Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer after the meeting of the North Atlantic Council with Invitees in Foreign Ministerial Session

  • 05 Mar. 2009 -
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  • Last updated: 09 Mar. 2009 15:03

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary General of NATO): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and let me bring you up to date on the two meetings we had this morning, NATO Ministers had this morning. And then briefly looking forward to the meetings of the NATO-Ukraine and the NATO-Georgia Commissions we're going to have in a moment.

Two main items on the agenda this morning: NATO-Russia relations and Afghanistan.

Let me tell you on Russia first, that Ministers reached agreement to formally resume the NATO-Russia Council, including at ministerial level, as soon as possible after the Summit in Strasbourg and Kehl. There was, of course, a lot of discussion on how this forum, how the NRC should be used, and there is strong agreement that the NATO-Russia Council is certainly not a fair-weather body, and that the weather is not yet fair. I'll get to that in a moment. It is, in other words, a forum where you discuss the things you disagree, sometimes fundamentally disagree, and subjects where you can work together.

Where we disagree, and where we go on disagreeing, but what we nevertheless have discussed, of course, is Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Its intention to build military bases there, part of Georgian territory, let's not forget that. Parts of Georgian territory in many United Nations Security Council resolutions.

 The non-accession of monitors, also a major point for discussion, where Russia is not fulfilling its obligations.

On a different matter, the suspension of the CFE Treaty are areas of particular concern to the allies.

So in other words, if we resume the NATO-Russia Council also in a more formal sense, we will urge Russia to meet fully its commitments, with respect to Georgia, and let me mention, on top of what I already did, withdrawal from the areas Russia has committed to leave. I mentioned already the monitors and Russia's responsibility with regards to security and order.

These are issues we should discuss in the NATO-Russia Council, and I know that Russia is willing to have that discussion as well.

There was also an exchange of views on President Medvedev's proposals on a new European security architecture. To the extent details are clear, and I think we might need some more details and some more clarity in this regard, there's certainly a willingness in NATO, and I know there's a willingness in the Russian side as well, to discuss certainly the hard security aspects of the Medvedev proposals in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, although the primary forum for discussing these issues was and is the OSCE. And we have, of course, the Chairman in Office of the OSCE in our midst, the Greek Minister Bakoyannis.

That was Russia. Let me turn to Afghanistan, which I said was the other major topic of discussion, because it is, as you know, our main operational priority.

To clear up any confusion, and to pre-empt possible questions, this is, of course, a Foreign Ministers' meeting. Not Defence Ministers and it is not a troop pledging conference. But it is an opportunity where Foreign Ministers can share their assessments of the political issues and the way forward.

Secretary Clinton, and it was, of course, her first Foreign Ministers' meeting and she was very warmly welcomed by all the Foreign Ministers, Secretary Clinton shared with the allies the latest state of play on the United States review, which is under way, as far as Afghanistan is concerned. And you know that Vice President Biden will be in Brussels next week to hear the input from the allies on the review.

And in that regard Secretary Clinton was here as much to listen as to inform. And all the 28 Ministers, the 26 plus the two invitees, discussed some essential elements of the collective effort.

I mentioned, among other things, the need for and the mechanics of a more regional approach. The need for a stronger, more coordinated civilian effort and how to make that happen. These are areas, by the way where we can and should do better than we do. Where there is a lack of satisfaction in how we go about this.

The need, of course, for more forces on the ground as well, so that the other elements we need for success in Afghanistan can have the security they need to take root.

Let us not, by the way, lull ourselves into the belief that a strong civilian effort means less need for forces. I say again, that goes together. The need for more forces and the need for stepping up our civilian investments.

What was also discussed, of course, that is clear, given the developments in Afghanistan itself, is the importance for NATO of supporting the elections. NATO welcomes the decision by the Independent Electoral Commission in Afghanistan that the elections will be held on August 20th. This will provide the time, give us the time, provide us with the time needed to bring in the capabilities necessary to help the Afghans secure their elections. And I add that while the process, of course, is for the Afghans themselves to determine, we, the Ministers, urged the political leaders in Afghanistan to agree on a way forward, which provides political stability and continuing legitimacy until these elections on the 20th of August. I think that's an important note to add here.

All of this discussion, of course, this morning, is setting the stage for the NATO Summit early April in Strasbourg and Kehl, where Heads of State and Government will provide their steer to this operation.

There was, during the morning, one final issue discussed and that is the reform of the NATO Headquarters. I'll not spend too much time on what is basically an internal issue. I'll just say that I heard a strong message of support for measures I'm proposing to improve the way this Headquarters takes decisions, manages its money and manages its people. And I hope to get endorsement at the Summit in a few weeks time.

And then hopefully a thank you note from my successor who, I hope, will enjoy the benefits of this reform process.

The luncheon, which just finished, was spent principally discussing a slightly different thing, and that is the so-called Declaration on Alliance Security, which should be adopted at the Strasbourg and Kehl Summit.

