Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer after reinforced meetings of the North Atlantic Council and the NATO-Russia Council discussing missile defence

  • 19 Apr. 2007 - 19 Apr. 2007
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  • Last updated: 26 Aug. 2008 11:08

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): The Secretary General will make an opening statement; then we have time for questions. Phones off please. Thank you.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (NATO Secretary General): Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. We have had two interesting meetings today I think. One as you know, as James already briefed you on this morning, with the NATO Allies and this afternoon in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council.

Let me start with this morning's meeting in the NATO framework. It was not a meeting clearly where decisions could be expected. It was information sharing. We heard interesting briefings from the U.S. side, from our Polish colleagues and Czech colleagues, on their discussions. Detailed and open under the heading NATO is the right place to have this discussion on missile defence, which is without any doubt a very important trans-Atlantic issue. And the unanimous view this morning was, and I've used that principle before myself, that also in the case of missile defence the principle of the indivisibility of security should apply and in that context there is a shared desire. And if I say shared desired, that means desire by all Allies, by all 26 Allies, that any United States system which will be negotiated and discussed with our Polish and Czech colleagues, should be complimentary to any NATO missile defence system. Including potentially, I say potentially, a system on Active Layered Theatre Missile Defence which could be bolted into the other system to cover short-range threats to South East NATO territory.

Another important element I should mention is that there is absolutely a shared threat perception between the Allies. Allies all agree that there is a threat from ballistic missiles. Full stop. That is not new. You know that at the Prague Summit and at the Riga Summit this issue was discussed and it is clear and it was clear again today. But I say that is nothing new that the Allies are in agreement that there is a threat from ballistic missiles. Now you know that what was discussed and what was tasked, as we call it in Riga, is of course influenced by the so-called third site discussion between United States and our Polish and Czech friends. And you also know that that has some consequences and will have some consequences for the NATO work here in house. But I say again, this was not a meeting where decisions were either taken or prepared.

So that is what I can tell you about this morning. Shared threat perception, full transparency, interesting briefings. This is, as I've said many times, this is what NATO is all about - political consultation, discussion between the Allies.

This afternoon we had I think an interesting meeting in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council. This was the third briefing in the framework of the NRC. This one at a higher level because all Allies and the Russian Federation were represented at a high level from their capitals. Let me say in this framework that it was a good meeting; it was a useful meeting. There was an American presentation and there was a Russian presentation. I cannot say and I cannot conclude that we agree on everything. There is a difference in threat perception. This discussion will continue of course in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council. It will continue at the political level next week in Oslo where we not only will discuss missile defence in the framework of the 26 at the NATO informal Foreign Ministers' meeting, but we'll also certainly do this with Minister Sergey Lavrov, whom I spoke to a few days ago and I'm quite sure that missile defence will be one of the important issues to be discussed there as well. I say again, as far as NATO is concerned, not to make or to take decisions in Oslo - it's an informal meeting - but to continue the discussions.

You know that in the framework of the NRC the United States in the meantime has circulated an important long paper where they offer on a wide-range of issues co-operation with the Russian Federation on missile defence. It is clear from the NATO-Russia Council meeting this afternoon, and Jal Bushinsky(?) was the one who provided the main part of the briefing, that under threat perception there's clearly divide. There's a difference of opinion between the Russian Federation and the other NATO-Russia Council countries.

The Allies are convince, were convinced and are convinced, that there are no implications of the United States system for the strategic balance. Ten interceptors will not, cannot and will not affect the strategic balance and ten interceptors can also not pose a threat to Russia. Russia however from its part made clear its concerns on these matters. So this is clearly, as we knew already from the media, something the Allies and the Russians do not look eye to eye. But that does not mean that in same vein and in the same sphere of full transparency we'll continue the discussion in the NATO-Russia framework.

We have, as you know, good co-operation on theatre missile defence with the Russians, theatre missile defence. I think there is still a lot we can do in this framework and I will not be surprised when this will get a follow-up in future meetings of the NATO-Russia Council and it might also have a follow-up in Oslo. I say again don't expect decisions in Oslo, but we'll discuss missile defence as a theme for sure.

So in all a very valuable day. The Allies are united on the issue, on the threat and on the way ahead. A good and open debate with our Russian friends to clear away misconceptions, to air concerns. That's also what the NRC is for. Not in agreement on everything. I had not expected that. Foreign Ministers of NATO and the NATO-Russia Council will pick-up this discussion next week.

Thank you so much.

