Weekly press briefing

by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

  • 30 Jan. 2008 - 30 Jan. 2008
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  • Last updated: 12 Aug. 2008 15:18

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): To keep up a good tradition let's start and I'll be brief and then happy to take your questions on any addition of interest to you.

As I was just discussing with our friends here, just a reminder for those who might have missed it, because it was late in the day, but Prime Minister Tymoshenko of Ukraine was welcomed for the first time to NATO Headquarters by the Secretary General yesterday evening. They had a long discussion, I think over an hour, about the development of NATO-Ukraine relations.

They both welcomed the fact that Ukraine's efforts within the Intensified Dialogue, in particular within the Annual Target Plan, have recently been stepped up, and the Secretary General looked forward to NATO's working with Ukraine to develop its cooperation and our further assistance to Ukraine's reform efforts.

Prime Minister Tymoshenko has said, as she has said in the meeting with the Secretary General, that the Ukrainian government intends to step up its overall information effort within its own country, to explain Euro-Atlantic structures to the Ukrainian people.

Today we have just finished a visit by Prime Minister Berisha of Albania to meet the Secretary General and to meet with the North Atlantic Council. They had a very long and extensive discussion. This was the third of the three final, if you will, visits by leaders from Membership Action Plan countries in the run-up to the Bucharest Summit to assess,... to discuss where they are and the state of their preparations and to hear from the NATO ambassadors and from the Secretary General what remains to be done.

Prime Minister Berisha, you will not be surprised, set out in detail the substantial reforms that Albania has already embarked on. Where it comes to, for example, the political climate within the country, he noted that his delegation included two... included representatives from two opposition parties and that working towards NATO accession was an issue of no controversy within the country. There was political unity across the spectrum for this and that a number of substantial measures, practical measures, have been taken; for example, when it came to fighting corruption, when it came to judicial reform, when it came to economic reform, and of course, military reform.

The Secretary General, the ambassadors, recognize that a lot of progress has been made and that progress is being assessed through the Membership Action Plan cycle, which will complete very soon.

They encouraged the Prime Minister to continue with reforms in such areas such as judicial reform and the fight against corruption, and to take the steps necessary to ensure that reform becomes irreversible. They also stressed that no final decisions, indeed, no formal discussion has even begun at NATO because the Membership Action Plan cycles have not completed, but relatively soon those discussions, those formal discussions will begin, and decisions will need to be taken and that reform efforts must continue right up until the last moment for all three Membership Action Plan countries.

Tomorrow, the Secretary General will visit Luxemburg. He will meet with Prime Minister Juncker, with the Minister of Defence Schiltz, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Asselborn, and then return to NATO, where he will have a bilateral meeting and then a conférence de presse with President Basescu of Romania. They will have, of course, two issues... Actually three issues. Two and a half issues, let's put it this way. Two and a half issues on their agenda.

One will be to discuss the substantive issues on the agenda for Bucharest. I mentioned the Bucharest Summit in early April. I mentioned enlargement. Of course, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Romania, takes a very direct interest, you will not be surprised, in what's going on in its neighbourhood. As well as issues like cyber defence or energy security, which might well be on the agenda for Bucharest.

That's the first issue. The second will be preparations for the Summit itself, which will take place in the Palace of the Parliament, this rather large building in Bucharest. The Secretary General visited recently. The preparations seem to be going very well. We're quite sure that they will be done on time and up to standard, the high standard of NATO summits, in time for the meeting.

That's the second issue. The half is, as part of the discussions of the Summit, they will unveil to your delight, the Summit logo. It will be revealed to the assembled crowd tomorrow. Please don't write that in the slightly sardonic way I put it. Tomorrow, they will also reveal the NATO Summit logo, which is very nice. I've seen it myself and you will see it tomorrow.

