by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen following the North Altantic Council meeting in Foreign Ministers session
Good evening. We have just discussed the situation in Kosovo, which is of concern to all of us.
Let me be clear. Restrictions to the freedom of movement are not acceptable. The use of violence is not acceptable. And particularly, attacks on our soldiers and on any member of international missions in Kosovo are not acceptable.
KFOR is ensuring freedom of movement and a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo. Our soldiers are operating carefully, firmly and impartially. And they are acting in full accordance with our mandate from the United Nations.
We fully support the Commander of KFOR and the troops under his command as they continue to uphold the United Nations mandate.
Recently, we have seen some positive steps. President Tadic has called on those who are manning the barricades to return to their homes. Belgrade and Pristina have reached an agreement on integrated crossings. And the first roadblocks have been removed.
This sort of concrete and constructive actions are welcome. But we need to see more of them. So that freedom of movement is fully restored to the northern part of Kosovo. Because tensions are bad for Serbia, bad for Kosovo, and bad for the whole region.
We also discussed our cooperation with Russia, ahead of our meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov tomorrow in the NATO-Russia Council.
Our partnership with Russia is of fundamental importance. And we agreed that we have made good progress in that partnership. And there is potential for still more.
We cooperate to bring stability to Afghanistan, and stem the flood of narcotics out of the country. We cooperate in the fight against terrorism. We cooperate in combating piracy. This cooperation benefits all of us. And we are committed to continuing it.
At the same time, there are areas where we disagree. Missile defence is one of them.
NATO’s position is clear. We need missile defences for our own security. We believe our defences would be more effective if we cooperate. And we want to create trust and build transparency.
This is why we invited our Russian partners to discuss the potential for cooperation. And I am glad that President Medvedev recently stated that Russia is keeping the door for dialogue open. I agree that dialogue is vital – and NATO remains committed to dialogue.
But we have also noted that Russia is prepared to respond to our plans by deploying missiles in areas neighbouring the Alliance. I have to say that such responses remind us of the confrontation of a bygone era. And they suggest a fundamental misunderstanding – of the scale of our missile defences, and of their purpose.
So we are looking forward to our meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov tomorrow to clear the air. NATO and Russia have a self-evident interest in working together. In many important areas, we are already working together. And I firmly believe that there is great potential for us to work together still more closely.
And with that, I am ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO spokesperson): And I would like you please to introduce yourselves, your organizations and also to stick to one question if possible. We’ll go to German Television.
Q: Secretary General, how do you explain these tensions between NATO and Russia? Are they also bound [?] with the problems now actually in Russia in Moscow, just behind after the elections?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, it’s a well-known fact that in democracies, you have heated debates during electoral campaigns. And of course I can’t exclude the possibility that recent statements are also influenced by the electoral mood in Russia.
But of course we have to take presidential statements seriously, and that’s what I do, by stressing that I don’t think such statements are in full accordance with what we decided a year ago in Lisbon when we clearly stated that we want to develop a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia.
OANA LUNGESCU: CNN?
Q: Yes, Lois Slaba, with CNN. Thank you. Mr. Secretary General, I’d like to expand on your comments of Russia, between President Medvedev’s threats to deploy the missile system and also the Russian rep here saying that it would tie its displeasure on missile defence to the transit of ISAF supplies in the northern distribution network.
Do you consider this an official Russian position on Afghanistan and tying it to the northern distribution network and missile defence? What would the consequences be for ISAF especially given what’s going on with Pakistan and its closing of the border and what would the implications be for Russian/NATO cooperation in some of those other areas, like counter-terrorism and piracy that you just mentioned? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I think, honestly speaking, that it’s an empty threat because it is clearly in Russia’s self-interest to contribute to a success in Afghanistan. Russia knows from bitter experience that instability in Afghanistan have negative repercussions in Russia as well.
And obviously, that’s also the reason why Russia has embarked on a cooperation with NATO and with ISAF by providing a transit arrangement. Actually one year ago in Lisbon, we decided to expand that transit to be a reverse transit. So I would be very surprised if Russia took a step that is in direct contradiction with what is Russia’s self-interest.
