JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary General and the President will each have an opening statement and we'll have time for questions. Secretary General.
JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary General of NATO): Let me start by saying that I may say as usual it is a great pleasure and a privilege for us all to greet President Mesic here at NATO Headquarters. The President and I have had frequent meetings going back a number of years and I can tell you this morning it was no different.
It will not come as a surprise to you that the two main themes of our meeting were first and foremost, of course, the fact that Croatia is knocking on NATO's door and is making, I think, strides, great strides and progress in meeting the performance criteria.
So my message to President Mesic was keep up the momentum because we all know this is a performance-based process, there is no guarantee for invitations at the NATO Summit in Bucharest. Tickets are not yet being punched, but at the same time we see Croatia, as I said, making considerable progress.
I added, of course, that there is no packaging as far as the aspirant nations are concerned. It is based on the performance of any individual nation.
And I commended, of course, President Mesic, the Croatian government, the Croatian people about their active participation in NATO's operations and missions. I was in Afghanistan only ten days ago and I saw there again how important it is and how substantial the Croatian participation in the ISAF operation in Afghanistan is as we speak.
And the same goes for Croatia's very positive approach to the maritime operation called Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean Sea.
On the region I listened with great attention to President Mesic's analysis of the situation and it will come as no surprise that the debate very much focused on Kosovo. I was in Pristina last Friday and the situation, of course, at the moment is a sensitive one given the fact that the Troika will very soon report to the Secretary General of the United Nations.
The nation needs voices of moderation and given the fact that president Mesic has been, and is, a voice of moderation, it was important to exchange views on the situation. Also given the fact that NATO Foreign Ministers will meet here in this same building coming Friday and without any doubt will discuss the situation in the region and in Kosovo as well.
So Mr. President, a warm welcome once again to NATO.
STJEPAN MESIC (President of Croatia): Thank you very much indeed. I could only agree with what Mr. Scheffer has said. What we discussed is what Croatia is doing in order to achieve its strategic goals and those are NATO membership and EU membership.
What I said is that the European Union is demonstrating some sort of enlargement fatigue, but we are also tired. We're tired of transition, so we need to speed things up in order for both sides to be able to rest a bit.
We discussed the situation in the region and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We want Bosnia and Herzegovina to function well, to have a good legal framework and we want the architecture of our region to be completed so that we could all turn to Euro-Atlantic integration. I believe that the Euro-Atlantic integration is a millennium project and we should complete this project as soon as possible.
At one period in time Croatia used international assistance. This was the time when Croatia was ravaged by war, the war which was imposed on us. Now Croatia is able to provide assistance to others, and being a country which is in favour of peace we are privileged to be in this position.
Q: (Inaudible)... Mr. Scheffer, you said many times that NATO will protect minority and majority in Kosovo, but general opinion is that KFOR is not very prepared to protect from incidents, very grave or less grave of attacks on Serbian enclaves in Kosovo, so in last time, in last month, in last year did KFOR do something to get more capacity to protect Serbian enclaves in Kosovo.
And for Mr. Mesic, my question is, can you share with us what was your position about Kosovo in the talks with Secretary General Scheffer? Thank you.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: My answer to you would be that first of all, rhetorically, who says so that KFOR would not be prepared. Let me repeat what I said in Pristina last Friday, that under present circumstances, and you did that in your question, I think quite rightly, when you talk about KFOR's responsibility, it is for minority and majority alike. And I do, indeed, think that KFOR is fully prepared to protect the minority, to protect the Serb minority.
KFOR's task will be easier, by the way, let me add that, if there is no inflammatory rhetoric from Belgrade. That will make... and no inflammatory rhetoric from anywhere or from anyone. That will make KFOR's task, of course, much easier.
But rest assured, and I, again, saw that personally in Pristina last Friday, that it is very much on KFOR's mind that the holy places, the monasteries, the churches need to be protected. And let me repeat as well, what I said in Pristina, that no violence will be tolerated, and that anyone who will think that violence might be a solution for the problems is wrong. And KFOR will prove him wrong, or her wrong, in this regard.