On Friday the Secretary General will go to Paris for the first time since President Sarkozy has taken office. He will first meet with members of the White Book Commission, the Mallet Commission, which is taking a broad look at French defence policy. He will have lunch with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, M. Morin. He will, I believe, also meet with the Prime Minister and also finally, with the President, M. Sarkozy, late in the afternoon, after which he will give a speech at Science Po, formally the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris in rue Jacob.

This will be, as I mentioned, the first time he has been to Paris... to visit Paris formally since M. Sarkozy took office.

Monday, the Estonian President, Mr. Ilves, will be at NATO. And Assistant Secretary General, our newish Assistant Secretary General for Defence Planning and Policy Jirí Šedivý will give his first press briefing on background in the run-up to the Vilnius ministerial, which will take place, as you know, on the 7th and 8th of February, so ASG Šedivý will give a briefing. I will be there with him to lay out the agenda for the meeting. We will send out a media advisory, I think, today, to give you the exact time and location. But it will be, as I say, on Monday and then on Wednesday the Secretary General will leave for Vilnius.

I don't have any specific issues to raise with you, aside from that, but I'm happy to take your questions on any issues, which are of interest to you.

Okay, please.

Q: Yes, thank you. I was... an article in Washington Post which was quoted in Macedonia that told me Croatia will receive an invitation and the other countries, Albania and Macedonia are very far from the reforms. Are you considering that option?

APPATHURAI: I don't know who wrote the article, but they seem to have a crystal ball that nobody else has. There has been no formal discussion amongst the allies on this issue. There has... the cycles of review on which basis the allies will make decisions have not yet been completed.

I think you would usefully look to the ministerial meeting in early March where NATO Foreign Ministers will come to NATO Headquarters as the first real important milestone, the first high-level discussion on this issue. Until then I think any speculation of any kind is premature because we are simply not in a position to have had a formal discussion on this issue - would Croatia be in and everybody else out?

 Go ahead.

Q: Yes, James, you said that SecGen travels to Paris tomorrow, is that right?


Q: Friday, sorry. Okay. Friday, and he's going to meet with, among other things, he's going to meet with this White Paper Defence...

APPATHURAI: M. Mallet, yeah.

Q: ...Commission, is that what you called it?

APPATHURAI: It's a Mallet Commission.

Q: Mallet Commission. What is... aside from France rejoining the integrated command structure, what is NATO's interest in that paper?

APPATHURAI: Well, I think it's...

Q: Because I think it's my understanding that it's going to be carried up to the EU level more than NATO.

APPATHURAI: I think it's France's interest in speaking to NATO. That's the first point. He doesn't impose himself on the Mallet Commission. They are interested in speaking to him, and they have already spoken to him once at NATO Headquarters.

France is obviously a very important member of NATO, as they are a very important member of the European Union and France is through... or at least this Commission is going to make recommendations, if I understand correctly, across the spectrum of French policy where it relates to foreign and defence issues.

Obviously, as France considers, and they have made no secret of considering, let's say taking its full place in a formal sense, within NATO that is something on which they would wish to consult the Secretary General. But I think they would also want to consult him on... if I... I don't want to speak for them, but there are a whole host of issues relating to Euro-Atlantic security which may be of interest to them, and on which he may wish... he would certainly be at their disposal to speak. I can't predict what it is they're going to want to raise with him, but certainly France and its place in Euro-Atlantic security is of interest to them.

Q: The President Karzai today is quoted that more troops to Afghanistan will not increase the security there. What's the comments to that?

APPATHURAI: I have heard of those comments. I have not seen them. I think President Karzai's perspective on this is one that is not new. And that is, he wishes, as soon as possible, to see Afghan forces capable enough to take the lead in defending the country and defending the people of the country. And that doesn't just mean Afghan army, but also Afghan police.

He wishes for the same thing... he wishes for... let me put it this way, he wishes for increased support in terms of training and equipment. And he will certainly meet with agreement within NATO.

We believe that the Afghan National Security Forces need more training, equipment and that will be a subject next week in Vilnius. It will be, I am quite sure, a subject in the run-up to the Bucharest Summit.