As you know, this Declaration on Alliance Security was tasked by the Heads of State and Government in Bucharest last year. What is the aim of the Declaration? It is basically to reaffirm NATO's core principles and missions both enduring and new. Enduring and new. To restate the firm bonds that unite the allies today as much as ever, and to set out the way forward for the Alliance in the 21st Century.

It might well also be the precursor, if you read the Bucharest text, and I've done that, and you've done that without any doubt. It might also well be the precursor to a new strategic concept which I hope and believe will be launched at the Summit. But that is up to the NATO Heads of State and Government to decide. But we discussed this Declaration. I presented my first draft to the Ministers for this meeting. They've taken ownership of this Declaration and we will now discuss it here around the Brussels table, as I say again, with a strong ownership hopefully taken by the Foreign Ministers.

Then we have two meetings to go, as you know, finally. The NATO-Ukraine Commission, where we have first Deputy Foreign Minister Handogiy in our midst, who will discuss without any doubt with his NATO colleagues Ukraine's internal political situation, its progress in reform and its progress in drafting the first so-called Annual National Programme, and Ukraine's very welcome participation in NATO's operations and missions.

After the NATO-Ukraine Commission we'll have a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission with Foreign Minister Vashadze, where we will have the opportunity to exchange views on the situation in Georgia, the progress in reform and of course, where NATO might do more and could do more to support that process.

At both meetings I'm sure the Ministers will reiterate NATO's strong support for Ukraine and Georgia's aspiration to move closer to the Alliance and to the determination of the allies to help them make those necessary steps.

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

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): We'll start back there. No, no, back.

Q: Thank you very much. Secretary General, Jonathan Marcus from the BBC. You stressed a number of aspects of Russia's behaviour that NATO cannot accept, even though you're going to resume a high-level dialogue. What of the dangers of turning to Russia to help with supply lines and so on into Afghanistan? Isn't this going to give Russia very strong leverage over the Alliance at a time when you still fundamentally disagree on so many crucial issues?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, let me reiterate that we have those fundamental disagreements, but let me also repeat that you can do two things. You can say we're not going to discuss those disagreements. Does that help? I do not think it will help in the long run. And you can say we'll discuss them.

I had an interesting discussion and debate with the Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov, Sergey Ivanov in Munich and I can tell you that on the issues I mentioned we did not agree, but... and here comes the but, and that is that on issues like terrorism, like indeed supply lines for Afghanistan, but let me mitigate to a certain extent what you said about supply lines. It is important that there are alternative lines of communication for Afghanistan, but we have a few of them, and all are open. But indeed, Russia has shown an interest, and I think we should be happy about that, to work together with NATO on the so-called northern route.

And we are, as you know, in NATO, already for quite some time, negotiating with Central Asian states to make that northern route possible.

So Afghanistan is a case in point where I think NATO and Russia can better work together.

The fight against terrorism is another one. The fight against narcotics is another one. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is another one. Russia is an important player. Russia is a global player. And that means that not talking to them is not an option. We were all very much shocked by the crisis in Georgia. No need to mention the December communiqué of these same Foreign Ministers where that shock was very much visible. We have a number of fundamental differences, but I do not think that we are creating leverage, and I do not think, by the way, that that is the way the Russians approach this.

Q: James Blitz, Financial Times. Secretary General, two questions.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Where are you? Where are you?

Q: I'm here. I'm here.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: You're here, okay.

Q: Here I am. Sorry. Two questions, if I can. On Russia, was there any concern expressed by any member states today at the NAC about the possibility of the U.S. revising its position on missile defence? A subject that came up earlier in the week and something where there may be some concerns of East European member states ahead of the meeting between Secretary Clinton and Lavrov tomorrow. And secondly, on Afghanistan, Secretary Clinton is quoted as saying that she is backing the holding of a meeting of regional powers on Afghanistan on March the 31st. Can you say what discussion there was on that, how decisions will be taken and what is the situation vis-à-vis the possibility of Iran being invited?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: All right, that's a lot. Let me first start with missile defence. My answer is negative, no. I have heard of no concern about the issue of missile defence. Missile defence was not a subject which was discussed this morning.

I can tell you it was hardly mentioned, perhaps for the reason you just gave, that there is a review going on in this area. Which doesn't mean, by the way, that missile defence has become irrelevant for NATO, because as you know there's also a short and medium range missile threat, and NATO is already for quite some time discussing that.

But I understood your question in the sense related to the U.S. third site. So that was not discussed.

On Afghanistan, indeed, there has been a discussion this morning, but already also before. What would be the best way of bringing the comprehensive approach into practice. And there were two alternatives, basically. Is there a meeting preceding the NATO Summit? Or should the comprehensive approach be seen in a wider sense, and that wider sense is, as you indicated already, Afghanistan, its neighbours and other nations important for Afghanistan. That does not mean directly its geographical neighbours, but it can concern major donors and other nations relevant for the solution to the problem of Afghanistan.

