Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on the occasion of the release of his Annual Report for 2013

  • 27 Jan. 2014 -
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  • Last updated: 28 Jan. 2014 11:13

Good afternoon – and a happy New Year!

Today is an opportunity to review the past year and to look to the future.  In this year of anniversaries, we should remember what a remarkable journey the past 65 years have been in European history.

NATO has provided the security foundation on which our freedom, our democracy, and our prosperity have flourished.  

In September we will meet in Wales to shape Future NATO: an Alliance that is robust, rebalanced and ready to provide security for the next generation.

Vous constaterez à la lecture du rapport annuel que nous en avons déjà solidement ancré les bases.

Nous avons énoncé une vision claire dans le concept stratégique adopté au sommet de Lisbonne : un engagement actif et une défense moderne. Nous la traduisons à présent dans les faits.

Nous continuons d’assurer la sécurité de nos Alliés en nous acquittant de nos trois tâches fondamentales : la défense collective, la gestion de crise et la sécurité coopérative. Nos opérations en Afghanistan, au Kosovo et au large de la Somalie, de même que notre déploiement de missiles Patriot, en sont autant d’exemples.

Nos forces sont plus capables et mieux connectées que jamais auparavant. Nous rendons hommage à leur courage, à leur détermination et à leur sacrifice.

Nous pouvons faire état d’un bilan de réussite dans des opérations difficiles et dans des partenariats à l’échelle du monde. Et nous continuons à nous adapter pour faire de l’OTAN une organisation plus agile et plus efficiente. Pour faire en sorte qu’elle demeure une source essentielle de stabilité dans un monde imprévisible.

In Afghanistan, we remain focused on our ISAF mission and we still have work to do. The Afghan forces are now in the lead for security across the country, and they will provide the security for the elections this spring. By building security, we have created the conditions for Afghans to decide their own future and to further develop their country.  Our Summit in Wales will take place as we prepare to turn a new page in our relationship.  

In Afghanistan, and all our operations, we have learnt many lessons that we need to apply to shape “Future NATO.”

First, we must invest in the capabilities we need to deal with the risks and challenges that we face. From terrorism, piracy and instability in our neighbourhood, to missile and cyber attacks.  I expect European Allies to play their full part in developing critical capabilities, such as joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and missile defence.  As our economies start to recover, we need to show the political will to keep defence in Europe strong.  This will also keep NATO strong.  

Second, our troops need to stay connected, just as they are today in Afghanistan and Kosovo. So that we stand ready to operate together when called upon, as Allies and with partners.  At the Wales Summit, we should commit to a broad programme of realistic exercises, demanding training and comprehensive education as part of our Connected Forces Initiative.

Finally, we need to deepen and widen our cooperation with partners. At a time of global risks and threats, NATO must continue to look outwards. We have political and operational partnerships with over 40 countries and organisations on five continents.  We must do more with our partners. And we must do more for our partners. To build and develop their security sectors. Because it is far better to support and build stability today than to have to fight instability tomorrow.

All we do is underpinned by who we are: the world’s most capable democracies, united across the Atlantic by a unique commitment. And an Alliance that remains effective through a continuous process of reform, modernisation and transformation.

Let me say that I have been following the dramatic developments in Ukraine with great concern.  I strongly condemn the violence we have seen. I underline that the government is ultimately responsible for de-escalating the crisis and protecting peaceful demonstrators. I urge all sides to avoid escalation and violence, and to work for a solution based on dialogue.   Because a sovereign, independent and stable Ukraine, firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law, is key to Euro-Atlantic security.

Finally, let me update you on NATO’s new headquarters. NATO leaders decided in 1999 that the Alliance needed a purpose-built headquarters to replace the temporary one, in which we have now been for decades. The new building will house not just NATO officials, but the diplomatic missions of all 28 NATO Allies.

The design was decided in 2004. That is the decision that we are now implementing.

Our host nation Belgium is responsible for this project on behalf of the 28 NATO allies. Belgium informed us in December that the construction company had forwarded a claim – a claim for more time and money. The Belgian authorities are now analysing this claim in detail.

