Closing press conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the Defence Ministerial meetings

  • 06 Oct. 2011 -
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  • Last updated: 06 Oct. 2011 19:02

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon. The Secretary General will start with a short statement of the Defence ministerial and then we'll be happy to take your questions. Secretary General.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Secretary General of NATO): Good afternoon. We have just concluded two days of meetings on NATO's operations and capabilities: what we are doing today, and what we must be able to do in the future.

Last night, we discussed the question of Smart Defence. We all agreed that the economic crisis presents challenges to our defence and security sectors, and will do so for the immediate future. So, I am pleased to say that ministers agreed that Smart Defence could help us all address those challenges.

However, it cannot be the only answer, or the whole answer. Nothing can replace the commitment to our shared security, the commitment to resource and maintain capabilities, and to deploy them. But Smart Defence can help keep defence cuts from cutting to the core.

So we welcomed the report from Allied Command Transformation, which sets out ways in which Allies can pool resources and join efforts. Ministers agreed to look in depth at projects which their nations might become involved in and even lead. These cover critical areas such as drones, maritime surveillance and protection against roadside bombs. Our aim is to have a comprehensive package to endorse at our Chicago Summit.

This morning we met our ISAF partners to discuss our ongoing commitment to Afghanistan once Afghan forces have taken responsibility for security across the country. That transition is on track to be completed by the end of 2014. The Afghan forces are increasingly showing that they are capable of taking on the insurgents. So at the Chicago Summit, we will decide what comes next and how we can support them further.

Let there be no mistake: transition is not departure. We will not take our leave when the Afghans take the lead. NATO nations have agreed an enduring partnership with the Afghan people, and we will live up to it.

That means training. It means education. It means making sure that the Afghan forces and authorities have the skills and the support they need to keep their country secure.

We have already started that process. NATO trainers and international trust funds are already making a critical difference in Afghanistan. Now we need to decide what more we will do and that will be one of our main tasks at our Chicago Summit, so it's important that we started the debate today.

Finally, we met with our partners in Operation Unified Protector to discuss the conditions under which we could complete our mission for Libya. It's clear that the end is in sight. Qadhafi's forces are fighting for a lost cause. The threat to civilians is fading away. The recent positive developments in Libya are irreversible.

We are determined to pursue our operation as long as threats persist, but to end it as soon as conditions permit. So we stand ready to terminate the mission when the political and military conditions are fulfilled.

We launched Operation Unified Protector to protect the people of Libya. We have conducted it in full compliance with our mandate. And I hope we'll soon be able to end it, in coordination with the United Nations and the legitimate Libyan authorities. We did the right thing, in the right way, and for the right reasons.

For now, our mission is not yet over. But I expect the time to end our mission will come soon.

And with that, I am ready to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu: We'll start over there. Radio-France Internationale.

Q: Oui, bonjour, Monsieur le Secrétaire-Général, Pierre Bénazet, Radio-France Internationale. On en est déjà à l'heure de tirer les bilans. Vous avez déjà à le faire au mois de septembre. Pour la Libye, qu'est-ce qui est le plus important pour vous: l'implication en pointe des alliés européens ou au contraire sur les leçons, ce qui peut manquer dans leur capacité opérationnelle, ravitaillement, munitions etc.?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Comme j'ai déjà dit, notre opération en Libye est un grand succès. Nous l'avons lancé en six jours. Nous l'avons conduite en pleine conformité au mandat des Nations-Unies. Nous avons associé nos partenaires du monde arabe. Et ensemble nous sommes dans la phase finale de cette opération.

Notre mission n'est pas encore finie. Mais avons commencé de discuter les leçons à tirer de cette opération. Les Alliés européens et le Canada ont pris le leadership et ont fourni l'essentiel de l'effort militaire. C'est nouveau. C'est bienvenu. Et ça peut servir de modèle pour le futur.

Mais l'opération a également montré qu'il nous manque certaines capacités critiques, surtout en Europe. Les États-Unis ont fourni des éléments décisifs comme les moyens de renseignement, de surveillance et de reconnaissance. Il faudrait que plusieurs alliés se dotent de ces capacités critiques eux aussi pour relever les défis de demain.

C'est l'enjeu des efforts en cours que j'ai nommé "smart defence", défense intelligente. Il faut dépenser mieux et investir ensemble. C'est donc des grands sentiers d'ici au sommet de Chicago.

Oana Lungescu: Before we go any further I'd like to urge you, please, to turn off your mobiles, or mobile devices, or at least put them on silent. Thank you.

