Press conference

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

  • 03 Dec. 2008 - 03 Dec. 2008
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  • Last updated: 19 Jan. 2009 14:28

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary General of NATO): Good afternoon. We had in the morning session of the North Atlantic Council three main topics: Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the piracy issue. On Afghanistan ministers had an intensive debate. I think that I could draw the conclusion that when we look at Afghanistan there are certainly clear areas of progress. An increasingly effective Afghan National Army, trusted in the country; a development, a starting development of the Afghan National Police. A second element I would like to mention is the much better political relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan that we have seen in recent weeks and months. I saw this myself last week when I was at the so-called Khyber Border Coordination Centre where the Afghan National Army and the Pakistani Frontier Corps and the Pakistani regular army and ISAF work together on the problems of the border. I hope of course that the recent successes by Pakistan in fighting the extremists in the northwest will be sustained in the current difficult climate.

Another point I can mention this that voter registration is going relatively well. The first two rounds of voter registration have now been completed. And we see a steady increase in the size of the NATO-ISAF mission. What ministers did was look forward to the elections next year, the presidential elections, and they very much agreed, ministers, that those elections will be a very important marker in Afghanistan's political development, but also a very important marker for the activities of the international community in Afghanistan. So it's very important that those elections will be held, well-prepared I would hope, and it's important that NATO will play its role, ISAF will play its part to ensure the necessary securities.

I'm under no illusions by the way if I discuss Afghanistan with you, it's not easy. The challenges are huge and the allies have to better deliver. The allies have to better deliver. Be it with the forces still needed on the ground, be it with extra forces which might be needed to ensure a climate of security and stability in the electoral period. The allies have to do better in training the Afghan National Army. We still do not have the right number of the so-called operational  mentoring and liaison teams, the so-called OMLTs. So I told the ministers at the end of their session this morning that there is still a lot to do. There are things going well in Afghanistan. There are things going less well in Afghanistan, but the Alliance has to do better, and the international community has to do better because it's also very much even more than the military; it is as you know my mantra development and reconstruction. There is no military answer in Afghanistan. So the full international community should do better.

It's also important, let me add that, telling you again that the allies are firmly committed to this operation for the long-term in accordance with the mandate we have from the United Nations Security Council. Let me say in ending this subject that it is also of great importance that the international forces, ISAF and NATO, have the full support of the Afghan government. It is essential that we have the full support of the Afghan government to see that we can have the public and parliamentary support for in the nations for contributing the forces to Afghanistan. So those are two sides of the same coin. We need that confidence and trust from the Afghan government, the president and the government, and they then can expect that we'll do our best to keep up the public and parliamentary support to send the forces to Afghanistan because as you know there is often the critical public opinion in the NATO allies, and for that we need the support of the government.

On Kosovo allies welcomed the fact that the security situation in Kosovo has remained stable despite what I would like to call the fluidity of the present political environment. NATO's position is clear. We want to see EULEX, the European Union mission, deployed throughout the territory of Kosovo, including in the north and allies welcomed the European Union announcement that this will begin soon. Javier Solana was there this morning with us. He spoke about Kosovo, and we are happy that EULEX will soon be in the position it should be in. KFOR of course, that's the NATO responsibility, will remain in place to backstop security in Kosovo.

Finally on the third issue, I touched upon it briefly with you yesterday, the issue of piracy. There was again a discussion on piracy this morning on the issue because it's becoming more and more serious, and a more and more serious issue for international shipping. Not only by the way in the Gulf of Aden, but one could say worldwide. But if you take the Gulf of Aden... let me give you a figure, or two figures. Twenty thousand ships pass through these seas every year, and the pirate attacks are up now 300 percent this year, and if you have read with me yesterday's press you know exactly what I mean. NATO's mission, Allied Provider, until now has been a success. Our ships have so far, that's the other responsibility as you know, escorted 29,000 tonnes of WFP food, World Food Programme food, into Somalia. More to come, and some of our ships have helped deter until yesterday pirate attacks on other ships.

Allies welcomed, as I did yesterday, the impending deployment of Operation Atalanta. The first European Union ESDP operation which will start in days rather than weeks. But as I said yesterday considering the scale of the problem, we'll also be discussing what further role NATO might play on the piracy issue in the future. The military authorities of NATO are now discussing options. No decisions have yet been taken, but I think in the long term there is a lot of work to do for all international organizations, including NATO, and you know what I told you, perhaps not all of you, yesterday what came out of the Mediterranean Dialogue luncheon is the need, under United Nations Security Council leadership, for an in-depth analysis of the legal elements and legal aspects of piracy and more specifically how and where do you try pirates whom you have captured.

Let me leave it here for the moment because as James was indicating we'll have separate press conferences with my Georgian and Ukrainian colleagues in a moment.

JAMES APPATHURAI (Spokesman, NATO): Thank you. Could I ask if we could focus our questions on the operational section, not on Georgia and Ukraine, now we'll have an opportunity to deal with those questions in a moment. Paul, first question please.

PAUL AMES (Associated Press): Secretary General, it's Paul Ames from the Associated Press. How concerned are you that the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks will divert the focus of Pakistani security operations away from the border area with Afghanistan?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I'm not concerned at the moment because up till now no signal or information has received me that that's the case. It goes without saying that for the ISAF operation and for NATO and in the spirit of the very constructive cooperation going on between ISAF and Pakistan, I hope that the Pakistani authorities will be in a position to keep it up in the regions we discussed. But I'm not concerned.


JIM NEUGER (Bloomberg News): Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. Secretary General, during the American presidential campaign you said that either candidate would be increasing American forces in Afghanistan and you expected the phone to ring in European capitals, asking the Europeans to follow suit. Now that Mr. Obama is preparing to take office and General Craddock has called for 20,000 more troops, what message, what is your advice to the European allies on the troop commitment to Afghanistan?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: My first remark in answer to your question would be allow me to wait because that is I think very much also on the mind of the President-elect, allow me to wait for the inauguration of President Obama. That new president being in the White House I think should have the initiative of what he does want to do or what he doesn't want to do. So let me not comment there.

But it's crystal clear that we need more forces in Afghanistan. I mean the classic counter insurgency tactics as was discussed around the table this morning by several ministers require more forces in Afghanistan, simply to be able to hold territory, to start with new development and reconstruction, and we do not have sufficient forces to make that happen at the moment. And to prevent the stalemate, the situation where we are not losing but also not winning, we need more forces. So I can say in general that any extra US, and Secretary Gates has indicated that any extra US forces would be welcome, but I come back to my phone ringing in European capitals initiated in the Oval Office, I think that has a message for European allies in it as well. Let me limit it to those remarks.

APPATHURAI: One more question on operations because the minister needs...

UNIDENTIFIED: Pakistan (inaudible). On the 14th there is going to be a meeting in Paris of allies and neighbour countries. Could you tell us the idea of this meeting, the gist of what is going to be discussed, and who are the people that are going to be invited? Thank you.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: This is an initiative taken by Bernard Kouchner, my French colleague. So questions about the how and the when should be addressed to him. But I can tell you as a NATO Secretary General I've been invited to the dinner, working dinner, during that session. But let me not as a Secretary General not having initiated this, let me refer to Bernard Kouchner. But I think it's an important initiative; it brings together Afghanistan and its neighbours.