We have, from the NATO point of view, very close to what our military authorities need... consider is necessary from a NATO point of view, in terms of forces on the ground. You have heard the Secretary General say over 90 percent. Regardless of how we break that down, certainly we are very close to what the statement of requirements set out, but we are still short, I've said this to you many times, when it comes to maneuver capability, helicopters, surveillance equipment, fixed wing. So there are still shortfalls, but we're substantially close to what the total amount is.

But we are still looking, from a NATO point of view, for a little bit more. In the long-term, the answer for Afghanistan is fully capable Afghan forces, and I think that is the thrust of what President Karzai, General Wardak, or Defence Minister Wardak, have been asking for for quite some time. And on which we agreed.

Q: Hello, James, this is (inaudible)... from China Youth Daily. I have a question related to the NATO global partnership initiative. Up to now, (inaudible)... is pushing to this issue and whether this issue is being discussed among the NATO member countries? Thank you.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. Global partnerships, which is what many people call NATO's relations with countries beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, have not... have gone beyond an idea that is being pushed by one or another country. They have become a reality for NATO because they reflect the nature of the operations in particular, which we conduct.

In Afghanistan there are 26 NATO countries, you know this, of course, but there are almost... I think there are 13 other countries now in this mission. And even where the countries are not formally on the ground with forces there are those who make a very substantial contribution. For example, Japan with some $20 million worth of financial support for the civilian elements of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams that are obviously part of the overall NATO effort.

Pakistan, which does not have country troops on the ground is obviously very important to what's going on in Afghanistan. I could go on and on.

So the idea of NATO having relationships with countries beyond the Euro-Atlantic area is no longer controversial and doesn't require, let's say, one country or the other to push it forward. It is what it is. It's a fact. It's important and recognized as such.

Will we... how will we take it forward? The partnerships that are established beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, and beyond the Mediterranean and Gulf regions, are on a bilateral basis, they are relatively ad hoc, they are driven generally by operational requirements. But... and so it's hard to predict where they will go, but they don't have a formal structure. They go on on the bilateral basis at the speed at which individual countries are interested in developing a relationship with NATO.

Did I miss anything?

Q: But I mean the relationship with Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

APPATHURAI: Yes, well that's exactly... those fall precisely into that category. And they're very different relationships, each one. With South Korea we have a certain dialogue, but South Korea has generally withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan. So that operational requirement is no longer there. Japan has no troops on the ground but is a financial contributor. We have a regular series of exchanges, every other year, I think, with Japan, at a high level, but not much... not more frequently than that. The Secretary General has recently himself been to Japan and we have a good relationship with the Japanese government for obvious reasons that I haven't mentioned.

Australia, a very, very important military contributor in Uruzgan. New Zealand has a Provincial Reconstruction Team.  I have been to see them myself. They performed, by the way, a Haka for the Deputy Secretary General, which was quite something to see in the mountains of Afghanistan.

So, individual relationships based on individual requirements, no formal structure, and all done at the speed which makes sense for all the parties.

I think you were next.

Q: Hi, James, this is Paolo (inaudible) from Italian Press Agency Adnkronos. Finally, did you receive the answer from Russian authorities on Mr. Putin's invitation in Bucharest?



Q: There were some stories in the press, I think they were filed by AP and Reuters, that the Canadians are threatening to withdraw their contingent from Afghanistan. How seriously is this story taken here at NATO Headquarters?

APPATHURAI: Canada is in the midst of a discussion in the sense, sparked by a report produced by a Commission led by a former Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, which in essence recommended that Canada look to extend its mission in Kandahar, but with conditions attached, those conditions including finding 1,000 more troops for Kandahar from an ISAF-contributing nation and some military assets, like helicopters and intelligence assets.

Prime Minister Harper of Canada has, in a general sense, endorsed that position and has announced that he will be looking to allies and speaking with allies to try to muster the support that has been laid out in the Manley Commission report.

