Doorstep statement by the NATO Secretary General
at the start of the NATO Defence Ministers meetings
We have all been following closely the dramatic developments in Ukraine in the last months, and indeed, days.
We are encouraged that violence has been stopped through negotiations. As Ukraine goes forward, an inclusive political dialogue, which respects democratic values, is key. And NATO respects the sovereign choices of the Ukrainian people.
We will discuss the situation, and engage with our Ukrainian partners in the NATO-Ukraine Commission.
Ukraine is a close and long-standing partner to NATO. And NATO is a sincere friend of Ukraine. We stand ready to continue assisting Ukraine in its democratic reforms.
Stronger partnerships will be an important theme at our Summit in Wales – a summit which will take place in September. And so will stronger capabilities. Both will make our Alliance ready to deal with the security challenges we face.
Today, we will focus on filling the capability gaps we have identified in operations such as Libya and Afghanistan. And also on key areas such as missile and cyber defence, and maritime capabilities.
We will move forward with our Connected Forces Initiative. To strengthen training and exercises so we preserve the levels of cooperation we have built up as Allies, and with partners, over two decades of continuous operations.
And we will consider how we can best help others to build and strengthen their own security sectors - helping them to help themselves, and helping prevent future crises.
Tomorrow we will meet with our ISAF and Afghan partners to discuss the progress of our ISAF operation in Afghanistan. We will also discuss our relationship with Afghanistan after 2014 and the continued delays we have faced and the planning we will need to do.
We all know the facts. If the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan is not signed, there will be no NATO Status of Forces Agreement with Afghanistan. And if there is no agreement, there will be no NATO troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
Let me stress. This is not our preferred option. But these are the facts. Facts that we need to take into account in our planning. And this is what we will discuss at our meeting.
And with that, I am ready to take a couple of questions.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): (...) And with that, I'm ready to take a couple of questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): We'll start over there with Tolo TV.
Q: I'm Sharif Amiri (?), Tolo TV reporter, Afghan journalist. Yesterday, during that phone conversation, President Obama threatened President Karzai for a full withdrawal. As an alternative if the BSA (bilateral security agreement) is not signed on time, will NATO also consider such an option; and that … [inaudible] the BSA?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Our military is planning for all eventualities. Let me stress once again. We are ready to establish a training mission to train, advise, assist the Afghan security forces after 2014. And today and tomorrow we will confirm our readiness to establish that training mission.
However, the fact is that if we have no legal framework in place, we will not be able to establish that training mission and we will have to withdraw all troops and all equipment by the end of 2014.
This is, as I said, not our preferred option. But it might be the unfortunate outcome if a security agreement is not signed. And this is the reason why I, once again, urge the Afghan leaders to sign the security agreement.
OANA LUNGESCU: Reuters, ...
Q: Secretary General, Adrian Croft from Reuters. Do you think that in view of what President Obama has told President Karzai that the zero option for NATO, in the analysis, is a more likely option? What do you say?
And secondly, on Ukraine, can you tell us whether you have had any personal contact with the Russians... at any level with Russia to try and calm tensions over Ukraine?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, on Afghanistan, it's obvious that as time goes by we are faced with more and more challenges as regards the planning of our future presence in Afghanistan. We stand ready to establish the training mission after 2014. But time is of the essence.
It appears that President Karzai is not ready to sign a security agreement. We are ready to engage with a new president after the presidential elections. And in our planning, we take into account that our preferred option is to stay with a training mission to train, advise, assist the Afghan security forces after 2014. But, obviously, if eventually we don't have the legal framework in place we will have to withdraw everything by the end of this year.
Now, on Ukraine, let me stress that it's for the Ukrainian people to determine what should be the future of their country. We take it for granted that all nations respect the sovereignty and independence and total integrity of Ukraine. And this is a message that we have also conveyed to whom it may concern.
OANA LUNGESCU: Euronews, just behind you.
Q: Do you think that Ukrainian membership could be back on the agenda?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: That's for the Ukrainians to decide. Actually, I don't think it's the most urgent priority for the new Ukrainian leadership. We all remember what we decided at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008. We decided that Ukraine will become a member of NATO, of course, provided the country so wishes and provided the country fulfils the necessary criteria.
So it's for Ukraine to decide. But I think there are more urgent priorities to address right now. We stand ready to continue our engagement with Ukraine. And tomorrow we will have a meeting in the NATO-Ukraine Commission and continue the high-level dialogue we have with Ukraine.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. That's all we have time for now. But we'll see you later today after the first two working sessions, thank you.