Hello and thank you for tuning in to the March edition of my monthly updates.
Let me start as usual, with NATO’s number one priority: Afghanistan. You may have seen on the news that NATO-ISAF has launched its largest ground operation, called “Operation Achilles”.
4,500 NATO troops, with 1,000 Afghan National Security Forces, are active there and they focus on the Helmand Province in the Southern part of Afghanistan.
The aim of this operation is to create security, more security in the South – and in particular to allow the installation of a turbine in the Kajaki Dam – on which I was standing a few weeks ago.
When the turbine in that dam is in, it will give power to two million people and their businesses; it will provide irrigation for hundreds of farmers; and it will create jobs for two thousand people.
The Taliban, the spoilers, are attacking this project every day, to stop it from going forward. I met when I was there with the British Royal Marines protecting this Kajaki Dam. And let me say here that they are doing a fantastic job.
And they understand exactly what their mission is, and why our forces are in Afghanistan – to protect reconstruction and development, for the benefit of the Afghan people.
The Dam is only one project. There are 14,000 Reconstruction and Development projects underway in Afghanistan today, 1,000 of which by the NATO Provinical Reconstruction Teams. Slowly but surely, we are making progress, with our partners the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank and NGOs – under the leadership of the Afghans themselves.
In this regard, let me welcome the framework that has now been agreed between NATO and Japan, which will allow Japan to support the humanitarian work of the PRTs. This will amount to several millions of dollars per year. And I think this is an excellent sign of what we call the comprehensive approach and abroad partnership.
And the comprehensive approach says that reconstruction and development are of primordial importance, but that creating an environment for reconstruction and development only goes together with military action if and when necessary and having the necessary forces for that military action is of course a case in point.
Let me also mention in regards with Afghanistan the meeting my wife and I had with a number of female Afghan Members of Parliament. The activism we saw, their commitment is a huge sign of progress.
Leaving Afghanistan, I have to say a couple words about our second major operation which is, of course, NATO-KFOR in Kosovo.
We see a critical moment as we speak, as the United Nations-led process, chaired by the former Finnish President Ahtisaari process comes to a close; the Kosovo issue and the Ahtisaari proposals will soon move to New York, to the Security Council of the United Nations.
I have just visited all parts of Kosovo, and met with representatives of majority, Albanian population and the Serb minority alike. And last week I went to Belgrade, and met with all the senior Serb leadership.
As you know, NATO is not part of the negotiations concerning the future of Kosovo. But I know that the way forward will be very challenging indeed for all parties. All will have to accept compromises at the end of the day.
But the prize for compromise, I think, is clear. And that prize is stability, after too long a period of instability in this region. And the positive prize is the way of opening much more clearly for Euro-Atlantic integration, which is in my opinion the only lasting solution for peace and security in the region.
NATO-KFOR is there to stay, through and beyond this so-called status process. And I think no party should test NATO-KFOR's capability and KFOR's resolve to keep the peace during this important period.
Let me turn to another issue that is prominently in the news: missile defence.
This has suddenly become a hot issue. As you know, the United States of America are entering bilateral discussions with two NATO Allies, Poland and the Czech Republic. Those talks are going on and at the same time, NATO is moving towards implementing the direction we got from our Heads of State and Government during the Riga Summit last November also to discuss missile defence more fully within the Alliance.
My view on this is clear. First of all, NATO is not and should not interfere in these bilateral discussions between the United States and two of our important Allies. However, in the larger sense of the discussion, I want to ensure that there are no “A-grade” and “B-grade” Allies when it comes to security. Which means, and that was after all the instructions the NATO Heads of Government gave us at the forementioned Riga Summit that missile defence should be discusses in the NATO framework as well..
We will soon take this discussion forward, most probably and hopefully by the Ministerials later this year, Foreign Ministers meeting and Defence Ministers meeting. It will be on the agenda. To be more specific, we will have a Foreign Ministers meeting in Oslo, Norway at the end of April where we will discuss the full spectrum of NATO's agenda and where we will also meet with Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov in the so-called NATO-Russia Council.
And you know, that transparency with our Russian friends has been the case and will be the case in the framework of the discussion we are having on missile defence. And I think that the NATO-Russia Council, not only at the ambassadorial level in Brussel, but also at the political level should be used to the full to reach full transparency with our Russian partners and friends where it concerns the discussion on missile defence.
Mentioning our Russian partners, with Minister Lavrov, NATO Foreign Ministers in Oslo will certainly look forward to the 10-year anniversary of the NATO-Russia Founding Act and the five years we are celebrating of the NATO-Russia Council.
In other words, as I always end these monthly updates, we have a full plate and next month I'll be able to bring you up to date on the other meetings which are on the agenda and on the rest of what is happening here at NATO.
So for now it is bye-bye and thank you very much for your attention.