Tripoli Post.

Q: Mr. Secretary General, the Security Council Resolution 2009 gives a broad mandate to the new UN mission in Libya. Has NATO started coordinating with the UN on this and on what basis?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, let me stress that I don't foresee a major NATO role once we have terminated the current operation Unified Protector. It is for the United Nations to take the lead of the international efforts to assist the new authorities in Libya, if requested, from the National Transitional Council.

So I don't foresee NATO in a leading role. But if we are requested to assist we stand ready to help, if our help is needed, if there is a sound legal basis and we get support from the region.

In a longer term perspective, I could foresee that NATO could provide assistance in reforming defence and the security sector in Libya. If requested by the National Transitional Council. We have a lot of expertise in that area and we stand ready to assist, if requested.

We have, throughout this mission, closely coordinated with the United Nations, but we will expect the United Nations to take the lead now and we stand ready to help and support if requested.

Oana Lungescu: Die Welt.

Q: Stefanie Bolzen, German Daily Die Welt. Secretary General, you were talking about Afghanistan and about the time after 2014 and decisions that need to be taken. When you talk about education and training and so on, what about military and combat engagement by foreign troops in Afghanistan? In this context what do you hope will be the... or expect to be the come-out of the Bonn conference?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yes, starting with the Bonn conference, I would expect the Bonn conference to send a very clear signal to Afghanistan and the whole region. That we will not abandon Afghanistan. We will stay committed. It's clearly our goal that the Afghan Security Forces should take lead responsibility for the security all over Afghanistan, but I think it's of utmost importance for the Afghan people, as well as for Afghan's neighbours to know that we will stay committed and not leave behind a security vacuum.

This is the reason why we have started considerations as to how we can assist Afghanistan after 2014, and I think a crucial element in that assistance will be a training mission.

So, training and education of Afghan Security Forces will remain a key element in our strategy. Also, after 2014.

Whether it will be necessary to supplement with additional contributions, I think it's a bit too early to make a final assessment. That will very much depend on the security situation by the end of 2014. But for sure I think a training mission will be needed also after 2014.

Oana Lungescu: Volkskrant

Q: Mr. Rasmussen, the Netherlands have offered four air defence frigates for the missile defence project, but only their radars not their missiles. My question to you, is this any use to you because I understand the American radar is very good, they don't need other radars.

My second question will be about Syria. You've been on record before this week that you have no intention at all to start a mission in Syria, not even with a UN mandate. My question would be, why not?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, on missile defence, I warmly welcome the announcement that the Netherlands is ready to upgrade the radar systems on four air defence and command frigates. And that following these modifications, the ships will be offered as the Dutch contribution to NATO's missile defence.

The ships will be an important element of NATO's missile defence capability, which we agreed at the Lisbon Summit last November. So this announcement represents another significant step in the Alliance's efforts to defence against current and emerging missile threats. The Dutch ships will contribute to NATO's capability to provide protection to its European territory, populations and forces against the growing threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles.

And the Dutch announcement adds to announcements we have seen from other countries during recent weeks: the Turkish, the Romanian and the Polish announcements to host missile defence facilities. And I wouldn't be surprised if we will see further announcements in the coming months in the run-up to the Chicago Summit in May next year.

So this is really a clear demonstration of commitment to our Alliance, commitment to a common defence against a common missile threat.

On Syria, well, I think it's quite clear I have stated on several occasions that we took on responsibility for the operation in Libya because there was a clear UN mandate and because we received clear support, active support from countries in the region. And none of these conditions are fulfilled as regards Syria. And these conditions are essential for us.

Oana Lungescu: German Television.

Q: Kai Niklasch from German Television ZDF. Secretary General, Mr. Rasmussen, how would you evaluate the security situation at the moment in Afghanistan? Are there still regions where the Taliban have the control and is that a problem if you want to hand over the responsibility to the Afghan Security Forces?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yes, there are still areas where the Taliban is in control, but fortunately we have seen a very positive development where the Afghan government and ISAF forces control areas representing a growing part of the Afghan population.

So we are seeing progress. And we have also seen a decrease in the number of Taliban attacks, though we have also witnessed some spectacular Taliban attacks, but the fact that they have initiated such spectacular attacks should not overshadow the fact that overall we have seen an improvement of the security situation.

And the first transition experience has been very positive. As you know in July we handed over responsibility to the Afghans in seven provinces and districts representing 25 percent of the Afghan population and that transition has been a great success, and soon we will continue and hand over other provinces and districts. And we have seen a very capable Afghan Security Force take responsibility. So it's quite encouraging.

