Monthly press conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

  • 02 Dec. 2009 -
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  • Last updated: 04 Dec. 2009 13:59

Monthly Press Conference by NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen

I will focus my remarks on the main priority today, this week and for this Alliance:  Afghanistan.

Last night, President Obama made a very important statement.  He reconfirmed what we all know:  that we cannot have security in our countries and in our homes until terrorism is defeated in Afghanistan. 

He expressed the determination of the United States to do what is necessary to finish the job, for as long as it takes – but not one day longer. 

And he backed up those words, by committing substantial numbers of troops, and by setting out a clear political and military strategy for success.

I congratulate President Obama on his determination and the strategic vision he has demonstrated. 

But this is not just America’s war.

What is happening in Afghanistan poses a clear and present danger to the citizens in all our countries.  Terrorism that could strike our streets, our airports, our metros.  Extremism that inspires violence across the world.  Drugs that end up in our schools and back alleys, and that kill 100,000 people every year. 

Instability in Afghanistan means insecurity for all of us. 

If we are to make Afghanistan more stable, and ourselves more secure, we must all do more. The US has pursued a multilateral approach to this operation. We must now demonstrate that multilateralism delivers concrete results. 

This is our fight, together.  We must finish it together. At this very important moment, NATO must demonstrate its unity and its strength once again.  And it means, in concrete terms, that all Allies and Partners in our mission must do more.

For all these reasons, I have spent the past weeks speaking directly with all of the Allies which I believe might be able to provide more forces for the operation.  And I can confirm that the Allies, and our Partners, will do more.  Substantially more.  In 2010, the non-US members of this mission will send at least five thousand more soldiers to this operation, and probably a few thousand on top of that.  That is in addition to the more than 38,000 they have already there.

Our strategy is also clear:  to transfer lead responsibility for running their own country to the Afghans, as soon as possible.

That means transition, where Afghan forces take the lead, and our forces move into a supporting role.  I am pressing Allies and partners to fully resource and finance our training mission.  With the aim to train and educate Afghan soldiers and Afghan police. Because that’s how we’ll make transition to Afghan lead a reality, sooner.

But let me emphasize: transition is not a code word for exit strategy.  It means transition to a different role.  We have no intention to have come this far, and sacrificed this much, to falter before the finish line. 

We will stay as long as it takes to finish our job. And our mission in Afghanistan will end when the Afghans are capable to secure and run the country themselves.

But people want to see progress. The Afghan people. And people in troop contributing countries. And we will ensure progress. 

I find it realistic to start the transition to Afghan lead in some districts already next year.

Tomorrow and the next day we will discuss all of this at the Foreign Minister’s meeting here in Brussels.  But we will not just discuss the military operation.  We will also focus on the broader political strategy.  And that includes what we expect from the new Afghan Government. 

Good governance is the best way to suck the oxygen away from the Taliban.  After all that we have committed to this mission, we have the right to insist on it.

President Karzai has made some very clear and welcome statements.  I’m pleased to see that corruption investigations are already underway.  It’s a good start, and it will help to establish the credibility the Afghan people and the international community need to see.  The conference to be held in January in London will be very important in this regard as well, to establish a new contract between the Afghan Government and the international community.

This week marks the beginning of a new phase in our mission.

In 2010, there will be substantially more forces on the ground, focused on defending the Afghan people. 

We will start handing over lead security responsibility to Afghan forces, district by district, where conditions allow. 

There will be clear commitments, and I expect clear action, by the Afghan Government to earn the support of the Afghan people. 

There will be more development assistance, starting with the 5 billion dollars pledged by Japan.  And the civilian side of the whole effort will be stepped up as well, not least through the European Union Action Plan.

All of which is why we will soon see a new momentum in this mission.

Of course, while Afghanistan is the most important issue on our agenda at the Foreign Minister’s meeting, it’s not the only one.  There are three other issues, in particular, which will be under discussion.

First:  NATO’s Open Door.  The Open Door policy has already helped to stabilise much of Europe.  And the Allies believe that the countries of the Western Balkans should all find their home in NATO and the European Union, when they meet the necessary standards.    

Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have both applied to join the Membership Action Plan.  Ministers will decide if each of them, based on their own individual merits, has reformed enough to meet the standards  a MAP requires.  We will take that decision tomorrow.

Second:  NATO-Russia relations.  Foreign Minister Lavrov will join his 28 colleagues in the NATO-Russia Council meeting on Friday.  I am confident that this will be a substantial and forward looking meeting.  My aim, as Chair of the NRC, is that we will be able to agree to a Joint Review of 21st Century threats and challenges.  That we will set out a concrete workplan where we will do more together to face those threats, to the mutual benefit of all countries within the NATO-Russia Council.  And that we will agree a way forward on reforming the work in the NATO-Russia Council. 

Third and finally, we will meet with both Georgia and Ukraine.  The commitment made in Bucharest to both countries still stands.  They will become NATO members, when they meet the standards and if they so desire.  We will be discussing progress in reform, which NATO will continue to support.  We will also thank both countries for what they are contributing to our operations and missions, and I would like to recognise in particular Georgia for the very substantial contingent it is sending to Afghanistan.

So, overall, a very busy Ministerial in a very important week.

Questions and answers

Q: Jamel Majida(ph), United Arab Emirates News Agency. Your Excellency, what was the results of (inaudible) meeting and why you don't invite ICDI Ministers to attend these ministerial meetings in Brussels? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Secretary General of NATO): Well, first of all, we had a very successful seminar and conference in the United Arab Emirates a few weeks ago and I had very productive bilateral meetings with political leaders in the country.

As you know, I have made it a priority to further develop and strengthen our partnerships within the Istanbul Cooperation initiative and also the Mediterranean Dialogue. This is also the reason why we have organized and will plan meetings with our partners at ambassadors level in the very near future. I would not exclude the possibility of having meetings at the Ministers level at a later stage, but we have embarked on a very intense dialogue with the countries within these partnerships.

The reason why we have not organized meetings with all our partners this week is that it is a very heavy agenda. I think you can imagine that we have to focus in particular on Afghanistan this week.

Q: Andrzej Kocjan, Polish Radio Zet. Secretary General, Poland wants to send to Afghanistan 600 additional soldiers. Is it important... an important contribution in your opinion? Or maybe you expected a bigger number?

And the second question, what kind of troops Poland has promised?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: Well, I appreciate very much the Polish pledge. I had meetings in Warsaw recently. We had a very constructive discussion. And we look very much forward to an additional contribution for Poland.

I do not want to go into details about the specific elements in this contribution. As you may know there will be a force generation conference organized next week where our military people will discuss how contributions from each individual ally could possibly fit into the overall picture.

Q: Lorne Cook from AFP. In his speech President Obama mentioned the credibility of NATO, and you've talked a little bit about what the allies need to do in terms of picking up their effort. After September 11 we invoked Article 5 and that's still in place. And President Obama's taken a bold step, pretty much putting potentially his presidency on the line. So what more do Europeans have to do? I know you can't quantify in terms of the number of soldiers, but isn't it time for leadership from European allies to make similar commitments?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: This is really an Alliance mission. All 28 NATO allies are in this together, and in addition to that, 15 partners within the ISAF coalition contribute to our operation in Afghanistan. So it is really an Alliance operation. And we should keep it that way.

I appreciate very much the U.S. multilateral approach and this is also the reason why I have done a lot to encourage the non-U.S. allies and partners to make further contributions.

Actually, I think the non-U.S. allies have demonstrated a clear commitment to our operation in Afghanistan. Let me remind you that during the last three years the non-U.S. allies have nearly doubled their contribution... their true contribution to the operation in Afghanistan. And as I said in my introduction I would expect them to contribute further now, at least 5,000 and probably a few thousand extra on top of that.

