JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Thank you for coming. I know it's rare that we ask you to come all the way up here, but I'm glad so many of you could make it. This is our traditional pre-Defence Ministers' briefing by our resident expert, and he who is guiding the process from inside this Headquarters, and that is Assistant Secretary General John Colston.
This portion of the briefing is on the record, so please feel free to quote. And I turn the floor immediately over to you, John.
JOHN P. COLSTON (Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning): James, thank you very much and very good to see you all here again this afternoon.
Just a reminder, this week's meeting of the Defence Ministers in Seville on Thursday and Friday is an informal meeting. This means there will be no communiqué. This means that there will be no formal decisions taken by the Ministers. But it is an important opportunity for high-level political consultations amongst the Defence Ministers on what is going to be a critical year for NATO's two largest operational commitments, Afghanistan and Kosovo.
It is also a key opportunity for Defence Ministers, a little more than two months after the NATO Summit in Riga to review progress on the continuing efforts to transform, to modernize NATO's military capabilities.
Let me say a word or two about Kosovo, first of all, which will be the first subject on their agenda for the Thursday afternoon. This discussion comes at a very opportune time given President Ahtisaari's presentation of his comprehensive proposal for a Kosovo status settlement in Belgrade and Pristina on Friday.
There will therefore be an opportunity, I think, for Defence Ministers to do four things. Firstly, is to confirm their very strong support for President Ahtisaari and his proposal and the need to make progress on the status settlement promptly.
Secondly, confirming NATO's commitment to maintain a safe and secure environment in Kosovo during this sensitive period. And to assume its role in accordance with President Ahtisaari's proposal thereafter.
Linked to that, committing themselves to deepening the preparations for the potential post-settlement role for NATO. And finally, in that context, committing themselves to close cooperation with other international players, and in particular the European Union, which is going to be absolutely critical in Kosovo.
Secondly, Afghanistan. And Afghanistan will occupy the bulk of the time which Defence Ministers will spend together on Thursday afternoon in Seville. And Ministers will want to ensure that this year we can continue, NATO can continue effectively and robustly to assist the Afghan government on the path towards peace and prosperity. There's no doubt that's what the government and people of Afghanistan want, and the allies will want to express their determination to help them.
Three aspects which I think are going to be particularly important in Seville: The question of international cooperation; cooperation with other agencies, the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, donor nations, and so on, and with other countries including Pakistan, in order to ensure that there is a comprehensive international approach towards assisting the Afghan government.
Second, specific support to the Afghan government and the Afghan National Army in ensuring that the Afghan National Army is trained and equipped to do its job in an effective manner.
And finally, making sure that we have the military assets necessary to do the job.
The discussion amongst the 26 NATO Ministers will be followed by a meeting with the Afghan Defence Minister, Minister Wardak, who will join the Defence Ministers for a further discussion of Afghanistan. And that's an opportunity to emphasize the principle of Afghan ownership of this process, which is key to NATO's engagement, and to ensure that what NATO is seeking to do is properly responding to Afghanistan's needs and priorities.
The discussion on operations may well continue on Friday morning, because this is really going to be the dominant theme of the Seville meeting. But on Friday morning, Ministers should also have an opportunity to discuss the follow-up to the Riga Summit in terms of defence and military transformation.
One theme of this I've already touched on a little, it's the question of the comprehensive approach towards cooperation with other international agencies. That will, I'm sure, be a theme of our discussion, both of Kosovo and Afghanistan. But Ministers may wish to emphasize its importance in its own right.
There is also, I think, going to be a focus on the NATO Response Force, which is the key element of our ability to respond to emerging crises. You will be aware that in Riga we declared the full operational capability of the NATO Response Force. That means it's ready to run for all the purposes for which it is designed. However, this is a tough assignment as far as NATO and nations are concerned. It requires continuing effort, and I'm expecting a healthy and interesting debate about how we can most effectively ensure the continued successful implementation of the NATO Response Force. How can we ensure the best return on nations' investment in the NATO Response Force in terms of capability for operations and to ensure that it continues to act as a catalyst for transformation?