NATO certainly will follow very closely the political discussion in Canada. It now has to go to Parliament and there will be a parliamentary discussion and vote. We share the view that the mission in Afghanistan is... requires a long-term commitment, including a military commitment. Canada has played, and continues to play a very, very important role in a strategically important part of Afghanistan, and we would like to see that role continued. And certainly NATO will, to the extent that we can, support any efforts to provide more to... to garner more forces, including for the south. We have a long-standing request to nations to provide  additional resources, and as Canada will lead this effort certainly NATO will be supportive where we can.

Q: James, I understand during the conversation, during the discussion between the Secretary General and Ukrainian Prime Minister Tymoshenko, there was a... the topic of NATO-Russian relations were raised, and the concerns of Russia, on the ambitions of Ukraine to join NATO, because if I understand this question of Ukrainian ambitions to join NATO was discussed at the meeting between Prime Minister and Secretary General. What NATO means, the arguments of Russia, are they serious for this Ukrainian ambition to join Alliance?

And the second question, there were some reports from this... from the Russian general staff that the Russian military could reconsider configuration of the military group in Kaliningrad region in response to the American antimissile defence sites in Eastern Europe. Do you have any comments on that?

APPATHURAI: I certainly... I won't have much comment on either point. Of course, Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations were discussed. I won't go into any details about the discussions themselves, but they are no secret to anyone, and that includes because the letter signed by the three members of the government has been made public.

I also don't want to comment too much on the Russian issue, except to say that, of course, NATO's enlargement process throughout its history has been based on a very clear principle that the European democracy that meets NATO's standards, political, economic and military, and that aspires to join, has the right to make its own defence associations, and NATO has an obligation under its treaty to consider that application. And that each country will be judged on its own merits.

But beyond that I would not go. I also have no comments on the Kaliningrad issue.

Q: (Inaudible).... I have two questions. The first one is today is new Russian ambassador's first meeting with NAC. Did you have any feedback from that? And second is, did Ukraine and Albania mention any troop contribution?

APPATHURAI: Ah. The... to respond to the first question, it started at 3:00, so I don't have any feedback just yet. I do know that Mr. Rogozin and the Secretary General had a long bilateral, a very good discussion. The Russian ambassador presented to the Secretary General an axe, a tomahawk, with the intention, I think, as he said, that we should find a way to bury the hatchet, we should find a shovel and bury the hatchet, which was a nice line.

Ukraine already has a limited number of people in the ISAF mission. Albania is, I think, considering further contributions, so yes, it has come up. And these kinds of contributions from partner countries are very welcome indeed.

I think there was a question right at the back.

Q: James, (inaudible)... ITAR-TASS News Agency. I would like to ask you what's on the table of today's meeting of NATO-Russia Council and what's the overall impression of the new Russian ambassador in NATO? Thank you.

APPATHURAI: There is a very broad agenda of the NRC today. I'm not really at liberty to go into the details of the agenda of NATO meetings, but I suspect that we will certainly first have a tour de table, a general assessment of where we are in the NATO-Russia relationship. Allies will wish to welcome Mr. Rogozin, not just the Secretary General, but all of the allies. I'm quite sure he will hear their desire to work closely with him. He is... he has made it clear that he comes in partnership and wants to find a way to make the NATO-Russia relationship work even better than it has until now. He has also not shied away from pointing out that there are areas of fundamental difference, but he is an eloquent advocate for his country. He will, as he has said, represent the interests of his country, just as his predecessor did, and the ambassadors are looking forward to working with him.

Q: Back to Afghanistan again. What you said in the beginning, have NATO asked any country specific for a contribution to the south at this time, to back up the Canadian...

APPATHURAI: NATO as... let us keep in mind that the Prime Minister of Canada only endorsed the report two days ago. And there will have to be a parliamentary discussion. But NATO has been in permanent contact with allies across the spectrum to meet the shortfalls that have long been identified in the statement of requirements. And NATO believes that the forces contributed to the operation should have the maximum flexibility and the maximum flexibility, of course, refers not least to where they can be deployed.

