by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen following the meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers with non-NATO ISAF Contributing Nations
We have just had a very good meeting on our ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and our cooperation with Afghanistan in the future.
In just over a year from now, ISAF’s combat mission will be completed. And the Afghan forces will be fully responsible for their country’s security.
Since this summer, when they took the lead across the country, we have seen them gaining confidence and experience. Despite the challenges, they have shown that they are up to the job.
The peaceful conduct of the Loya Jirga is the most recent example of their capability. The Loya Jirga was also clear in its endorsement of the Bilateral Security Agreement, which we welcomed. The next key step is its timely signature.
In this context we discussed the necessary framework for the NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces after 2014. That framework will include a Status of Forces Agreement. And we have made it clear to the visiting Afghan Ministers that we need that legal clarity before we can move ahead with planning our deployment.
The Afghan people need that certainty so they can look to the future with confidence. So we all need clarity and certainty, and we need it soon.
We also discussed the mechanisms for NATO Allies and our partners to provide funding to the Afghan National Army and police after 2014. This is part of the broader international effort, and is of course based on the assumption that a solution to the legal issues is found.
These arrangements will ensure that the funding is channelled in an accountable, transparent and cost-effective way.
We heard encouraging briefings from Afghan ministers on the ongoing preparations for next year’s elections.
We all agreed that timely, transparent and credible elections will be vital for Afghanistan’s future and for continued international support. And we are confident that the Afghan forces will be capable of securing these elections.
So 2014 will be a crucial year for Afghanistan. We look forward to continuing our assistance to Afghanistan in this final ISAF-year and in a different role beyond that.
With that, I am ready to take your questions.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): (....) And with that, I'm ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Go over there. Ariana TV.
Q: Yes. Thank you, Mishat (sp?), from Ariana International TV channel. NATO and USA ties in BSA and SOFA together. But NATO seems in hurry. What if the USA and Afghan government agree to postpone signing the BSA after elections? Will it wait? And what is the latest development on SOFA and BSA?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: There is a clear connection between the Bilateral Security Agreement and a NATO Status of Forces Agreement. Many provisions in those agreements will be the same. So if there is no signature on the bilateral security, we can't finalize a NATO Status of Forces Agreement.
And this is why it is urgent to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement because we also need sometimes to plan the resolute support mission and you shouldn't forget that countries that contribute troops and trainers to the resolute support mission from 1st of January 2015 need to go through time-consuming parliamentary procedures as well as budgetary procedures. There are many elements in that planning.
So while I'm not prepared to set a fixed date as a deadline, I have to stress that time is of the essence. And time is gradually running out; because if a leader framework is not in place from the 1st of January 2015, we can't deploy troops; we can't have equipment in Afghanistan. So in that case, we also have to plan how to withdraw before the end of 2014.
So this is the reason why all ministers in today's meetings sent a very, very clear message to the Afghan government that it is a matter of urgency to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement.
OANA LUNGESCU: NPR.
Q: Thank you. Jim Dobbins, the State Department's special rep on Afghanistan arrived back in Kabul this morning as part of, I guess, regular consultations. But he, of course, will be discussing the BSA. Are you worried about any particular aspects of the draft, as you know it, that might be renegotiated; that might have an impact on SOFA? And the U.S. is now suggesting that somebody other President Karzai could sign the BSA. Would that also be all right with NATO for its SOFA? Could someone else sign it?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I'm not concerned at all regarding the content of the Bilateral Security Agreement. And I feel confident that whatever might be agreed upon between the American government and the Afghan government would also be acceptable to countries that would operate under a NATO Status of Forces Agreement.
Next, on who can sign? I would say everyone who is authorized to represent respective governments would be able to sign such an agreement.
OANA LUNGESCU: AP.
Q: Secretary General, we were hoping to be able to speak to the Afghan ministers; but apparently that's not going to work out. So I'd like to ask you: "Did you have any encouraging signs from them during this meeting today about the prospect that President Karzai or someone else might actually sign?" Is there progress made during this meeting towards an eventual signing of the BSA?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: The ministers didn't indicate anything as regards timelines as far as the Bilateral Security Agreement is concerned. But in general, we heard encouraging briefings from the ministers. They are clearly in favour of starting negotiations on the NATO Status of Forces Agreement as soon as possible. And the Minister of Interior gave us encouraging information about the preparations for the presidential elections next year. So I take for granted that the presidential elections will be carried out in a way that is free, fair, transparent, inclusive and within the timetable that has already been agreed. So overall, absolutely encouraging briefings; but no final statements on the bilateral security agreement timelines!
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. That's all we have time for now. The Secretary General will be back after the NATO-Georgia Commission for one last press conference. Thank you.