Q: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. On that point, which are the countries that you expect to contribute these extra troops and does it give you any concern that these countries have not come forward immediately after President Obama's speech, but appeared to be waiting until the January conference and are eying that as some sort of condition for announcing a further troop deployment.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: Yes, I have had a lot of meetings and talks during the past weeks, but I will leave it to each individual ally to announce their concrete contribution. But based on my talks, I feel confident that we will see quite a number of pledges. There might be allies that want to see the outcome of the international conference to be held on the 28th of January before they actually announce their concrete contributions.

For me the most important thing is not the timeline here, but the fact that they will actually contribute with an additional number of troops, so I think you will see some pledges right now, some at a later stage, but still at the beginning of 2010, and then you will see a build-up of troops during 2010.

Q: Yes, Secretary General, David Brunnstrom from Reuters. Could you just clarify, you mentioned an additional... at least an additional 5,000, possibly several thousand more. How many of that number will include troops who are already on the ground and have been sent in as election reinforcements?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: Well, I'm not able to make that separation in exact terms right now. The fact is that the number 5,000 will be an additional contribution compared to what we had expected, for 2010. And on top of that, I would expect some 1,000 extra. And I think that's what counts. I mean, if a country had planned to withdraw a number of troops in 2010 then it would not be possible for our commanders in the field to operate on the basis of these troops. So if they stay it's a fact that it is a strengthening of our operation in Afghanistan.

James Appathurai (NATO Spokesman): Slobo.

Q: Yes, Secretary General, in almost all member countries in Europe public opposition to the war has grown steadily as the number of troops has risen over the last three years. How do you propose to help overcome this majority opinion now, and scepticism about claims that the Taliban are somehow an existential threat to Europe?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: It is, of course, a matter of concern that we, according to opinion polls have seen a decline in public support for our presence in Afghanistan. I think people want to see progress on the ground. So do I. And this is also the reason why it is so important to ensure a transition to Afghan lead, to Afghan lead responsibility for security, as well as development. And security-wise it means that we will hand over lead security responsibility to the Afghan Security Forces, district by district, province by province as their own capacity develops and when conditions permit to do so.

It will be a condition-based transition to Afghan lead, but based on what we know about the security situation in different parts of Afghanistan, I find it realistic that we will be able to transfer lead responsibility to the Afghans in 10 to 15 areas and districts already next year. But I have to stress that this transition to Afghan lead will be condition-based. We will not leave unless we feel sure that the Afghan Security Forces can actually take on responsibility for the security in that specific district or province.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence Weekly. Change of topic, Bosnia. If the Alliance does extend the MAP to Bosnia, of course it will argue that this is a stabilizing measure, but one could also argue on the other hand that this is a very risky proposition, extending this to a federal entity that is very weak inherently and where the tensions among the entities are very high.

So Mr. Rasmussen, do you acknowledge that risk? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: Well, let me stress that no decision has been made yet, and I will not prejudge the outcome of the Foreign Ministers' meeting. I visited Bosnia-Herzegovina last Friday and I am encouraged by the fact that it is a unanimous decision not only within the Bosnia presidents, but also across all community lines and across political dividing lines. It is a unanimous decision to apply for a Membership Action Plan. I think that's an encouraging thing.

And I think there is a unified allied position, that the long-term goal should be to see Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as all other countries in the Western Balkans, as a member of NATO and the European Union. So the question is not if, but when the time is ripe for granting a Membership Action Plan to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But I'm afraid that I cannot answer your question without prejudging in one way or the other the discussion among Ministers, and I'm not going to do that. I think we will have a very frank, very open discussion and I think Ministers will take into consideration both pros and cons when the final decision will be made probably tomorrow.

Q: (Inaudible...), National News Agency of Ukraine. Just follow-up concerning the enlargement strategies. Will Ministers consider some kind of decisions concerning the Georgia and Ukraine joining the MAP? Are these countries less prepared for a MAP than, for example, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro? Thanks.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: I think Ministers will reconfirm the decisions already taken in Bucharest and at the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit concerning Georgia and Ukraine and we will welcome the progress made by the two countries within their annual national programs.