So in principle NATO is permanently engaged, trying to meet the remaining shortfalls for the mission, without any restrictions on where they might be used.

Q: (Inaudible)...

APPATHURAI: You mean as a result of the Canadian decision, or just in general, because... Well, specific countries are being approached each and every day by the Deputy (Supreme) Allied Commander Europe, whose job it is to do force generation and we have regular force generation conferences. We have regular defence ministers' meetings. These things aren't just abstract. They know what's required, they know who has what, and they do, of course, try to, in a structured and focused way, meet the shortfalls.

But let us be clear, NATO cannot force any nation to provide anything it does not want to provide. There is... there has to be a political decision on the part of each individual nation to decide to deploy forces where and in what context.

Q: James, there are reported tensions within the Pakistani army and also with respect to the role of President Musharraf. I know it's not a political situation, it's a military situation. And this is reliable sources, like I am not quoting anybody. If you can comment on that, if NATO is observing it, you know, following it and what... because it's very, very important, next to Afghanistan.  

Then, the Pakistani officials have told me that there are seven or eight Indian council (inaudible) on the border with some spots with the border... between Pakistan and Afghanistan on Afghanistan side. If it is true, if it is true, what is their role and...

The last one is about... I missed your last press conference so maybe you have addressed this issue about President Karzai's veto on UN appointment and what next...

APPATHURAI: Well, thank you, because you gave me, finally one question I can actually answer. I can't comment... I don't know and couldn't comment on the consulate. All I can say on the Pakistani military is that our... First, President Musharraf and the Secretary General had a very good and long discussion when they met recently, and agreed that cooperation between NATO and Pakistan not only is very important on the military front, also on the political front, but should be stepped up as much as possible, and appropriate.

And second, the assessment of our military authorities is that the military to military cooperation between Pakistan and NATO has not diminished, despite the difficulties that are being faced on the Pakistani side of the border.

When it comes to Lord Ashdown NATO regrets that the conditions were not right for Lord Ashdown to take up the post of the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan. We believe that that post needs to be headed up by someone with international profile and significant weight in order to maintain and increase international attention on support for Afghanistan's development, to be able to be more effective in drawing together and coordinating the civilian elements of that support, coordinating, of course, with the military side and working in support of the Afghan government.

UNAMA has a very able acting head right now. The former deputy... well the deputy, who is acting as the head of it, Christopher Alexander. But the search obviously continues for someone to formally take up the position as the head of the UN mission. And NATO would very much support... would have supported Lord Ashdown's nomination and regrets it has not been possible, and certainly would support a successful search for someone else to take up the post.

Q: (Inaudible)...


Q: You mention... in recent talk I have heard from the NATO commanders in Afghanistan about the development work that the NATO does, and when that story was written we had a lot of comments from the readers that why this is never... highlighted.

And when Karzai is asking the NATO forces to leave, is he also asking this development part also to leave?

APPATHURAI: First, to answer the second part, President Karzai has never asked foreign forces to leave. On the contrary he has stressed that they are absolutely essential. Secondly, NATO militaries don't do development work. I mean, that has to be very clear. Development is a long-term process. And the military does not do that.

What the military does is two things. One is, where necessary and appropriate within the guidelines given to them, they can do immediate reconstruction, quick impact reconstruction to mitigate the effects of military operations that have obviously created damage where they take place. And that's very important. They have a fund for that which has recently... it's been funded to about $1.6 million until now, and I understand that the U.S. Congress has just approved two more million for this fund. The Post Operations Humanitarian Relief Fund we call it. So there are millions of dollars now that the military in the NATO context can use to provide immediate relief after a NATO operation.

The second thing they do in the context of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams is to provide security for the representatives from the development organizations, from the foreign offices, who do do longer term reconstruction and development. So these are joined up teams, but it's not the military who was doing it.