Oana Lungescu: Al Arabiya.

Q: Noureddine Fridhi, from Al Arabiya News Centre. Mr. Secretary General, can I ask you which conclusion you draw from the operation in Libya to the... for the Mediterranean Dialogue and the relationship between NATO and Arab countries in the region?

And what's going on in Libya, many Libyan, let's say civilian sectors, are unhappy with some external intervention in supporting the Islamic movement in Libya. You had the meeting with the Arab partners. Did you have the occasion to talk with them about the political situation in Libya and this external intervention in the Libyan affairs? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First, on our partnerships with countries in the region, including our Mediterranean Dialogue. I think Operation Unified Protector has raised the level of our partnership with countries in the region and we look forward to further development of our partnerships with countries in the region based on the operational experience during Operation Unified Protector.

Actually, this will be one of the items on the agenda of the Chicago Summit. I think we should take this opportunity to revitalize our partnerships with countries in the region, and if the new authorities in Libya so request I think a new democratic Libya could also join the Mediterranean Dialogue, one of our partnerships. Which would constitute an excellent framework for practical cooperation between NATO and Libya, a new democratic Libya.

But obviously it's for the Libyan authorities to decide whether they want to see such a development in our relationship, but I think allies stand ready to welcome a new democratic Libya as a partner within the Mediterranean Dialogue.

Of course, we have discussed the political situation in Libya. We all realize that the new leadership in Libya is faced with huge political challenges, but basically we are confident that the National Transitional Council can manage a transition, a peaceful transition, to democracy. I'm not naive. Of course, we might see extremist groups try to take advantage and exploit the situation in Libya. The more important it is that a transition to a stable and sustainable democracy takes place as soon as possible. And we feel confident that the new leadership in Libya has a sincere desire to see a true democracy flourish in Libya. And the National Transitional Council has outlined a road map for transition to democracy, a road map which I find extremely helpful and credible.

Oana Lungescu: Over there.

Q: Jakob Svensson(ph) from the Danish Daily (inaudible) and it's also on Libya. Right now, for the last 24 hours, there are reports of very severe situation for the civilians in Sirte, and might be also in Bani Walid. There's people dying in the hospital due to lack of medical treatment and such things. Does this worry you about maybe there should be a grim ending on the NATO success in Libya? And what are you trying to do to make things better for the civilians right now in these areas, which are still held by Qadhafi troops?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Obviously the humanitarian situation is a matter of concern, but let me remind you that NATO doesn't have troops on the ground in Libya. We conduct our operations from the air and at sea, no troops on the ground, no NATO troops in Sirte and Bani Walid. Based on the reports we have received I truly believe that the National Transitional Council forces do all they can to avoid civilian casualties and help the civilian population, whereas we have seen reports that pro-Qadhafi forces use civilians as human shields. No respect for human life whatsoever.

So we feel confident that the NTC forces will do all they can to prevent a humanitarian disaster and help the civilian population all they can.

Oana Lungescu: Last question over there.

Q: Dan De Luce, Agence France-Presse. Could I ask you, would you say that NATO possibly has oversold, or overstated, the prospects for peace talks in Afghanistan, given that they've made no progress so far?

And then also, what would you say to President Karzai's suggestions to open those peace talks directly with Pakistan to settle the conflict?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, we have not tried to sell peace talks at all. NATO is not engaged in peace talks. Right from the outset we have made clear that any reconciliation process must be led by the Afghans themselves. The Afghan government must be in the driver's seat. We have stated that provided that certain conditions are fulfilled it makes sense to try to find a peaceful solution through a reconciliation process, but these conditions are of the utmost importance. The process must be Afghan-led, groups and individuals involved in that reconciliation process must abide by and respect the democratic Afghan constitution, including human rights, and that's also women's rights. And finally, they must cut links with terrorist groups.

Provided these conditions are fulfilled I think it makes sense to give it a try.

However, and honestly speaking, we have not seen much progress. So I think it makes sense, what President Karzai has announced, that such peace talks or reconciliation talks could, as well, take place directly with interlocutors in Pakistan.

But again, NATO as such is not involved in that process. It has to be an Afghan-led process, and this is also the reason why it is, at the end of the day, President Karzai's responsibility. And my assessment is that it makes sense that he has announced that these talks could, as well, take place directly with Pakistan.

Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much, indeed, everybody. And thank you for your hard work during this ministerial.