What might come out of this discussion, and I underline the word might, because this is not a NATO organized or a NATO chaired event. It might well be, but I'm careful here, because I'm not the one to call the shots. I repeat, it might well be that there will be a meeting organized. Not by NATO, by somebody else, by an organization, by a nation, which I think I could refer to as a big tent meeting, where you have many actors involved in Afghanistan in the sense of the military, in the sense of the civilian, in the sense of the major donors, in the sense of the neighbours, and it might well be that such a meeting will take place.

But that is as far as I can go, because such a big tent meeting, of course, is outside NATO's remit. In NATO's remit is the allies discussing Afghanistan, the troop contributors discussing Afghanistan. And I felt a lot of appetite for the big tent. So most probably it will be the big tent, but the how and the where and the organization by whom is still a bit unclear, but you ask then too much of a simple NATO Secretary General to answer that in detail, but you might ask Secretary Clinton or other Ministers.

APPATHURAI: The next is there.

Q: (Inaudible), Agence de presse polonaise... Polish Press Agency. Monsieur Secrétaire général, 12 mars, l'OTAN va célébrer 10 ans... anniversaire de 10 ans de l'élargissement.


Q: Premier élargissement avec les pays de l'ancien bloc communiste. Quel est le bilan pour vous de cet élargissement? Est-ce que le temps est venu pour qu'un ressortissant de ces nouveaux pays dirige l'OTAN?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Alors, ils sont en train de diriger l'OTAN n'est-ce pas parce que ce sont les trois. Et comme vous savez, je serai à Prague, Budapest et Varsovie la semaine prochaine. Et ce sont les trois qui jouent un rôle important dans le concert otanien pour ainsi dire. Et dans... dans les faits, que l'OTAN comme vous savez fait ses décisions par consensus.  Ça ne serait jamais possible sans nos amis tchèques, polonais ou nos amis de Hongrie. Mais ce n'est pas le fait du jour en jour au sein de l'OTAN. Ce sont des contributeurs importants aux opérations et missions de l'OTAN. Ce sont des contributeurs importants sur le plan politique. Alors, sur le plan militaire, sur le plan politique et sur le plan pratique.

Et j'irai à Budapest, à Prague et à Varsovie. Et je fais des adresses dans les trois capitales. Et je dirai à mes interlocuteurs là bas que comme Secrétaire général et je crois que je peux parler au nom des alliés, je suis très, très content... très très content qu'il y a dix ans maintenant que ces trois... les autres ont suivi... ont pris la décision de joindre la famille qui s'appelle l'OTAN.

APPATHURAI: First row, la Belgique.

Q: Une question alors en Français, Pascale Bourgaux de la RTBF. Je voudrais savoir si... même s'il n'en a pas été question ce matin précisément, si vous pourriez nous confirmer que ce rapprochement avec les Russes est un premier pas dans un grand projet présenté par M. Obama qui consiste à faire un échange concernant le bouclier anti-missile en Europe et négociation avec les Russes et avec les Iraniens.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Si j'étais le président Obama, et apparemment je ne le suis pas, je pourrais répondre à votre question. Mais c'est une question vraiment pour le président. Il est bien sûr que pour l'OTAN et pour les Alliés il est très important comment se développent les relations entre les États-Unis et la Russie. Mais l'OTAN a sa propre responsabilité avec les Américains dans la salle, n'est-ce pas. Alors, dans ce sens, on n'a pas discuté ça. La décision prise par la ministre c'était bien sur le conseil OTAN-Russie comme j'ai expliqué il y a un moment.

Q: (Inaudible...)RFI. On the enlargement, you know that Slovenia has given herself this deadline, until 26 of this month in order to see... rather to proceed with the referendum or not on the Croatian membership. Do you expect any beautiful last minute surprise before the Summit in order to have not just Albania, but even Croatia?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: In general, I like surprises, specifically if they're beautiful, but... and of course I hope, that must be clear, I hope, sincerely hope that we can see two other members join the family in Strasbourg and Kehl. I'll not comment on the internal situation in Slovenia. As I said in Krakow a few weeks ago, you cannot blame Slovenia for being a democracy, but my strong hope, of course, is that we will be able to greet two new members of the Alliance.

APPATHURAI: Last question is there.

Q: (Inaudible), National News Agency of Ukraine. Secretary General, do Ministers intend to bring to NATO... to Ukraine and Georgian colleagues the point of new approach of NATO towards Russia, and is that a reason for so urgent nature of these meetings be...?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: No, and there is no... I think to avoid a misunderstanding, there is no new approach to Russia. I think, personally, that the NATO-Russia Council has not functioned ideally over the past five years that I have now been NATO Secretary General, but we suspended and we have now... Ministers have now decided to restart the formal... you know, we had already informal sessions, the formal sessions of the NATO-Russia Council.

But I wouldn't call that and qualify that as a new approach. We have points where we agree, we have areas, as I indicated, where we can better work together, but let's not forget that we have quite a number of areas, where we have fundamental differences of opinion. And where we think that Russia should really change its position.

APPATHURAI: That's all we have time for, I'm afraid.