To answer your final... to answer your question, why isn't it more advertised, I can tell you we sweat blood trying to get journalists to cover the development activities in Afghanistan. They are very clear that that is of little interest to them. I have sat down with them in Afghanistan many times, and of even less interest to their editors. They have told me, even if I wrote it they'd never run it. And on top of that, I was told by one guy, sorry, when you build the school that's not a story. If it burns I'll come.

So you know, that's the reality of getting this. It's very, very hard to get journalists to cover this story.

I have about five minutes guys. You have been waiting a long time.

Q: James, could you update us on NATO's study on missile defence, is there... are there going to be any decisions in Vilnius or Bucharest regarding the theatre missile defence or its linkage to the strategic missile defence?

APPATHURAI: Okay, thank you. Theatre missile defence is moving forward as it should. We have agreement on how it should go forward. I believe a test bed is being put in place. There is no controversy within NATO on theatre missile defence, and the project is moving forward at pace.

Strategic missile defence, of course, is a separate, if related issue, and related not only to NATO's theatre missile defence, but also to U.S. bilateral discussions with Poland, the Czech Republic, with the Russian Federation.

So discussions within NATO are certainly quite intensive in the run-up to Vilnius, in the run-up to Bucharest I cannot predict where these discussions will go because it is not yet determined.

So all I can say is watch this space, we'll see where we go.

Here and then here and that'll be it.

Q: Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. Change of subject just before you dash off. Within the last two or three months, let's say, have you seen, read, heard, been apprised of, heard rumours about, any diplomatic intel dispatches within NATO from a large unnamed ally concerning a rising risk of terrorist threats against NATO nuclear facilities in Europe?

APPATHURAI: I have not, no. That doesn't mean they would have given it to me, but I certainly have not.

Q: All right, thank you, James, for giving me the second chance to ask you questions. This question is very easy for you. You said we will see the logo of Bucharest Summit and that's very good, but I want to know more about what kind of top priorities, topics will be discussed in Bucharest by NATO leaders.

APPATHURAI: That's a short last question, yeah?

Q: Yes.


APPATHURAI: Thanks. I was hoping you'd ask what the logo looked like. That I could tell you.

In staccato, enlargement, Afghanistan. There will be a big meeting bringing together all the troop-contributing nations, the EU, the UN, the World Bank, the major donors, as well as President Karzai to discuss Afghanistan.

There will be a meeting, I think, I believe, there will be a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the level of Heads of State and Government. There may well be, may well be, we'll see, a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. The invitation has been issued, and we will see whether or not President Putin chooses to attend.

There will be a meeting of what we call the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, so all of the members of the EAPC will all be around the same table, Central Asia, the Caucasus, Western, Central and Eastern Europe, and of course, North America, to discuss the issues. I think that will be at lunch.

And aside from the operational issues, and we, of course, cannot predict now what will be happening with regard to Kosovo, but it may well be a subject of discussion.

The issues, for example, of cyber defence, which has been under discussion in NATO for quite some time, and I think spurred by the attacks under which Estonia came, I believe, will have come to some kind of substance by the time of Bucharest and a policy should be in place to guide NATO's role in cyber defence.

Other issues, such as energy security, may or may not have reached that same level of traction. But this kind of forward-looking issue, the final one, which, again, I cannot predict where it will be, but certainly there will be discussions in the run-up to Bucharest on missile defence as we had just raised. Again, I cannot say where they will go, but certainly we will have intensive discussions on that as we move forward.

One last one. I can guess the topic.

Q: I would just like to come back to this enlargement issues and on that Washington Post article. The author was saying that there is too big a risk of importing instability inside the Alliance by accepting Macedonia and Albania and that they're not ready at all. Is it a view that is shared by NATO? And not even... I'm not asking you if it is going to happen or not. Is there someone who shares this view? Is there instability in Macedonia and Albania?

APPATHURAI: Well, I think we've really covered the ground of this issue well enough. Let us let the nations make their assessment based on the annual review. Let us have a discussion, which I'm quite sure will happen in Brussels.