JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary General of NATO):Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. A special pleasure to greet the Czech Prime Minister Topolánek here this afternoon at NATO. He was here before, but in a different incarnation and capacity and we met in Prague shortly before the Riga Summit.
The Czech Republic, being an active participant in the different NATO operations and missions, a very active participant in Afghanistan, NATO's number one priority, being present there and having announced that the participation will be enlarged, also playing a role in the all-important activities concerning the training, and in the Czech case, equipping of the Afghan National Army. The same goes for Kosovo, where the Czech Republic is present in large numbers. No need to tell you how important it is as we speak, that KFOR is prepared, as I've said before, for all eventualities.
Point number three, Czech Republic, being specialized in the CBRN area, where the Czech Republic has found a very important niche in NATO and we see Czech support in many operations and missions, very specialized support as well. Also in the non-military domain we saw the Czech Republic, for instance, playing an important role in supporting the Olympics in Athens last year.
So it will not come as a surprise to you that we discussed Afghanistan, we discussed Kosovo, and it will also not come as a surprise to you that we discussed missile defence, which is, of course, an important topic for NATO. As the NATO Secretary General you will understand that I'll not enter into the bilateral track between the United States of America and the Czech Republic. That's up to those two nations. But let me repeat what I said before, the Riga Summit, during the Riga Summit NATO Heads of State and Government have instructed me and the North Atlantic Council to discuss missile defence, to discuss the trajectory after the feasibility study, to discuss the threats, the political aspects of the threats, the military aspects of the threats. That is what we are doing.
It is certainly the case that the bilateral consultations with our Czech and Polish friends have triggered the discussion in NATO. You know there was an extensive briefing by General Obering in the NATO-Russia Council last week—that was already the second—that were discussed in the North Atlantic Council as well. It will certainly be discussed again soon in a reinforced meeting of the North Atlantic Council. But I'll not enter, of course, the bilateral track. That is up to the Prime Minister. But you know my position. I think in the framework of the indivisibility of security missile defence, the threat of missiles in the dangerous area we live in is also certainly an item which should be prominently on the NATO agenda.
Finally, we discussed a theme I, unfortunately, have to discuss with many allied leaders visiting NATO Headquarters or elsewhere and that is the defence budget, where unfortunately also the Czech Republic, there is the downward trend, there's a down slope, as we see in so many allies, and it will not come as a surprise to you, but the Prime Minister was so sportsmanlike to mention it himself first. It will not come as a surprise to you that as the NATO Secretary General I've also, I would almost say, hammered the message home, in a very friendly and diplomatic way of course, that the downward trend also in the Czech Republic of the defence budget really should be stopped, and that also the Czech Republic would have to find the upward trend again, because if you look at NATO's operations, if you look at the need for restructuring the defence forces, that costs money. And I know that there are many priorities, but defence should certainly be one.
Prime Minister, please.
MIREK TOPOLÁNEK (Prime Minister of the Czech Republic):So first of all, I would like to start with the last issue mentioned by the Secretary General, which his the down slope or the downward trend in terms of the defence budget and defence planning.
When I met him for the first time, and this is my third official meeting, so during the first official meeting I was still an opposition politician and at that time I promised to him that I will try to do my best to increase the defence budget planning, up to two percent of GDP. At that time I was not fully aware of the budget planning and of the intricacies of the budget. Now I know and therefore all I can promise at this moment is to actually stop this down slope and if possible revert this trend upward, but that's the maximum I can undertake at this given moment.
It is also true that the Czech economy has been successful and therefore with the increasing GDP we were able to fully professionalize our army to discharge our missions, as well as our operation duties. For instance, as of the 31st of December 2006 we started fulfilling our operational duties.
A few words about Afghanistan. It will suffice to say that we regard this country or the situation there as a test case for future potential cooperation of international institutions and organizations as far as future conflicts and their resolution is concerned, with the involvement of multinational institutions, UN, EU, NATO and others.
As far as the missile defence issue is concerned, I'm also very happy to see that discussions already started in NATO. After the feasibility study stage we're approaching discussions which are proceeding there pre-implementation phase, and I am also very happy to say that our bilateral discussion with the U.S. are triggering these discussions within the Alliance.
And I think that it is very much valid, what I've heard from the Secretary General, if we can all agree on common threats, then we'll be all able to find a solution to their elimination.
JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman):Two questions here and here.
Q:Good afternoon, gentlemen. (inaudible)..., Czech Television. Mr. Secretary General, I wonder, will you tell me what do you think about the arguements or claims that the missile defence in Czech Republic or in Poland would or should be part of the NATO context or framework, especially regarding the possible argues of Russia against.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER:Well, I think to start answering the part about Russia, I think we have been and we are, and the Americans have been fully transparent to the Russians. And I think the Russian Federation understands perfectly well that this system is not in any way directed against them. I mean, although they might comment otherwise from time to time, I think everybody can see that and everybody can also see that transparency has been maximized because there has also been, as you know, many bilateral U.S.-Russian Federation contacts, and we have had two briefings in the NATO-Russia Council.
On the first part of your question, ah, I must stress again that I cannot enter into, or influence the negotiations if they're going to take place between the United States of America and the Czech Republic and the speed of those negotiations. That is up to the Czech government and the American government.
