Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer after the NATO-Russia Council meeting in Corfu, Greece, 27 June 2009

  • 27 Jun. 2009
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  • Last updated: 29 Jun. 2009 11:16

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (NATO Secretary General): Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Let me start by saying that as Chairman of the NATO-Russia Council, outgoing chairman, I can say, because I’ll leave the scene in a few weeks, it was my ambition to leave to my successor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a NATO-Russia Council which is up and running. And not only up and running in Brussels, in an informal way and up and running in Brussels in a more formal sense between ambassadors but also up and running at the political level.

And I think as NRC Chairman, I can conclude that after the meeting which just ended, we... I have achieved that aim because there was clearly a sense in the meeting that the NRC, which has been in the neutral stand for almost a year, is now back in gear.

I think I could qualify the spirit of the meeting as open and constructive, which means that no one tried to paper over our differences in the meeting, on Georgia, for example. But we agreed, and that’s the very positive conclusion of the meeting, not to let those disagreements bring the whole NRC train to a halt.

On substance, as I said, we restarted our relations at a political level. We also agreed to restart the military-to-military contacts which, as you know, had been frozen since last August. And there were many more subjects discussed for possible cooperation, for increasing cooperation in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council.

I can mention just a few: stabilizing Afghanistan, combating terrorism, fighting piracy. These areas of cooperation, I could mention proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, counternarcotics, I should not forget.

There is a long list, there’s a long list of areas in which we can cooperate and in which we should increase our cooperation.

So on balance, I think the NATO-Russia Council leaves Corfu stronger and the 29 ambassadors in Brussels will very quickly get back to work to agree on new work procedures to make the NATO-Russia Council function more effectively as well, better able to take decisions and taking better decisions as well.

It was a good meeting. I would like also here publicly to thank Prime Minister Karamanlis, and Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis for being very gracious hosts to the NATO-Russia Council. They’re now going off, as you know, to the OSCE.

I also would like to thank Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for his presence and his long commitment to the NATO-Russia Council, not for nothing, the spirit of Pratica di Mare, which is in Italy, of course, was mentioned by many.

So I can say on balance that despite the fact that there are differences, I mentioned Georgia, I could mention CFE, the future of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. The spirit was one of wanting to cooperate. Again, no papering over. I do not see as NRC Chair, all the members of the NATO-Russia Council quickly agree on Georgia. I think that it will be very difficult because there’s of course a strong feeling of the respect for the territorial integrity of Georgia.

And if I remove my NRC Chair hat and I put on my NATO Secretary General’s hat for a moment – and those two are not the same – it is clear that in the North Atlantic Alliance, this territory integrity notion and the end of the United Nations mission is very sharply criticized. But it can be discussed in an open spirit.

So I think on balance, a good meeting, a constructive meeting. The NATO-Russia Council is up and running again also at the political level.

I can tell you that my parting shot for the Ministers was if you want to have a well-functioning NATO-Russia Council also at the political level, it is you, Ministers, who have to be engaged politically.

I say this with due respect to my colleagues, the ambassadors, and myself and my successor in Brussels. It is important that we see strong and perhaps a stronger political commitment from the Foreign Ministers for the functioning of the NATO-Russia Council.

But on balance, you see a Chairman of the NATO-Russia Council who is happy about the constructive meeting we just had.

Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Questions. First there.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Cook, from AFP. Secretary-General, the problems that we’ve had in the NATO-Russia Council started with Georgia. And yet today, we still have a problem with Georgia, with Russian obstruction. Did that come up and is it... can we really say that we can move on? The problem still seems to be there.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, Foreign Minister Lavrov, of course, raised Georgia extensively. So did other ministers, by the way. It was not only Foreign Minister Lavrov. And at the moment, I would say, and I think also in the near future, the trains shall not meet because there are fundamental differences of opinion, as I said, about the notion of territorial integrity of Georgia, of the Russian position the Security Council and the future of UNAMIC, be it on the OSCE observers.

But, and here comes the “but”, despite the fact that I do not expect the train to meet in the near future, that is not a stumbling block anymore for the fact that there are lots of things in the NATO-Russia Council we can discuss and we can take decisions on, like although it was an informal meeting, we are going to resume the mil-to-mil cooperation.

So we’ll see hopefully meetings of the Chiefs of Defence again. We are going to work on a document called Taking the NATO-Russia Council Forward. Unfortunately, we were not able to agree on all of this in Brussels.

So despite these differences of opinion, and they are there and they will not evaporate, they’ll not move away automatically, it was I think a good meeting. But on Georgia, there are indeed fundamental differences and those positions have not been nearing each other in this meeting at all. But you know what comes after the...

QUESTION: Alex Rochefski, Russia Today News. Mr. Secretary General, if you could just... you were just mentioning the fundamental differences on the Georgian issue, but still the work of the NATO-Russia Council is possible. It is now continuing its work. What factors made this possible?