But rhetoric doesn't help, let me phrase it this way. And KFOR will prove him wrong, or her wrong, in this regard.
But rhetoric doesn't help, let me phrase it this way.
MESIC: Yes, during my meeting with Mr. Scheffer we did discuss the situation on Kosovo. And what we actually do not know, this is what I said, is what Serbs from Kosovo think. They receive a message from Belgrade that they should not participate in the functioning of the institutions of Kosovo and that they should boycott Kosovo elections.
Kosovo must make sure that they are a subject, they are a factor, a player in Kosovo. However, Belgrade does not allow them to become that. Belgrade should allow Serbs from Kosovo to participate in creating the regulations in Kosovo and in discussing the status of Kosovo. They should not longer be an object of others... somebody else's policy on Kosovo. They should become active players of Kosovo.
If Kosovars and Serbs from Kosovo would sit together and communicate and discuss what Kosovo should look like then a solution could be found. However, a decision is up to Belgrade and this is something that nothing can be done about it.
APPATHURAI: The next question's there.
Q: I'm Zinka (inaudible) from Radio 101, Zagreb, Croatia. I have a question for Secretary General. Let's go back to Croatia.
I'm interested whether you have discussed with the President, first of all, the forming of the new government in Croatia, the process of the forming of the new government. Are you worried about that process? And have you discussed the possibility of referendum about NATO membership, which one of the parties had promised to their voters? So what do you think about... what's the stand of NATO on that question?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I always try to prepare for conversations with foreign Heads of States to the best of my ability and part of the process of the preparation was to study the Croatian constitution.
And I know that the President of the Republic of Croatia has an important role to play there, and that does not... is not relevant for a NATO Secretary General. To play a role, I mean.
So this is not a question of being worried, not being worried, optimism, pessimism. It is a question for a NATO Secretary General of respect the procedures as Croatia knows them and fully respect them.
And to answer the second part of your question, see my answer to the first part of your question.
MESIC: (Laughs). I would just like to add to this answer by saying that the process of forming the government is going well. And all the deadlines will be respected and there is no threat that the government will not be formed or that the constitution of the new Parliament will not respect the deadlines. However, I would just like to point out that we are currently in the country which had not had a government for quite some time now.
APPATHURAI: Last question is there.
Q: Yeah, Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. Could I ask both the President and the Secretary General to give us their reaction to the election in Russia, in particular following the overwhelming victory of Mr. Putin's party and the lack of any democratic opposition in the new Parliament? What are your concerns that NATO and the West will be confronted with an even more antagonistic Russia than the one we've seen in the past few months?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Let me give priority to the President here.
MESIC: It is quite difficult to analyse the election process in Russia. I believe that for the process of democratization of a country it is important to have a strong government, but also a stronger opposition. However, I don't think the fact that the opposition in Russia will not be strong, I don't think that this will prevent the process of democratization of that country.
As I said, I believe that it is better to have a stronger opposition, but the voters said their word, they are the ones who decide.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Let me answer your question as followed. I've noted with concern, may I add, the comments made by the OSCE in this regard. Concern would also be the word on what I've seen on a certain lack of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech by the opposition.
Too early to pass final judgement. But the NATO-Russia relationship is a relationship between adults, as I always say, and that means there are many things on which we agree. There are also a number of fundamental subjects on which we disagree. The worry about the Conventional Forces Treaty in Europe, the subject of Kosovo as President Mesic and I also discussed, and I can mention a few other subjects as well.
We have a NATO-Russia Council meeting in the presence of Foreign Minister Lavrov coming Friday. We will certainly behave like adults vis-à-vis each other. And let me finally say that, and that is also something I've said many times before, that in the NATO-Russia relationship engagement is the key word. There is no alternative for engagement, so despite certain concerns I also have about the electoral process in Russia, I still keep saying that engagement is the key in our relationship.