What I can do for my responsibility is see to it that a serious and speedy debate is being held inside the NATO framework and the most strong argument I have for that is the Riga Summit and the instructions we have from the Heads of State and Government.
Q:If I can add one more question. Do you think that the member states are ready to reach an agreement to reach the common position?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER:Well that will have to be proven in the discussion here at NATO. We're 26 and NATO is, as you know, an Alliance based on consensus. So I don't now how much time that will take, so I cannot possibly give you timelines for their debate. The only thing I can tell you is that I would... I wouldn't even say I would like to start this debate very soon because it has already started. But the timelines, that's very difficult.
Q:Mark John for Reuters. Two questions for the Secretary General. Are you concerned that the incidents we saw at the weekend in Afghanistan involving civilian casualties could hit the local support for international forces in that country? And the second question is, do you have a reaction on the Abkhazia vote that we've just seen?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER:On your first question, every civilian casualty is one too many, and is it always dramatic, dramatic with a capital D, when innocent civilians get hurt or, in this case, get killed. And you know that I've said this before.
I know that there is strong support for the presence of NATO ISAF in Afghanistan. To the best of my knowledge in these incidents NATO ISAF was not involved, but that is not to do anything away from my comments on the drama of innocent civilian casualties. I understand that an inquiry is going on on what exactly happened. That is what should happen in this case, but I do not think it will influence the great support there is for the NATO ISAF forces in Afghanistan.
On Abkhazia you know, as I said before, in other so-called quote/unquote referenda, or elections, quote/unquote, again, I do not consider these of any relevance because as you know, in the case of Georgia the NATO allies are firmly committed to the territorial integrity of Georgia and we don't recognize this so-called referendum.
Q:Czech Radio. One question for each of the gentlemen. We'll start with General Secretary. Do you see the American anti-missile system as a possible point of discord within the Alliance, generally speaking? Do you think... what sort of discussion are you hoping to have? Do you think the discussion will be very difficult? Do you think it will be easy, etc.?
(SPEAKING IN CZECH)
TRANSLATOR:I'll probably translate the second question in Czech. This is a question addressed to our Prime Minister, the Czech Prime Minister. What is the message that you're leaving with from this meeting? Do you have sort of free hands or is there any kind of message that you've left with, so would you like to share it with us, in other words?
TOPOLÁNEK: First of all, I think it was very good to have this opportunity to discuss issues related to Kosovo and Afghanistan. It was very interesting to listen to some of the opinions that the Secretary General shared with me, and actually we very much agree on a number of issues.
And as far as the missile defence goes I'm also very happy with the message. The message is that the discussion has started. The Riga conclusions will be reflected into the discussion and the discussions should start within a few weeks and months.
Just a comment, as for the 18 member states of the European Union, EU member states, who host U.S. military bases in their territories, I think it is not up to them to comment a possible existence of such a presence in the territory of the Czech Republic. However, as far as the discussion within the Alliance goes, we're very happy that the discussions has started and it's going to continue.
And so, to conclude, I'm leaving very happy.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER:Let me answer your question as well. As always, in the history of NATO, there will be the consensus, also on this subject, and that needs, of course, discussion, and that needs debate, and the fact that, I say again, the Heads of State and Government of NATO in Riga, before this actual debate started said, we want you, permanent council, ambassadors and later the ministers again, we want you to analyze the threat. We want you to analyze the political and the military aspects of the threat. We want you to work on the feasibility study. It gives me sufficient argument to say that we'll have this discussion, it will be an interesting one and it will end in consensus.
Q:Two questions. (SPEAKING IN CZECH)... And for Secretary General, do you think that the possible basis of anti-missile defence in Czech Republic and Poland revitalized the discussion about all NATO territory and anti-missile system. Or was it a... is it a positive influence?
TRANSLATOR:I'll just translate the first question. The first question was addressed to the Czech Prime Minister regarding Jiri Sedivy as a candidate for the post of the Assistant Secretary General, whether he would like to comment on that?
TOPOLÁNEK: The comment is, of course.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER:Let me answer the question. As the allied leaders proved in Riga, they deemed it necessary to have this debate. I think it goes without saying that the bilateral track now existing between the U.S. and our Polish and Czech friends will, and have certainly, influenced the speed of this debate. That goes without saying.
But I say also again, that the timelines which will be drawn, or which will be decided upon in the relationship between the Americans and the polls, the Americans and the Czechs will be independent and autonomous timelines. I mean, NATO cannot slow down and NATO will not slow down those discussions and the speed of those discussions will be deduced, I say again, by the Czech government and the Americans, and the Polish government and the Americans. But I do consider this discussion as a highly relevant for NATO.
APPATHURAI:Thank you very much.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you very much.
Q: (inaudible)... question was not really answered. Please, Secretary General.
UNIDENTIFIED:To the Secretary General.
Q:There was a question before asking if our Prime Minister, sort of supported the candidacy of our former Minister of Defence as a... as your Deputy, and I wanted to ask you, what is your view? If you are ready to support Mr. Sedivy as a new (inaudible) Secretary General. Thank you.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER:My comment is that I never say anything in public about personnel and personal management issues. Never. And I make no exception this time.