This is a hard commercial negotiation, so it would be neither right nor timely to comment on any figures.

But obviously this claim is a matter of concern to all of us and I have directed my staff to continue to follow this closely, and all Allies remain actively engaged in steering the project.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.


OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Reuters, over there.

Q:   Yes, Adrian Croft from Reuters, Secretary General.  There have been reports recently that President Karzai has introduced some new conditions into the NATO status-of-forces agreement.  I wonder if you can comment on that and on the progress of the negotiations on this SOFA, please?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I'm not going to comment on details in those negotiations.  We have actually seen substantial progress in the negotiations on a NATO status-of-forces agreement. However, it's also clear that we can't finalize those negotiations until we have seen a signature on the bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan. 

However, I do believe that at the end of the day, we will get the necessary legal framework in place to deploy a NATO train-advise-assist mission after 2014; because a lot is at stake also for and not least, for Afghanistan.  But of course, time is of the essence.  And for planning reasons, I hope that we will get a clarification as soon as possible.

OANA LUNGESCU:  German Television.

Q: Kai Niklasch from German Television ZDF.  Mister Rasmussen, two questions if you allow.  First one, the EU is engaged now in Mali and Central Africa.  The EU partners of France just said they would support France and widen their mission over there.  Do you see any NATO role there too?  Or is that excluded?  And are you very satisfied that EU is involved there in Central Africa.  That is my first question. 

And the second one: to the Ukraine.  In Bucharest, well, a lot of years, many years ago now we had the ambitions of Ukraine and Georgia to become a NATO member or at least to get to the stage before membership.  What can NATO do?  Does NATO have any influence on the people that are in charge in Ukraine at the moment?  Is it only diplomacy?  Or what are your means of intervention?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First on the Mali and the Central African Republic, first of all, I would like to commend France for swift and determined action in both countries.  I think that French-led operation - or these French-led operations - are essential in order to prevent terrorist groups from advancing and to save lives. 

I also appreciate that other NATO Allies have decided to support France in those essential operations.  And definitely, I appreciate that the European Union has also decided to engage. 

As I said in my introduction, I would very much like to see Europe and European allies take more responsibility for tasks when it comes to security; so their engagement in these African operations are highly appreciated.  There's been no request for a NATO role.  But obviously the fact that NATO Allies support and assist the French-led operation is due to the fact that NATO Allies have learned how to work and operate together within NATO.  So in that respect, you might say that NATO plays a role indirectly.  But I don't foresee a direct NATO role neither in Mali nor in the Central African Republic. 

And on Ukraine, first of all, let me stress that it is for the Ukrainians to decide the future of the country themselves.  And I would in that respect also remind you that all OSCE member states have subscribed to that principle.  In the OSCE's Charter for European Security which was adopted in 1999, in that Charter it's clearly stated that each and every state has a right to be free to choose its alliance affiliation itself.  We adhere to that principle and we would respect all other OSCE member states to do the same. So that's important for me to stress that it's for the Ukrainian people to decide the future of Ukraine itself.

Having said that, we have a partnership between Ukraine and NATO within a special NATO-Ukraine Commission.  Within that partnership, we have an ongoing dialogue on practical military cooperation and other kinds of practical cooperation, as well as a dialogue on political principles.  And it is within that framework that we continue to express our concerns as regards the development in Ukraine.  That's why we strongly condemn violence. That's why we urge the government to engage in a constructive dialogue and find peaceful solutions to the conflict.  And that's why we urge the Ukrainian Government to live up to fundamental democratic principles including the right to assemble freely, and the right to express your views freely in a peaceful manner. 

So I think what we can do is to use that partnership framework to express our views. But it's for Ukrainians to decide their future themselves. 

OANA LUNGESCU: I know there are questions over here.  Right now, we'll just work around.  So, rest assured, we'll get over there.  GEO TV Pakistan.

Q: Khalid Hameed Farooqi from GEO Television, Pakistan.  Secretary-General, you mentioned this report that in May, last year, the military-to-military cooperation is strengthened with Pakistan.  Can you elaborate on that?  And as you know the Pakistan military has launched undeclared operation in Waziristan and insurgency areas against Taliban after the aftermath of continuous attack on public spaces. 