I expect that a number of Ministers may wish to raise a number of other issues in the context of that Friday morning meeting, whether it is missile defence, whether it is the continuing reform of the NATO Headquarters and the NATO military command structure. but the big focus for the discussions amongst the 26 NATO Ministers, firstly operations, secondly transformation and particularly the NATO Response Force.
There are then two further meetings, which will take place in Seville. The Ministers will meet with their counterpart from the Russian Federation, Minister Sergey Ivanov, for a discussion on how to take forward defence and military cooperation within the NATO-Russia Council. And I'm expecting a good discussion there of current security issues, including Afghanistan, Kosovo, perhaps Iraq. But also of more practical areas of cooperation, cooperation in response to the threats of terrorism and proliferation. In particular, the prospects of a further Russian contribution, naval contribution to NATO's maritime surveillance operation in the Mediterranean, Operation Active Endeavour, later this year.
And finally, following the very first successful meeting between NATO Defence Ministers and the Defence Ministers of the seven Mediterranean Dialogue countries, the first meeting which took place in Taormina in Sicily last February. There's be a further meeting, a working lunch, with the Defence Ministers of the seven Mediterranean Dialogue countries, which will take place in Seville. And this will be an opportunity for us to review progress in defence cooperation with these countries to see where we've made some concrete step forward.
And in particular to look at how we can build on the initiative related to training, which was announced at the Riga Summit, and to hear what it is that are the priority areas for cooperation for our Mediterranean Dialogue countries.
That's a description of what the Ministers will be up to at the end of this week. I'm very happy to take any questions that you may have.
UNIDENTIFIED: Please identify yourselves (inaudible)...
Q: Ah, Tania (inaudible), Macedonia1, TV, Sitel. Can I ask the question in French? Bien, le ministère des Affaires intérieures macédonien a annoncé qu'il allait à nouveau ouvrir l'enquête sur la mort du président Trajkovski. Ils vont demander la collaboration de l'OTAN, plus particulièrement de la SFOR dans le cadre de cette enquête. Est-ce que la SFOR est prête à collaborer? Il y a eu des annonces comme quoi les deux soldats français qui étaient en charge du contrôle du vol allaient donner des interviews. Est-ce que vous avez des informations là-dessus?
COLSTON: I wasn't aware at the present of the particular report that you mentioned, but I'm sure...
COLSTON: Sorry. Sorry, I wasn't aware... I was not aware of the particular report which you mentioned, but I'm sure that NATO and the authorities in the NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo will be ready to assist in any way in which they reasonably can, with any information which is available to NATO forces in that context.
Q: Et la seconde question concerne... oui, pardon. Le seconde question concerne votre visite en Macédoine1 il y a quelques semaines. Est-ce qu'il a été question à un moment ou à un autre du fait de la question du nom entre la Grèce et la Macédoine1. Est-ce que ça pourrait être une complication de quelque sorte pour l'adhésion de la Macédoine1 à l'OTAN vu la déclaration de M. McCormack aujourd'hui à Washington?
COLSTON: NATO does not, as a matter of policy, take a position in relation to the name issue. We look for and hope for a prompt and early resolution of the issue, which is acceptable to all parties. Certainly the government in Skopje is aware of the importance which NATO allies place in the context of the Membership Action Plan on productive, constructive relations with all neighbouring countries. And that is the only context in which we would, as an Alliance, pay any direct attention to this issue. But we do hope that it will be resolved in a manner satisfactory to all as quickly as possible.
Q: (inaudible)... National News Agency of Ukraine. NATO-Russia Council will be held timely for Sergey Ivanov to raise an issue of anti-missile systems in Poland and Czech, so that what could be your response on that request? And could we consider that system like a part integral or some kind related part of theatre missile program of NATO?
COLSTON: Thank you. Thank you very much for that question. It would not surprise me at all if Minister Ivanov were to raise the question of missile defence in Seville. We do know, because the United States has taken care to be entirely transparent with allies about the process of its discussions, we do know that the United States has briefed Russian officials at the highest levels in relation to its programs and the negotiations which it has begun in Prague and Warsaw.
