Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer after the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers session

  • 02 Dec. 2008 - 03 Dec. 2008
  • |
  • Last updated: 19 Jan. 2009 11:23

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary General of NATO): Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, let me give you an overview, a compte-rendu, of the meetings we have had today.

As you know, we started our discussions with two meetings today and the first one was a luncheon with our Mediterranean Dialogue partners, which should be seen, in my opinion, as a reflection of the developing political track of the Mediterranean Dialogue. We have a practical track as you know, we have a political track. This was the third meeting at Foreign Ministers level, along with two already held by Defence Ministers, and I must commend, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit for being one of the driving forces in having these meetings on a regular basis.

What did we discuss? Of course, the security situation in the region. You know as well that NATO does not have a direct responsibility there, but nevertheless. Minister Tzipi Livni and Minister Aboul Gheit offered their insights into the Annapolis process in particular, as did a number of NATO Ministers, including Secretary Rice at her last Mediterranean Dialogue, and for that matter, her last NATO meeting.

As I said, this is not directly a NATO issue, but I think the lunch provided us with a very useful opportunity for an exchange of views between countries deeply engaged in the Middle East peace process, the success of which, it goes without saying, is of great interest to us all.

I can tell you that the second issue, which was also widely discussed around the Mediterranean Dialogue table, was the issue of piracy. And if we read today's press reports pirates are getting bolder and bolder and it was in other words very important that we discuss it. Piracy of interest to any country. Sending ships through the Suez Canal and of course, very relevant and interesting for Egypt itself.

I think Ministers share the view that we need a much more comprehensive international approach to this problem, which is not exclusively a Gulf of Aden problem, by the way. It happens, unfortunately, elsewhere as well. And that comprehensive international approach, I underline that, should be led by the Security Council of the United Nations. This is certainly not something for NATO to lead. The UN Security Council should lead this process. And specifically, were mentioned the legal complications of the issue of piracy. That is a challenge facing the entire international community and I think that there is homework to do for all of us under the leadership, I say it again, of the United Nations.

Of course, there was an exchange of views on the state of play of the Mediterranean Dialogue itself and Ministers very much agreed, and quite rightly so, that the practical dimension has reached a new level.

We have now over 800 areas of practical cooperation, possible within the framework of the MD, covering military cooperation, public diplomacy, civil emergency planning and six out of the seven Mediterranean Dialogue nations have reached a Security of Information Agreement with NATO, allowing, as you know, for more interoperability.

Our partners in the Mediterranean Dialogue have participated in our operations, including Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean. And we even have military attachés from Mediterranean Dialogue countries at our military headquarters in Mons, SHAPE.

So I think it's safe to say that the Mediterranean Dialogue is now clearly demonstrating its value as a forum for political discussion and as a framework for practical cooperation. And I think it's fair to say that Ministers agreed to further explore both aspects to the fullest.

We then began our meeting at 28. Twenty-eight, the current 26 NATO members and our so-called invitees, Albania and Croatia. Let me say, mentioning Albania and Croatia that I sincerely hope that they will be full members, they can be full members by next April’s summit in Strasbourg and Kehl. I'm saying this because I hope that the ratification process in the NATO nations' allies which have not done so up till now, will proceed speedily.

Now this meeting, also an opportunity for Ministers to discuss, of course, Georgia and Ukraine, and the bottom line in this discussion is the following: Both countries have made progress, but both have significant work left to do. And I think I can say that allies agreed on two key points.

First, that all elements, I repeat all elements, of the decisions regarding Ukraine and Georgia, taken by the NATO Heads of State and Government in Bucharest still stand. All elements. And that includes very much that they will one day be members. If they so wish, of course, and important to add, when they meet NATO standards.

And secondly, that NATO will provide further assistance to both countries, in implementing needed reforms as they progress, the countries, towards NATO membership.

What does it mean? It means that NATO will maximize, strengthen if you wish, its advice and assistance for those reform efforts in the frameworks of the NATO-Ukraine Commission and the NATO-Georgia Commission.

And in this context we will, together with our Ukrainian partners, of course, amend the charter of the NATO-Ukraine Council to reflect the central role of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, as is already played by the NATO-Georgia Commission.

We've also decided to reinforce the NATO information and liaison offices in Kiev and Tbilisi.  And finally, without prejudice to any further decisions on MAP, on the Membership Action Plan, we'll develop, or they'll develop, rather, with our assistance, so-called annual national programmes to help them advance their reforms.

In other words, we're going to beef up the NATO-Ukraine Commission, beef up the NATO-Georgia Commission and maximize our assistance.