And will you invite new army Chief General Raheel Sharif who took over from Kahani to May Meeting of Defence of Chief and Staff NATO?  Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:  On the latter, we haven't made any decisions in that respect.  But obviously, I won't exclude that. Because as you mentioned, we have had such excellent dialogue also with high-ranking military people in the past. 

I met with the Pakistani Prime Minister in September in the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York.  And we agreed that we should engage in high-level dialogue between NATO and Pakistan.

Now, as regards military engagement, what we are mentioning is the fact that we have seen I would say improved relations between... or improved and intensified engagement between ISAF and Pakistani military leaders, including high-level consultations.  And I hope to see those consultations and that dialogue continued.


Q: Noureddine Fridhi from Al Arabiya. Happy New Year, Mister Secretary-General.  I have a couple of questions; one on Libya and one on Iran but in relation with the situation in Afghanistan.

On Libya, the government is being challenged every day by armed groups, by militia.  My question is how NATO is going to assist the government which is in a country with a very weak or almost inexistent state institution. 

And on Iran, do you feel or do you see any new approach from the leadership of Mister Rouhani regarding the Afghanistan stability and NATO and Afghanistan  … [inaudible], let's say, the withdrawal of international forces. Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:  First on Libya, last year, we received, as you know, a request from the Libyan authorities, a request for NATO assistance in building the security sector in Libya.  NATO has responded positively.  We have established a team.  And we are now working with the Libyan authorities to explore further how that assistance could be provided. 

On Iran, first of all, I welcome the new signals from the Iranian President and also the interim agreement on Iran's nuclear programme.  I hope that new direction will lead to a breakthrough also when it comes to other regional and international issues.

It remains to be seen how that might have an impact on Afghanistan.  But obviously, it is of vital importance that all Afghanistan’s neighbours contribute to security and stability in Afghanistan and in the region, including Iran.


Q: Yes, Minna Skau of the Danish News Agency.  Now, the Russian President Vladimir Putin is going to be in Brussels tomorrow.  I was curious to hear whether you have any contacts in that connection; and also if there's anything new to say on old plans for a NATO-Russia summit.  You have a NATO summit in September in Wales.  That might be a good opportunity.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:  I will meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov tomorrow here at NATO headquarters.  And of course, we will discuss the work within the NATO-Russia Council. As regards the upcoming Wales Summit, we have yet made any decision on partnership events at that summit.  So it also remains to be seen whether there will be a NATO-Russia summit, like the one we had in Lisbon in 2010.  Of course, at the end of the day, any meeting must be substance driven.  So I think it is premature to make any assessment or any decision at this stage as regards a NATO-Russia summit.  We will see during the coming months whether the substance... or enough substance to actually organize a NATO-Russia summit meeting in Wales.


Q: Thank you, Teri Schultz with NPR and CBS.  Mister Secretary General, in the annual report, or in the executive summary, you talk about the ISAF progress and say that they continue work to ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists.  And on the same day, in Afghanistan, the US is condemning the fact that the government... maybe I don't want to overstate condemn... let me say that word … anyway is not happy about the fact that the Afghan government is going to be releasing some detainees that they consider dangerous.  And they say they have the blood of NATO troops on their hands.  So you've got this situation. 

You've got another situation where apparently the Karzai government is using the same images as the Taliban in a dossier they're trying to use to justify possibly delaying the BSA signing or at the very least complaining about the US air strikes.  This man is the ally you've been working with and whose country you've been building up for the past twelve years. 

Are you concerned even before we get to the point where there may or may not be a BSA, that the relationship is simply deteriorating at such a rapid rate that there may not be will on the international community side or the Afghan side to continue a TAA mission?  There's about five questions in there.  Good luck.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:  Yes, but... I'll try to consider it as one question; because basically it is about a bilateral US-Afghan relationship.  But having said that, I share the concerns that have been expressed from the United States.  As regards to the detainees, well I don't know anything about the reasons why they have been and are about to be released. 