We do know that the United States has offered reassurance to the Russian Federation that any radar or missile sites in Europe can have no possible impact on Russian defensive or offensive systems. It's just a technical impossibility. And it is quite likely that the United States will be using the meetings in Seville to continue those process of consultations with the Russian leadership to emphasize that what is being sought has no impact at all on Russian capabilities. It is straightforwardly designed to protect against rogue missile threats.
As far as the NATO system is concerned, what NATO has been focusing on and where we have made most progress is, indeed our theatre missile defence capability. Missile defence capability, primarily designed to protect NATO forces when they deploy.
The question of any possible linkages between a theatre missile defence system and a continental missile defence system, and a strategic missile defence system, we may see some discussion of that in Seville, but that is an issue really which the allies will need to take forward throughout the remainder of this year.
APPATHURAI: I think, Paul, you were next.
Q: Paul Ames from the Associated Press. I wonder if you could let us know what the current standing is regarding the requirements for ISAF? I notice that the latest data put out by ISAF itself shows a 2,000 troop increase since the figures that were released at the Foreign Ministers' meeting. How far does that go to filling the gap and what is still required, and what are your expectations of getting some more commitments in Seville?
COLSTON: Yeah, let me just say a word or two and I'll ask James if he wants to add anything, but I should make clear Seville is not a force generation conference at ministerial level. Neither the Secretary General nor General Craddock are going to be handing around the begging bowl looking for further contributions.
What will happen at Seville is the first opportunity that really Defence Ministers will have to sit down with General Craddock as the new SACEUR and review what is really needed in terms of ensuring the continuing success of the ISAF mission.
So I'm not going to talk about numbers, because the debate about requirements has not begun at the political level. So it would be quite premature to do that.
It will be a feature of the discussions, the importance of ensuring that allies provide the necessary resources free from national caveats to complete the job, but it will... that will be one feature of a discussion of the comprehensive approach to Afghanistan which includes the support to the Afghanistan National Army, which includes cooperation with other international actors and so on.
So I wouldn't want to exaggerate the extent to which you should expect to see new offers, different offers, different requirements being aired in Seville.
But James, anything you want to add?
APPATHURAI: Nope, it's fine.
Q: Well, actually... Ingrid Klintborn from the Spanish News Agency EFE. I was going to ask you the same question Paul just asked you, but I was wondering, what's the state of play now in Afghanistan? I mean, in the last ministerial in Brussels, the Americans said they were going to leave 3,500 troops, they were going to extend the time they were going to stay, so how many troops are there now for ISAF and can you tell me, in Afghanistan?
COLSTON: Around 33,000. I don't know if you've got any more precise figures than that, James?
APPATHURAI: That's about right. I think, as Paul has alluded to, there are more forces on the ground than we had previously planned for, before the United States took the decision to extend a significant portion of the 10th Mountain Division.
The United Kingdom has also made it clear that they will be retaining and, indeed, adding somewhat to the numbers of forces that they had on the ground and other allies are looking at what they too can produce.
I think if we set aside the more technical discussions or statements of requirements, what we can clearly see is that in 2007 NATO will have substantially more combat power on the ground. In particular in the south and in the east, as we go into 2007, and that's a good story, as John says, to reinforce the success that we've already had.
That, to me is the lesson... is the main message as we go into Seville.
Q: Excuse me, just a small other question. Can you confirm whether Spain was going to bring some troops in August for the composite headquarters, because you know, there was a big deal last week about this and I don't really know... I can't, you know, get an answer from anyone whether Spain had pledged these troops for the composite headquarters because the other day Zapatero, the Prime Minister, said they would not be giving any more troops for Afghanistan.
So I wonder whether this would disrupt the functioning of these headquarters. Can you say something about this?
APPATHURAI: Okay. (inaudible)...
COLSTON: All I was going to say was that clearly the Spanish contribution to ISAF is important, it's critical. We hope that it continues. And obviously we're going to encourage all allies to think seriously about what is needed to do the job. And we hope that all allies will look at those potential areas where SACEUR is advising us to do more and we'll be prepared to think quite hard about whether they can assist.