Q: Georgian TV. The situation in Georgia's occupied territory is very complete(?). Russian soldiers have kidnapped 11 Georgian citizens, including four teenagers. Will NATO do consideration on the NATO-Russian Council meeting situation on Georgia's occupied regions? And next question, as you know, integration in NATO is top of Georgian foreign policy agenda. What will be message of the NATO Foreign Ministers to Georgia's public at this ministerial?

Thank you very much.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: I think two messages are important. Firstly, that we insist on respect for Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty. And secondly, that the decision we took in Bucharest still stands, and we all know that we decided in Bucharest that Georgia and Ukraine will become members of NATO, provided, of course, that they fulfil the necessary criteria.

I think these two messages are the core messages.

Q: Alain Franco, Radio Suisse Romande et RTL et Radio-Canada. Une question en français si vous pouvez éventuellement réponde en français pour moi et pour les autres radios francophones ici dans cette salle.

Êtes-vous déçu par la fin de non-recevoir présenté par le président Sarkozy au président Obama concernant l'Afghanistan? Et si oui, est-ce que vous allez essayer de convaincre la France de revenir sur cette décision et si vous pouvez en quelques mots nous rappeler en français donc combien de nouvelles troupes vous espérez obtenir à quel terme et sous quelles conditions? Merci.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: Au contraire, je suis encouragé par les commentaires du président Sarkozy. Président Obama a annoncé une augmentation significante du nombre des troupes américaines en Afghanistan. Et dans cette situation il est crucial à mon avis que les autres alliés soit à la suite. Et en particulier je tiens à accentuer deux points.

Premièrement l'équilibre au centre de l'alliance est en jeu, il est important que l'opération en Afghanistan ne soit pas perçue comme une opération américaine pure et simple. Et deuxièmement nous avons demandé aux États-Unis d’adopter une approche multilatérale, mais je crois que les États-Unis commenceront à mettre en doute cette approche si ils estiment que les autres alliés n'assument pas leur part du fardeau. Donc, j'appelle à tous les alliés d'augmenter le nombre de troupes en Afghanistan.

Q: De Rituerto, El País. Secretary General, you have said that we're not talking here today about an exit strategy from Afghanistan, but President Obama has already said that he plans to start the re-deployment of soldiers in mid-2011. And already the papers are talking and reporting and emphasizing that the United States is already thinking in leaving Afghanistan. How do you square these two things of President Obama saying that in 2011 we are going to be back home, or start to be back home, and you're saying that we are going to stay there for as long as it takes.

Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: Yes, I think it's a very important question, and important to interpret this correctly. Nobody is speaking about an exit date, but what we're speaking about is a transition. A transition to Afghan lead and I have repeatedly stressed how important it is to show the light at the end of the tunnel, to show clear progress on the ground. And this is the reason why transition to Afghan lead is so important.

So we're not speaking about an exit strategy, but a transition strategy, which, of course, eventually when conditions permit, will lead to a withdrawal of international troops, but it's important to stress that it is a condition based process. We'll not just leave Afghanistan behind. We will stay and finish our job and the mission ends when the Afghans are capable to secure and run the country themselves.

And let me also remind you that transition means that foreign troops will gradually be replaced by Afghan Security Forces, so it will not be a weakening of security in Afghanistan, but our aim is to train and educate more Afghan soldiers and more Afghan police, so that they can take lead responsibility and we can move to a more supportive role in this transition process.

So this is what it is about. It is not a run for the exit. We will go for the transition to Afghan lead.

Q: Paul Snijder, NOS Dutch Radio and TV. The Dutch have already scheduled to leave Afghanistan by 2010. This new people of President Obama to send more troops, to send more NATO troops, are you asking maybe even urgent the Dutch to stay longer, and if so, have you already been in contact with the Dutch government about it?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: Let me put it this way, I hope that all allies will take into consideration how important it is that we keep this as an Alliance mission and that other allies follow suit when the Americans have decided to contribute a significant number of additional troops to our operation in Afghanistan.

And I feel confident that the Dutch government, as well as other governments, will take all this into consideration.

Q: (Inaudible...). Apart from military confrontation, what about political dialogue with the Taliban?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: I'm strongly in favour of a reintegration and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. I think that's the way forward. But there are, of course, certain conditions which must be fulfilled firstly, that it is an Afghan-led process. The Afghan government must be in the driver's seat. We, of course, are ready to assist, but basically it must be an Afghan-led process.