And as you know, we'll have an opportunity to further discuss this tomorrow with both Georgia and Ukraine when we meet in the framework of the two commissions.

So that's point number one. Point number two, this afternoon was that we discussed NATO's relations with Russia. And here too I think it's important to note that allies agreed on what I would qualify as a conditional and graduated re-engagement with Russia.

What does that mean? That means that I as a Secretary General of NATO have been mandated by the Foreign Ministers, as I see fit, and of course, if the other party would agree, to see what political contacts will be possible, can be possible, could be established between me and the Russian side, in the framework of this conditional and graduated re-engagement.

And the second element is that the NATO-Russia Council will meet on an informal basis, I underline, on an informal basis. That means the NATO-Russia Council, the NATO allies with Russia, at 27 as we call it, to re-engage and to have discussions on the issues on which we agree, but I also would like to add the issues on which we disagree.

Because don't interpret my words wrongly, please. This graduated re-engagement does certainly not mean that we do now suddenly agree with the Russians on the disproportionate use of force in August in the Caucasus. On the recognition, illegal recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On the fact that the Russians are still taking positions they should not take in that area.

It does certainly not mean that we consider it acceptable that we hear voices from Moscow we thought we would not hear anymore on a possible station of the Iskander missiles near Lithuania or on threatening and targeting our staunch NATO ally Poland with missiles.

It does certainly not mean that we agree. We fundamentally disagree. But we will try to re-engage and see that we can restart an informal and I underline the word informal, discussion in the NATO-Russia Council.

You know what the background of this is? The background of this is of course that in August NATO Foreign Ministers agreed that we could not have business as usual with Russia. I do not think you can qualify what I've just said, this graduated re-engagement, as business as usual, but as I've said many times before, and as Ministers agreed, no business as usual does certainly not mean no business at all. Because also since August we have had areas on which we have cooperated with Russia, and I could mention Afghanistan and I could mention the fight against the scourge of terrorism.

So in other words, this is what Ministers, Foreign Ministers decided on our relationship with Russia.

After all, Russia is an important player. Russia is an important player on many dossiers, which are also on the NATO agenda. So the catchphrase is a conditional and graduated re-engagement and the mandate given to me as the Secretary General of NATO.

This was the essence of our discussion today. Tomorrow, as you know, we'll discuss operations. Afghanistan, certainly. Kosovo. I would not be surprised if piracy would come back as a subject tomorrow, and then we have the NATO-Georgia and the NATO-Ukraine Commissions.

This is what I have to say. I'm open to your questions and your comments.

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Let's go here.

Q: My name is Evert(ph), Dutch Reform Daily. I've read that NATO is discussing a potential longer-term role in the anti-piracy mission. Is there no wish that NATO could operate a bit more active or proactive against the pirate?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: NATO, I can tell you, based on the news today, is operating extremely proactively. James Appathurai told me a moment ago that there were five attempts to hijack a ship today and that those five attempts were adequately treated by representatives of the NATO navies present in the area. There was, by the way, as you know also, an attempt to hijack a civilian cruiseliner with a 1,000 passengers onboard.

So we are very proactive. We are very happy, as you know, with the ESDP mission which is going to start in the early days of December, so basically very soon indeed. Because I like to see the NATO and European Union operating in a complementary fashion. NATO at the same time, because this is not, of course, a problem exclusively in the Gulf of Aden, is indeed, as you say, studying its longer-term role and its longer-term responsibilities, but the NATO mission in this area will end as soon as the European Union will come in with a quite massive force, I can tell you.

But there's a lot of water on this globe, as you know, so I'm quite sure that this issue will be on the NATO agenda for some time to come as well.

Q: (Inaudible...) National News Agency of Ukraine. Secretary General, what is going to happen with the MAP for Georgia and for Ukraine so that will it be cancelled, will it be postponed, or will we find some other forms of cooperation?

And the second part of the question, what is the added value of those annual national programmes if we compare them with annual target plans existing already?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: On your first question, the answer is MAP has not ceased to exist in the conclusions today. There was no decision taken on MAP by the Foreign Ministers, but you cannot say that MAP has evaporated. MAP is still there, as you'll see in the communiqué text, if it's agreed to tomorrow. And on...

APPATHURAI: (Inaudible...).

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Pardon? Pardon?