All I can say is that we would expect Afghanistan to live up to international obligations including respect the rule-of-law and due process, and in other words not to speak too diplomatically because otherwise … I mean better to deliver a clear message.  I mean... it wouldn't be justified just to release people based on a political decision instead of going through a normal legal process. 

These people... these detainees have been accused of being responsible for the killings of US soldiers and Allied soldiers and Partner servicemen and women.  So, of course, it is a matter of concern if they are released, merely based on political reasons instead of putting them to trial and go through a normal legal process. That's actually how I see it. 

And now, in general, it's not a secret that we are faced with some challenges as regards the future, legal framework for our presence in Afghanistan. And I have to say that the Afghan political leadership should not underestimate the negative impact it has on the publics and politicians in troop contributing countries.  I also have to add that a lot is at stake in Afghanistan because if the legal framework is not put in place in due time, we will end up with what has been called a zero option, which is actually not an option, but an unfortunate outcome; but an inevitable outcome if there's no legal framework.

In that case, it is not only a question about our deployment of a train-advise-assist mission to Afghanistan. But I'm concerned that if we don't have troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014, it will also be extremely difficult to generate financial support for sustaining the Afghan security forces.  And an Afghan security force of 350,000 soldiers and police goes well beyond the financial capacity of the Afghan government.  Simply put, I don't know how the Afghans will be able to finance to pay salaries to soldiers and police if they don't get any support from the international community. That's what it is about. 

And on top of that, as you know, the international community has pledged to provide development assistance to Afghanistan, quite an amount of money. And if there is no international presence in Afghanistan after 2014, it might also put that development assistance into jeopardy.  That's what is at stake for the Afghan society. 

It would a very unfortunate outcome; but actually that is a risk we're running because of the uncertainty related to the bilateral security agreement and the NATO status-of-forces agreement.  Now, I hope that I have made my position clear. 

OANA LUNGESCU: Japanese media.

Q: Well, one thing which is not so clear is about the deadline.  I know, you're going to say when you have to get status-of-forces agreement before you depart by the end of this year.  But considering the political schedule, like election in April and the September NATO Summit, by what time would you like to see this status-of-forces agreement between NATO and Afghan government, thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:  I have to say sooner rather than later.  But I would refrain from setting a specific date because it will also depend on a number of factors on the ground.  But I think you will appreciate that for planning reasons we need to know soon whether we are invited or not.  I mean it takes...  If we are not invited, if we don't have any legal framework, then we can't stay in Afghanistan after 2014.  It is as simple as that. 

And it takes some time to close down our bases in Afghanistan.  Actually, there are some physical laws you have to respect.  It will take some time.  If there is no status-of-forces agreement then we will have to make sure that everything has been withdrawn by the end of this year.  It takes several months.  So yes, if...  We will discuss it when defence ministers meet here at headquarters by the end of this [sic] month.  And I think at that time we will have to take some tough decisions. 

OANA LUNGESCU: Final question, KUNA. 

Q: Mister Secretary General, the next summit, one of the topics will focus on partnerships.  So how do you see the partnership with the Gulf countries and with the Mediterranean partners developing?  Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:  We are working with our partners within the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative that is our Gulf States partners as well as our partners within the Mediterranean Dialogue - that is North Africa and the Middle East. 

We are consulting with them.  And I hope we will be able to launch initiatives that will enhance our partnerships, including those partnerships at the summit.  I can't go into details at this stage. But in general, it's our intention to not only maintain, but also further develop our ability to work and operate together with partners. 

We have learned in Afghanistan as well as in Kosovo and during our operation in Libya how important it is to have partners.  It's important from an operational perspective, because they contribute in a valuable way to our operations.  But it is also important from a political perspective. 

So this is the reason why, as we draw down our biggest operation ever in Afghanistan, we would like to step up activities that can further develop... maintain and further develop our ability to work and operate together as we have done in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Libya. So that will be at the core, without going into too many details at this time; because we're still...  It's work in progress.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much.  This concludes this press point on the launch of the Secretary General's Annual Report for 2013.   Thank you.