Q: Marc John from Reuters. I just wanted to clarify the point you're making about complimentarity. Is that the view that the American system should be designed in such a way that it will be complimentary with anything that NATO will come along with? Or is it rather that NATO Allies should subsequently tailor whatever they do to be complementary to an existing U.S. system?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: There will be a U.S. system. So it's not as such that a U.S. system is going to be amended to make it into a NATO system. What I have been saying from the beginning and that was also discussed today, is that if and when NATO continues the discussion (and the Riga Summit as you know contains a clear tasking to continue this discussion) that is what will happen here in this house. I hope we'll get political guidance in Oslo for this discussion by the way… Is that when NATO would go to complement the cover, which isn't there as you as we speak for the shorter range threats, by a system (which will be discussed and hopefully will be a NATO system), that system could and in my opinion should be complimentary so that you have the total cover be it for the long-range and be it for the short and medium-range. Because you know that on the basis of the radar in the Czech Republic and the interceptors in Poland there will be almost full cover, but not full cover as far as the short-range is concerned of the European NATO territory.

So it is not amending the U.S. system. It is a U.S. system. And the NATO discussion hopefully becoming complimentary to the U.S. system.

Q: Dan Dombey, Financial Times. Secretary General if I could just ask you to expand on your comment when you said the Allies are united on the issue, on the threat and on the way ahead. It was my impression really that the U.S. was still in a work in progress in trying to assuage all the concerns by some people, by some countries, by some members of some countries, about not irritating Russians too much, about consulting as much as possible. When you say the Allies are united on the way ahead, are you saying there's been a full groundswell of support for the U.S. bilateral plans? Or are you just perhaps a little bit more tentative than that?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I gave you my personal analysis from the atmosphere of the meeting and the atmosphere of the meeting was clearly such that there was a shared opinion on the threat. But as I said, and as you know, that study will continue. There is a collective NATO threat assessment which dates back to December 2004. The Riga feasibility study could not take into account and did not take into account U.S. missile defence in general, but also not more specifically the third site discussion. So this discussion will go on.

What I gave you was my personal analysis of the meeting we have had today. And on the perception of the threat there was a clear common understand between the Allies and I have not heard around a NATO table objections to what the United States are planning in the framework of their negotiations with the Poles and the Czechs.

Q: NTV Russia. As far as I understand it, you had not just briefings, but real discussions with experts discussing the problem. We know more or less about American arguments defending this missile defence system, but we know much less about Russian objections. Could you just tell a few words what were concrete objections and how do you consider them? Do you consider them substantial?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I think quite honestly that the details of the Russian position I should leave to our Russian partners and friends. I should not be the spokesman for the Russian Federation. But what I can tell you is that what we have seen publicly and heard publicly; that is that the Russian Federation is of the opinion that there is a relationship between 10 interceptors in Poland and the Russian strategic capability. But again, let's leave it to our Russian friends. That is a perception not shared by the Allies by the way, neither by me, not shared. But that is the Russian opinion and a second element I already mentioned, but ask my Russian friends and colleagues about this. T

here is a difference of opinion as far as the perception of the threat is concerned from ballistic missiles, from proliferation, from what we've seen happening in North Korea, from what we've seen happening in Iran. There's a difference of opinion. But again, for details I may refer to my Russian friends and colleagues.

Q: Jonathan Marcus, BBC. Two questions Secretary General. Firstly, NATO and the Americans seem to be moving at rather different speeds. The Americans have a system they want to put into place. They've begun now to have negotiations with the cheques and the Poles who'll host that system. NATO is much further back down the track. How are you going to keep these two things in tandem, particularly when you've got to resolve difficult issues like funding, like command and control and so on?

And the second question, given the fact that the Russians are unlikely to come around and back this scheme, there's going to be elements of public opinion in many NATO countries who are sceptical. There already is in Poland and the Czech Republic. How divisive an issue do you think potentially this could become in terms of the internal politics of certain NATO countries?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well to start with your last question today was a meeting, as I said and as I started, on information sharing. I do agree with you that it is of great important that this information sharing, that this transparency and information does also very much apply to public opinion, public and parliamentary opinion in the NATO Allies. By the way, I'm not pessimistic in this regard because I do really think that if there is adequate information on what this is all about - that it is defensive, that it is not an element in an arms race - that public opinion even where it might be critical, can be convinced. So I'm not pessimistic. I'm an optimist here.

On the first part of your question you're right in saying of course that a 26 nation NATO track, or trajectory to stay in missile defence terms, is always slightly more complicated by definition than a bilateral track. Never the less I do not think you can conclude or you can say that NATO is far behind. NATO has been working on this issue since 2002, the Prague Summit. NATO has a Riga tasking. The only thing is that the consequences of a Riga tasking which did not take into account the so-called third site discussion is going to have to be discussed here in the NATO framework. How long that exactly will take I do not know. But you do know with me that we are not discussing a system which could come into operation tomorrow or next week or next month. In other words, I'm not going to say there is endless time; but I am going to say that there is time for a serious discussion in the NATO framework, apart of course from the discussion on the bilateral basis between the United States and our two Polish and Czech Allies.