APPATHURAI: When... when it's agreed.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Yes, that is... I'm not a native English speaker and I'm always confusing if and when. When it is agreed tomorrow morning... thank you, James, never too old to learn. On your second part of your questions, we are simply, in the case of Ukraine, going to give the NATO-Ukraine Commission an even more central role and beef up what we had with Ukraine as you quite rightly say in the framework of your Ukraine's annual target programme. But we'll beef it up.

Q: Yes, Secretary General, Jonathan Marcus of the BBC. With regard to Russia, I mean, given the list of things that the Russians have done that you and NATO governments disapprove of, just how concerned should the Russians be at your decision to conditionally and in a graduated way re-engage with them. It doesn't sound to me like they should be particularly concerned at all.

And secondly, if there is so much agreement on how to engage Ukraine and Georgia, why is it that the communiqué has gone through so many drafts and it seems is not going to be able to be released today?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Let me first make a formal remark, the communiqué as usual, will be released tomorrow. But given the fact that this was discussed this afternoon I've given you already something of the communiqué, so that's my formal answer.

On the first part of your question. I'm not that interested if Russia is concerned or not. That is not how international politics works. I'm interested in re-engaging, albeit in an informal way, and discussing the many issues on which we disagree. And that was the conclusion of that meeting.

But if Moscow is concerned or not concerned that is not so relevant, I think. As I'm... it's a bit more needed to have me concerned. Let's, under the let's say, in the lines as I use them in my introductory remarks, let's see where we land and let's see where we get.

You're right that communiqués usually have a number of revs, revisions. It's not the first time, by the way, that I see many revisions in the five years I'm here, but I'm very happy with the fact that on this issue, which as you know did not go uncontested in Bucharest, Ministers have found a very constructive and positive agreement, and that we should realize in this regard, and that's also the basis of what Ministers discussed today, that the train left the station in Bucharest, in the framework of the decisions by the heads there, that they will become NATO members and that train will move on. It does not stop.

Q: (Inaudible...), Georgian TV company. Somehow I want to continue the previous question and I would like to ask you, in Bucharest you do not support Georgia's bid getting MAP and after that...

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Excuse me, you do not...

Q: You do not support Georgia's aspiration getting MAP and it encourage somehow Russia to launch aggression against Georgia. And how do you think, what kind of signal will be today's decision for Russia and will they continue their aggressive policy towards Georgia and keep their policy or what kind of signal it will be?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I think it's not that relevant. I say, not in self-depreciation, it's not that relevant what I think and what  I support or what I do not support. It is crystal clear that the allies have restated, again, because they have reconfirmed all the elements, I repeat, all the elements of the Bucharest decision. That must be a message for Georgia which can simply not be misinterpreted. Neither for Ukraine by the way. Cannot be misinterpreted.

And I think it will not be misinterpreted, certainly not by me and by the allies, but I have the impression that it will not be misinterpreted by Moscow as well. That's why I said in answer to your colleagues question, an important decision was taken in Bucharest. The train left the station and that train is moving on.

At the same time I say to our aspirant nations, Georgia and Ukraine, that this is a performance based process. NATO enlargement is not a concession by NATO allies. NATO enlargement should also be in the interests of the NATO allies. I mean, that's how foreign policy works.

But I think the signal given this afternoon is fairly clear.

APPATHURAI: We have time for two, here and there.

Q: Mark John from Reuters. Secretary General, when you say there are no decisions taken on MAP today, just to clarify, does that mean that MAP remains a precondition towards membership or not?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: As I answered to your Ukrainian colleague, MAP has not evaporated this afternoon, so MAP is still on the cards... in the cards, I should say.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. The last question is there.

Q: James Blitz, Financial Times. On the issue of the NATO-Russia relationship, can you today still exclude the possibility that President Medvedev will be invited to Strasbourg/Kehl? Can you still say this is something that will definitely not happen. It's too graduated a process.

And secondly, on military contacts, Secretary of State Rice was yesterday saying she did not want to see any resumption of that because of the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. What are the prospects for that?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: On the second part of your question, I do think that we now first will take the political angle and that angle will be discussed, as I said, in the informal meetings of the NATO-Russia Council. So let's, under the heading first things first, restart in an informal way our engagement with Russia, right? That's point number one.

Point number two, as things stand, as we speak, the intention of the allies is that the 60th anniversary of NATO in April next year in Strasbourg and Kehl will be a  family affair. And that means that it will be a family affair in the sense that's the 26, I hope 28 NATO allies will meet there and no decisions have been taken on any invitations for other leaders as we speak. And I'll stick to the principle that it will be a family affair.

APPATHURAI: That's all we have time for.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you so much. See you tomorrow, hopefully.