboration of joint threat assessments, we could envisage preparation of joint exercises, just to mention some elements in practical cooperation on missile defence.
OANA LUNGESCU: Jane's.
Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. Two follow-up questions precisely on this subject, missile defence. Would you consider that political talks are ahead or behind the technical arrangements between Russia and NATO on missile defence? And is the goal to have a deal announced at this Summit you mentioned?
And second, beyond the mere data sharing, this comes to your joint centres is the idea that... I'm wondering whether there will be any physical sharing of infrastructure, budgets and personnel or whether everything will be kept strictly separate on each side. Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, if we can agree to establish joint centres they would also be jointly staffed. That's actually the essence of this. And I think such practical cooperation would be the very best reassurance, for both sides, actually, reassurance that neither of the systems is directed against the other part in that cooperation.
I think the first part of your question relates to technical discussions. Yes, we have political deliberations within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, but we have also more technical discussions at expert level, and I think the time horizon could realistically be next spring when we are going to have a NATO Summit in Chicago and we still keep the option open to also have a NATO-Russia Summit if we can ensure concrete results from such a Summit.
OANA LUNGESCU: Defence News.
Q: Along similar lines on missile defence, could you give your assessment of how likely you think you are to bring Russia onboard? What more can you offer them to reassure them and are there signs that they would accept two different missile defence systems?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, actually we are still in a very early phase of the preparation of such practical cooperation. So I think it's premature to present any final judgment. But I am optimistic, though we have still a lot of work to do, in particular when it comes to the question about reassurance. But what I reminded our Russian hosts during our visit to Russia Monday/Tuesday, what I reminded them was the fact that already in 1997 when Russia and NATO adopted the so-called Founding Act, already at that time we agreed that we will not use force against each other.
At that time this political promise was signed by 16 NATO Allies, because NATO had at that time 16 member states. Since then NATO has been enlarged and today NATO counts 28 Allies.
I feel sure that all 28 Allies would be pleased to sign that statement; namely, that NATO and Russia are not going to use force against each other. And that, of course, also includes missile defence.
So we have already agreed such a mutual obligation, and we could easily reiterate that political obligation.
OANA LUNGESCU: Wall Street Journal.
Q: Stephen Fidler for the Wall Street Journal. Just seeking a little more clarity on what you said about the Qadhafi family earlier. There are members of the Qadhafi family who haven't been indicted by the ICC. Would any of them be regarded as acceptable?
I have a second question about... it's been a few weeks since Secretary Gates gave a critique of the European allies' contribution in Libya and of their general contribution to European military security. Have you see any evidence since then of European governments stepping more up to the plate?
And finally, I apologize if you made a reference to this in your introductory remarks, but I'd be interested in any assessment you have of how the rebels, the opposition to Qadhafi, is doing militarily in Libya and whether you see any evidence of advances, for example, in the west of the country. Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, as regards to the future political leadership of Libya. I would like to stress that it is for the Libyan people to shape the future of Libya. And I think we need a political process. There is obviously no military solution solely to the conflict in Libya. We need a political process leading to a credible democracy. And I think it is for the Libyan people to shape that future possibly in cooperation with the international community.
So I think the question you raised should be dealt with in a framework where the Libyan people and the international community, International Contact Group, discuss the way forward as to how we can ensure the fulfilment of the UN Security Council Resolution that talks about the accommodation of the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.
As far as NATO is concerned, we are focused on the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution aiming at protecting civilians against attacks, enforcing the No-Fly Zone and the arms embargo. In parallel there is a political track and I think it should be dealt with within the framework of the International Contact Group first and foremost.
As regards the opposition forces, we have seen progress. They have advanced in recent weeks. But of course we don't know for sure how far they can advance. Our task is to implement the UN Security Council Resolution. But what we do know is that the Qadhafi war machine has been considerably degraded. His capability to attack civilians has been considerably decreased, and we consider that a success of our operation.
As regards Secretary Gates' farewell remarks, which he delivered just before he left office, I think they should be seen in a more long-term context. What he actually pointed out was the fact that we have seen an increasing gap between the United States and Europe during recent years. I share his concerns. If that development continues it will be increasingly difficult for Europe to take part in international crisis management in the future because of lack of critical capabilities, such as strategic airlift, critical intelligence and reconnaissance assets, et cetera.
