JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Colleagues thank you for coming. Let me do two things: first, to make a brief statement on the record on a relatively... an issue related to the Ministerial, but not directly linked to it; and then, turn the floor over the John Colston.
First, as I say, let me make this on the record. I gave an interview to Radio 4 two days ago in which I was apparently imprecise and certainly misunderstood. So let me say for the record the United Kingdom's contribution to the mission in Afghanistan is of course unquestionable and unquestioned. However, NATO has no knowledge of discussions or plans within the United Kingdom to further increase its contingent in Afghanistan in the immediate term or in the near term.
I was referring only to media speculation over the past months of the possibility of an eventual further increase at some point in the future. I should have said those words. I did not and therefore I was misunderstood by the UK press. So let me be very clear : any, of course, further contributions from any NATO country would always be welcome, but NATO has no knowledge, no information about UK discussions or plans to further increase its contingent.
Without further ado let me the floor over to our very esteemed Assistant Secretary General John Colston who is from within NATO running the preparations for the Noordwijk Ministerial and turn the floor over to him. The opening will be on the record and then we will go on background for the Q's and A's.
JOHN COLSTON (Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning): James thank you very much indeed and good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. This is in preparation for the informal meetings of NATO Defence Ministers next Wednesday and Thursday in Noordwijk in the Netherlands. I just want to talk you through briefly the expected scope of the discussions which the Ministers will undertake during these meetings.
We will start with Afghanistan. Understandably, we will start with Afghanistan. Worth recalling that all 26 of the NATO Allies have personnel deployed in Afghanistan in some capacity or other and the unifying theme of the discussions on Afghanistan is how best to support Afghan capacity. I expect that Ministers will want to reflect on the provision of troops and equipment in adequate numbers now and in the future. It's clear that COMISAF has the capacities today which enable him to carry out his mission and enable him to carry out that mission successfully.
But Ministers will want to continue to ensure that the ISAF capability is as effective as possible, recognizing that numbers have been growing; there have been 7,000 troops pledged in the last 11 months. And they'll want to discuss how NATO's capability is sustained into the future as well. This will not be a force generation conference, but we must expect them to focus on capabilities.
Secondly, they will want to discuss how best to support the Afghan National Security Forces. They'll want to consider how best to support counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan within the terms of the operations plan. They will want to reflect on NATO's role in Afghanistan as part of the international community's efforts to reinforce security and stability within Afghanistan as part of a comprehensive international politico-military approach. And they'll want to reflect on ensuring our success or otherwise in conveying the right messages to national publics and parliaments and to the people of Afghanistan.
During their opening session, they are also going to have the opportunity to discuss Kosovo; to discuss and assure themselves that KFOR is an will remain correctly configured to address the potential risks to security in Kosovo over the next few months; to make clear their support for the Troika Process and to make clear that KFOR, that NATO, is not going to tolerate any threats to security and stability in the region from whatever quarter.
The 26 Allied Defence Ministers will then have a further discussion on Afghanistan with the support of the non-NATO-ISAF contributing nations and with the Afghan Minister of Defence Minister Wardak and with representatives of the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank. I expect that discussion, which will be the last discussion on Wednesday next week, will focus again on the unity of effort of the international community and the 38 nations contributing to ISAF in supporting the Afghan National Development Strategy and in using the Provincial Reconstruction Teams to assist the Afghan government throughout Afghanistan.
On Thursday morning the focus of Ministers' attention will switch to defence transformation capabilities issues. They will, I think, want to have a serious political debate about how to ensure, how best to ensure, the availability of forces for operations, for our operational reserves and for the NATO Response Force at a time when pressures on troop numbers in all of our nations are exceptionally high. And they'll want to look at the particular reasons, whether they are political, financial or related to the capability of national forces - why we're facing challenges at the moment and what we might do about those challenges.
They'll want to give guidance on the development of the graduated force option for the NATO Response Force to ensure that the NATO Response Force remains capable of dealing with the full range of scenarios envisaged in the NATO Response Force concept and to ensure that the NATO Response Force retains its value in training and transforming national defence forces.
And finally, they'll want to look towards the future as well and in particular towards the Bucharest Summit. They will want to reflect on missile defence, the work which is being done to examine the scope for bringing together United States and NATO elements in a possible future missile defence structure for the territorial defence of Europe. They will want to reflect on the fact that we have now agreed a threat analysis of the potential missile threats affecting NATO territory and looking together at other possible elements to be developed for Bucharest such as defence against cyber attack, such as defence aspects of threats to the flow of vital energy resources. And they'll also want to talk about how best to respond to remaining capability gaps where NATO nations know there is more that they need to do, such as strategic lift and air to air refuelling.
The final meeting which will take place on Thursday morning will be an informal meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at the level of Defence Ministers with Minister Serdyukov from the Russian Federation. Defence Ministers will have an opportunity to talk about defence and military co-operation. Defence and Military co-operation continues and continues to have great value for all NATO-Russia Council members and Ministers will want to reflect on how that can be developed in the light of the very welcome ratification by the Russian Federation of the Status of Forces Agreement. They will want to look at the scope for continuing co-operation in Afghanistan, whether in terms of training personnel in counter-narcotics related skills or whether in terms of logistic support to ISAF. Co-operation in relation to terrorism where this year there has been a further welcome contribution of the Russian Federation ship the Ladniy to Operation Active Endeavour, NATO's counter-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean.
But I expect that there will be some frank, robust discussion too of some of those issues on which there are disagreements between NATO Allies and the Russian Federation, issues such as missile defence, issues such as CFE, issues such as Kosovo, and I'm sure the meeting will demonstrate again the value of the NATO-Russia Council as a forum for discussing those issues on which we have differences of view as well those where we agree.
And that will bring us to around midday around 1:00 o'clock on Thursday which will be the end of the sequence of meetings in Noordwijk. I hope that's of some help to you in setting out what Ministers are likely to discuss and now happy to take your questions.