And one more question. About NATO expansion, are there any plans in the organization to expand, to get more countries in it, and in particular about Israel’s initiative to join the organization, what can you say about that?

Thank you very much.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, about Israel, I can say that that’s, to the best of my knowledge, and you may take my word for that, there is no discussion going on at all about Israel. I know that in Israeli think tanks from time to time you hear these things, but this is not on the NATO calendar. This is not on the NATO agenda.

NATO’s door is open. That’s a principle. You know that in the Western Balkans, there are nations knocking on NATO’s door. That principle will be adhered to. That is a principle which the allies pay large attention to and is a very important principle.

And on the very first part of your question, I do think, and I have said this many times before in public, that the general notion, political notion by the ministers is that we need a functioning NATO-Russia Council. We do need one because again, Russia is a global player. Russia is a major player. Russia is necessary in the solution for many, many conflicts we see around us unfortunately in this world.

And Russia, from its part, realizes that despite the fundamental differences on Georgia, the NATO-Russia Council is an important body. I can tell you, but I’ll leave the floor then to Minister Lavrov to explain that himself, that the number of concrete proposals were made around the table, including a number of concrete proposals by Foreign Minister Lavrov which I consider very positive.

So my mantra and my bottom line, Russia needs NATO and NATO needs Russia, I think was the spirit which you saw in the meeting despite the fundamental differences on a number of issues, where we have to make progress.

MODERATOR: Up here and then back there.

QUESTION: David Brunnstrom, from Reuters. Secretary General, can you be a bit more specific? Well, can you be specific about what areas of military-to-military cooperation you’re talking about?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, that is basically resuming the well-known areas the military authorities have been discussing. And that runs from notions of interoperability to exercising to search and rescue. I mean, it’s picking up again where we left it unfortunately a year ago, including, including, I hope, the meetings where the Russian Chief of Defence meets his NATO colleagues. But I say again, of course, in the NATO-Russia Council framework, if you address me as Secretary General, which I can understand. Basically more correct is to address me as Chairman of the NATO-Russia Council because those functions are not the same and I do not want to have any confusion there.

MODERATOR: Back there.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from Georgian Public Broadcasting. Secretary General, the one year passed from the August war in one month, so actually nothing has changed after that because Russian troops stay on Georgian territory and the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan is not fulfilled yet.

So is there anything that international society and NATO can do to stop the occupation of a sovereign country in the 21st Century? Thank you.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, I spoke about the principle, about the territorial integrity of Georgia, which has been and is the major principle for the allies. And you know that in the NATO-Georgia Commission, we are building on the relationship with Georgia. And you quite rightly quote the Sarkozy-Medvedev agreements of August and September last year.

So there is of course the cause for these fundamental differences of opinion and you can add UNAMIC and OSCE observers and what have you.

NATO, as an Alliance, has never sought an active role in going into the fundamentals. I mean, the European Union under the leadership, able leadership of President Sarkozy brokeraged with President Medvedev the agreements of last year, not NATO.

And I do not see NATO as an Alliance playing a direct role in getting a situation undone as it has unfortunately grown over the past year. You know that discussions are going in Geneva, in the framework of the OSCE, in the framework of the United Nations, but in that respect, not in NATO, which does not mean by the way that in the NATO-Russia Council, we cannot discuss Georgia and the situation in Georgia as well.

And that is certainly which is shared by our Russian partners and by the NATO allies.

MODERATOR: Bloomberg.

QUESTION: Jim Neuger, from Bloomberg. As part of the military-to-military cooperation, would NATO, for example, ask Russia to allow its territory to be used to transit military cargo in addition to non-military cargo to Afghanistan? Another, would Russia for example send a ship to take part in Operation Ocean Shield? Can you give us some more specifics of what this might lead to?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, not too specific, but if you mention Ocean Shield, I mentioned the word piracy. I do personally consider the anti-piracy operations certainly one of the alleys we could try to go and having closer cooperation.

But we are not on any specifics there. Where we hope, where I hope that we can be a bit more specific is in the framework of Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean where you know there was Russian participation. I do hope that there will be Russian participation again.

On the third element of your question, we have, as you know, at the moment the agreement for the non-lethal. I see Afghanistan, but I cannot be more specific on the lethal part of such an arrangement. I would not exclude it in the future, but Afghanistan is clearly also from the Russian side one of the dossiers, if I may use that word, where more and closer cooperation is certainly within the range of the possible.

And that also means that there might be an intensification of the already well-functioning counternarcotics projects in that regard.

But we attach value to those lines of communication, as the military call it, and I do not exclude in the future that we might intensify that cooperation as well. But we are not, like with piracy, we are not into the specifics yet.

MODERATOR: I'm afraid that’s what we have time for, Secretary.