So I think it was appropriate that Secretary Gates pointed to that risk. But having said that, I think the good news is that the Libya operation is an example of Europe, in cooperation with Canada and partners in the region, taking the lead. We have been used to American lead of all NATO operations. But the Libya operation is actually an example that the majority of aircraft has been provided by European allies and Canada and partners in the region.
And that is a testament to the strength and the solidarity of our Alliance.
OANA LUNGESCU: Europa Press.
Q: Thank you, Secretary General. A quick question, if I may. Is NATO as optimistic as Turkey that we will be able to find the final solution for Libya in August? And my second question, if I may is, France yesterday, concretely the French Minister of Defence, said that France was no longer going to arm the rebels because they didn't consider this necessary anymore.
With your statements that you've just made on the recent advances by the rebels, do you share this same vision as France, that it's no longer necessary? Thank you so much.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: As delivery of weapons is not part of the NATO operation I'm not going to comment on that.
As far as the timetable is concerned, I'm not going to guess about timetables. What I can tell you is that we will continue our operations until our military objectives have been met, and we have laid out three clear military objectives.
Firstly, a complete end to all attacks against civilians. Secondly, withdrawal of Qadhafi forces to their bases. And thirdly, immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need.
These objectives are not met yet, and we will continue until they are met.
OANA LUNGESCU: NPR.
Q: Teri Schultz with NPR and Global Post. Mr. Secretary, you just brought up another question for me. Can you give us an update on how many partners are now taking part in air strikes in the Libyan operation? And back to the French issue again. Isn't it actually a problem, and not an explanation, that NATO had no role in France's decision to make these arms drops, and as I understand it, you were informed after it happened. Shouldn't that be something that should be brought up with NATO? And even if France doesn't do it again, what's to stop another partner from doing that and is that a problem, as you see it, inside the Alliance as far as solidarity, understanding what other partners are doing?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Firstly, on air strikes, we never go into such operational details. It's a good try, but no, I'm not tempted to answer that question. And to make it very short, I don't consider the so-called arms drop a problem. But again, I would like to stress that it's not part of the NATO operation, and that's all I can say about it.
We are focused on the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution.
OANA LUNGESCU: Two last quick questions. ANSA Italian News Agency.
Q: Yes, hi, Marie Sole Tognazzi from ANSA Italian News Agency. Please, a quick question, you said the Libya operation is an example of the solidarity between the Allies, but even this morning Italy said that it has intention to cut the resources and the funds for the mission, defence mission abroad and so that could have an impact also on Libya.
Other countries are considering to step out, Norway, Belgium also, so you are not concerned about the fact that you could not have the necessary capability in order to stay on this mission till the end? Thanks.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, on the contrary, I'm confident that we will have the necessary assets at our disposal. We have the necessary resources, we have the necessary assets. Allies and partners have committed themselves to provide the necessary assets to see this through to a successful end, and as you know, we recently decided to prolong our operation for another three months, and in that same context Allies and partners committed themselves to provide the necessary assets to continue the operation.
OANA LUNGESCU: Une toute dernière question, Radio France Internationale.
Q: Au Secrétaire général, Pierre Bénazet, Radio-France. Est-ce que vous pouvez me donner plus de détails, de précisions sur votre rencontre avec les délégués de Benghazi la semaine prochaine? Est-ce que vous comptez évoquer le soutien que l'OTAN apporte... peut apporter à la rébellion? Est-ce que vous comptez aussi les sonder sur leurs intentions, relations de négociation avec le régime de Tripoli?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Le but de cette réunion est d'échanger des points de vue. Et je pense que M. Jibril va présenter la feuille de route pour la transition envers la démocratie en Libye. Comme vous le savez, le TNC a élaboré une telle feuille de route. Et c'est important pour le Conseil de l'OTAN de discuter ce sujet avec M. Jibril. Mais le but primordial, c'est d'échanger des points de vue.
OANA LUNGESCU: Merci beaucoup. Thank you very much.