Q: It has been emphasized the indivisibility of the defence of the whole body of the Allies. But we are talking about two different systems. as my previous colleague was saying, that probably enter in function in different times. So there is going to be a gap, temporal gap, in which some Allies will be not covered by the shield, the missile shield. How are you going to solve this question? And since some of the countries it has been said that are not covered because of the particular logistics of the system, what about the Canary Islands that are as well not in the theoretical range of attacking the United States or Spain in general?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well two answers to you two questions. If there is a gap or if there would be a gap, you cannot link that gap to the existence of this discussion. That is not a logical thing to do. We have a discussion on the third site. We have already quite some time a discussion on theatre missile defence. I say again this is one of the important elements of co-operation with the Russians. In other words, on the shorter-range threat. So you cannot say, which was implied in the first part of your question, that because we now had a third site discussion that that does create a gap. That as such does not create a gap.

What will the U.S. system do? The U.S. will cover European NATO territory for the longer-range. Certain parts of the European NATO territory do not have a lot to gain from the longer-range because they are simply too close, geographically too close. They need protection to the shorter and medium range threats. That is what NATO has been discussing. Not in the framework of a gap. We have been discussing that and we have been discussing missile defence in general and the threats on missile defence since 2002. That discussion has changed track in the sense that there is now the U.S. system in development on the so-called third site, but that does not mean that the discussion in NATO will not continue.

The only thing is that the fact that there is a U.S. system will have consequences for NATO because NATO as an Alliance does not need anymore to develop a NATO system against the threat of ballistic missiles.

APPATHURAI: Dernière question en arrière.

Q: Monsieur le Secrétaire général, Pascal Mallet...

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Où êtes-vous?

Q: Je suis là.


Q: Pascal Mallet, Agence France Presse. Est-ce que le problème n'est pas aussi pour les Russes en dehors du fait qu'ils peuvent évidemment jouer au jeu d'une enchère grandissante peut leur accorder quelque chose?  Peut-être vont-ils demander des concessions, ce qui est logique. Mais est-ce qu'il n'y a pas une autre raison?  En se mettant à la place des Russes. On installe dix fusées en Pologne, dix intercepteurs. Mais qui prouve que demain il n'y en aura pas dix autres ici ou là, voire cent si on affirme que la menace des missiles est grandissante. Et comme personne ne peut savoir quelle sera la vraie menace des missiles des États voyous, quelle garantie peut-on donner aux Russes?  Et est-ce que les Russes seraient satisfaits selon vous si on disait: "Écoutez, on en met dix là et c'est terminé."

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: La réponse à votre question, à mon avis, serait un mot. Et le mot, c'est vérification. On peut relativement facilement vérifier ce qui se passe dans les silos. Il est clair, très clair. Et le général Obering l'a répété cet après-midi, ce matin, que les projets... le projet américain consiste en dix intercepteurs en Pologne. Les Russes ont fait ce point exactement, vous avez raison. La réponse serait vérification.

Q: Je me suis mal expliqué. Pardon. Je veux dire qu'on vérifie qu'il y a en dix mais pour les Russes rien ne dit que dans l'avenir nous ou les Américains ne voudront pas en installer dix de plus, cent de plus. Une fois que le premier pas est franchi, après pourquoi s'arrêter en si bon chemin. Donc, est-ce que les Russes demandent un engagement, une garantie que si les dix étaient acceptables, l'OTAN ou les Américains s'engageraient à ne pas en mettre plus?  Ou est-ce que l'OTAN étant incapable de donner une telle garantie qui serait donner trop d'importances au veto russe on est engagé dans une voie sans issue parce que les Russes pour éviter qu'il y en ait cent un jour sont obligés de dire qu'ils sont contre qu'il y en ait dix?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Les Russes ne sont pas dans le processus de demander des concessions. Mais je crois que ce n'était pas correct de parler des concessions. Personne, après tout, a un droit de regard sur ce que l'OTAN va décider. N'est-ce pas?  On le fait dans la plus grande transparence avec nos partenaires russes. Mais personne n'a un droit de regard. C'est bien sûr l'OTAN comme toujours qui décide. Premier point.

Deuxième point, parce que ce vous venez d'évoquer a été discuté cet après-midi dans le conseil de l'OTAN aussi, les Américains ont le projet et ont le financement pour dix intercepteurs dans le territoire polonais. Ça, c'est la situation. Nos amis russes n'ont pas demandé de concessions. Ils ont le financement pour dix. Et c'est ça le projet américain.

APPATHURAI: Thank you very much.