Secondly, I think it's crucial that those groups and parties involved in a reintegration and reconciliation process accept and abide by the Afghan constitution.

But provided that these conditions are fulfilled, I think a reintegration and reconciliation process in Afghanistan would be beneficial for the whole society.

Q: (Inaudible) from Tunisia. Secretary General, you know that when journalist is coming from Arab world they have a lot of questions, so we try to find some of the answers we are looking for. What about NATO's role in the Mediterranean region? And my second question, about the faith with the Afghani people? How could you build faith and how you will change the situation at the time where the casualties received from day-to-day, civilians and mainly civilians, children, women, caused by NATO strikes?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: First of all, let me stress that we are in Afghanistan to protect the Afghan people. And I strongly regret when we see civilian casualties. I know that our soldiers on the ground do their utmost to minimize the number of civilian casualties.

But let me also remind you that a huge majority of civilian casualties are caused by the Taliban. That's a fact. And the first question?

Q: About the role of NATO in the Mediterranean region.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: Yes. As I have made very clear, right from the outset when I took office as a new Secretary General of NATO, it is one of my priorities to further develop our partnerships with the countries within the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

I have had meetings with all the ambassadors from our partner countries to discuss with them how we could possibly further develop our cooperation, both bilaterally between NATO and each individual country, and also multilaterally within these two partnerships.

In a couple of weeks we will have a meeting at ambassadors level between the 28 allies and the countries within the Mediterranean Dialogue. I think it will be followed by a similar meeting with the countries within the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. And by the way, we had a very successful seminar in the United Arab Emirates recently. So we are on a good track, and I foresee further development of these partnerships during my tenure as Secretary General.

Q: Khalid Hameed Farooqi, Geo Television, Pakistan. Secretary General, whenever the news come out of the western capitals about the handing over responsibility to Afghans or leaving the districts, particularly in the south-eastern Afghanistan, the government in Islamabad get nervous and yesterday Foreign Minister said at least five next years NATO should stay in Afghanistan, and Prime Minister said that if you increase the NATO talks in Afghanistan it will exert pressure on Taliban fighters and they will cross from through North Waziristan into Pakistan. What measures are being taken to stop these fighters coming into North Waziristan?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: First of all, let me stress that actually we have increased the number of international troops in the southern parts and also the eastern parts of Afghanistan during the last year.

Furthermore, the search, which will now take place, will also focus a lot on these parts of Afghanistan, in particular the south of Afghanistan.

Next, let me say that it is, of course, of crucial importance to have a strong cooperation with Pakistan and I would like to use this opportunity to commend the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military for their determined fight against terrorists in the border region. So as you rightly pointed out, we cannot succeed unless we join efforts in the fight against terrorism and extremism in these regions.

James Appthurai: We have time for one more.

Q: Denis Dubrovin, ITAR-TASS. Mr. Secretary General, yesterday the Russian ambassador Dmitry Rogozin, has said that some NATO countries blocked the preparation of the documents for the ministerial meeting of NATO-Russia Council because NATO doesn't want to make the main objective of the work of NATO-Russia Council the discussion on the new configuration of European security.

So is this issue so difficult to discuss between Russia and NATO that we are ready to risk the first official ministerial meeting of NATO-Russia Council in one year? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:: Well, first of all, let me stress that I'm not going to comment on internal negotiations and discussions within the NATO-Russia Council. Let me just say that it's not fair to single out individual countries in this. We are right now in a negotiation process and it's quite natural that in the run-up to a Foreign Ministers' meeting where we are going to make important decisions there will be some discussions. And we have some tough negotiations. I can confirm that. But I feel confident that all countries within the NATO-Russia Council are committed to finding, constructive solutions to that, so that's what I can say right now. We will have the Foreign Ministers' meeting on Friday and I feel pretty sure that we will find the necessary compromises and make important decisions on Friday.

James Appthurai: That's all we have time for.