Q: Thank you. The reference of NATO tension with Pakistan – I come from Pakistan – what has been the investigation process, because last year there was a similar incident where three persons were killed and NATO instantly sought an apology from Pakistan. But this time, as the time passes, there is a feeling in Pakistan that the attack was well coordinated, well planned and well thought out.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I strongly regret the recent security incidents and as I’ve already done, I would like to repeat here that I convey my deepest condolences to the bereaved families and I express my sympathy for the armed forces of Pakistan and the Pakistani people.
We have launched an investigation of what actually happened, and I do hope that Pakistan will engage positively in that investigation. We have invited Pakistan to participate in that investigation because I think the right response to that regrettable incident is not less but more cooperation, also to avoid such accidents to happen in the future.
And that should be the purpose of an investigation. Also, to learn lessons as to how we can avoid such incidents in the future through a strengthened cooperation. We need a positive engagement of Pakistan.
OANA LUNGESCU: The lady in the front. Please don’t forget to introduce yourself.
Q: My name is Essel(ph). I come from Tunisia. My question is to Secretary General about NATO strategy towards the Northern African countries and mostly Mediterranean countries following the Arab Spring and what’s the new strategy towards these countries? And is NATO concerned about the weapons in the region, mostly in Libya, and the threat to the neighbouring countries, especially that on the borders with Tunisia, we’ve seen a lot of threats recently? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, on your specific question as regards to weapons, yes, it is a matter of concern. And I would remind you that the UN Security Council has stressed that it is a responsibility for the new authorities in Libya to make sure that the weapons are properly controlled.
I would also remind you that the weapons embargo is, or the arms embargo is still in force and it is a responsibility for all UN member states, including countries in the neighbourhood of Libya, to enforce that arms embargo.
So, yes, it is a matter of concern and it is a responsibility for the new authorities in Libya as well as all countries in the region to make sure that proliferation of such weapons will not take place.
Your more general question about the Arab Spring and what is the consequences of that, I’m very encouraged by what we have seen. What we have seen is that the people of nations in North Africa and the Middle East have taken the situation in their own hands. They have clearly demanded freedom and democracy. They have seen that freedom and democracy can bring prosperity, can bring new opportunities for people. They have seen that with their own eyes in countries that flourish from freedom and democracy.
And now, they want, for understandable reasons, exactly the same opportunities in their countries. That has been the driving force behind the revolutions in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya and elsewhere. And the only way forward is to accommodate these legitimate aspirations of the people in the region.
I hope that strong and stable democracies will develop in North Africa and the Middle East. And I’m confident that will happen.
OANA LUNGESCU: (Inaudible).
Q: Seljunas(ph), Lithuanian Daily, Lituasiritas(ph). So as you mentioned about Russia’s response towards missile defence shield, despite all that, Russians seem to be going anyway and responding kind with deploying missiles and radars. So as some NATO countries have already expressed a concern that Russia is strengthening its military capabilities on the western borders, would NATO, apart the talking and urging Russia, respond in any other kind, or would it have seen any similar responses as an escalation you don’t want to lead to unexpected scenarios?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Such reactions would definitely be premature. Let me remind you that President Medvedev kept the door open to dialogue. And there’s still some time to go.
My time horizon is still the NATO Summit in Chicago in May. I do hope that we can reach an agreement with Russia on missile defence by May. Hopefully, that would also lead to a new NATO-Russia Summit similar to the one we had in Lisbon.
What I have done is to clearly stress that the rhetoric we have seen recently is not in accordance with the positive Lisbon spirit where we stated that we want to develop a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia.
But I don’t think we should over-react. Let’s continue negotiations and dialogue. I’m still optimistic. I do believe there is a fair chance that we can reach an agreement.
OANA LUNGESCU: One very last question over there.
Q: Mohamed Zubia(ph), from Misrata TV. We have some information received by, from some media agencies saying that some Libyans or some rebels from Libya went to Syria or to the borders of Syria. So is there any information regarding this matter, because such news would make troubles for our, I mean, rebels and internationally. Please, I request Your Excellency to confirm or to have… or at least to let others know what’s going on.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, but I have to say that I don’t have such information. Thank you.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much indeed. And you will have seen the communiqué which should be circulated to you. Thank you.