Monthly press conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen held at the Résidence Palace, Brussels

  • 04 Nov. 2013
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  • Last updated: 04 Nov. 2013 19:04

Good afternoon.

Let me start with yesterday’s vote in Kosovo.  I strongly condemn the attacks on polling stations in north Mitrovica. Violence and intimidation cannot be tolerated.

KFOR troops intervened rapidly at the request of the European Union mission, EULEX. KFOR deployed a quick reaction force to the area, as well as reserve units. Our forces also ensured freedom of movement on the routes through which the election ballots travelled to the counting centre.

The elections are an important element in the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Violence should not be allowed to derail the progress achieved so far in this dialogue.

We will remain vigilant at this key moment.

KFOR will continue to act impartially, prudently and firmly to help maintain a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo.

In two days’ time, I will travel with the representatives of all 28 Allied nations to Latvia and Poland, to observe Exercise Steadfast Jazz.

This is a significant exercise. Firstly, it will serve as, let’s call it the ‘graduation test’, for the commanders and headquarters of the 2014 NATO Response Force, our quick-reaction force. And secondly, this is the first time that Poland and the Baltic States have hosted such a large-scale NATO exercise.

The purpose of the NATO Response Force is to be able to defend any Ally, deploy anywhere, and deter any threat – all at short notice.

It is the spearhead of NATO. Every year, we test it, to make sure that it is sharp and ready for use.

The air, sea and land headquarters that will command different parts of the force have already been tested. So now they will go through one final test together – and they will then be ready to go into action, if they are required. 

Their ability to command complex multinational forces at short notice is a vital part of NATO’s overall capabilities. So it is fitting that we should give them the recognition they deserve.

And I want to welcome the support that Poland and the three Baltic States are giving. I also welcome the participation of three valued partners, Finland, Sweden, and Ukraine.

The NATO Response Force is more than just a rapid-reaction force. It is the place where troops from across the Alliance learn to work together as a single, seamless team.

Plus de 6 000 militaires venant des pays de l’Alliance et de plusieurs pays partenaires participeront à l'exercice Steadfast Jazz. Près de la moitié d'entre eux prendront part aux manœuvres réelles. Celles-ci feront intervenir des moyens terrestres, maritimes et aériens importants, et comporteront une démonstration de tir réel.

L'autre moitié prendra part à l'exercice de commandement et de contrôle, qui impliquera plusieurs bases de l'OTAN dans toute l'Europe. Et, forts de cette expérience, tous retourneront dans leur pays d'origine.

En fait, l'exercice Steadfast Jazz a déjà débuté. Actuellement, treize navires mouillent au large de la côte polonaise. Soixante aéronefs sont engagés dans des opérations aériennes. Pendant ce temps, le personnel de notre structure de commandement et de contrôle est mis à l'épreuve derrière des écrans d'ordinateur, dans un camp de toile situé en Lettonie.

This exercise will do more than just keep the NATO Response Force fit and ready for action.

First of all, it will make sure that troops across the Alliance and beyond are ready and able to work together, whenever they go into action together.

Secondly, it demonstrates NATO’s commitment to its core mission: to safeguard security right across the Alliance.

And thirdly, it is exercises such as this which will build the NATO of the future. An Alliance with important partners whose troops have the education, the experience and the equipment they need to work together, and with partners. On any battlefield, in any environment, as a single, united force.

Trained as a team. Tested as a team. So that they can work as a team. No matter which country they come from.

And this is exactly the goal of the Connected Forces Initiative, which we are now developing. And which Defence Ministers recently decided will focus on five key elements:

  • Firstly, a major exercise programme;
  • Secondly, a large-scale exercise in 2015;
  • Thirdly, an updated exercise policy;
  • Fourthly, a broader training concept ;
  • And fifthly, also technological aspects.

The NATO Response Force, with its regular series of exercises, will be at the centre of this initiative.

And major exercises like Steadfast Jazz are key.  This is where our commanders, our troops, and our training efforts, come together, to show what NATO is capable of – and make sure that we remain capable of it. We have already started the planning for another exercise of this kind to take place in 2015 in the southern part of Europe.

So I look forward to an impressive exercise this week. And I look forward to more such exercises, as we shape the NATO of the future.  

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): NPR.

Q: Teri Schultz:  There? Okay, thank you. In Afghanistan you've got General Dunford saying that progress is still not sustainable. Of course, everyone knows you have until the end of next year until all the combat troops pull out, but wouldn't you like to (AUDIO CUTS OUT...) armed forces were able to sustain their progress right now, and meanwhile you've got two NATO tankers being torched in Pakistan today as a result, apparently, of increased U.S.-Pakistani tensions. How do you... do you have concerns that this situation between the United States and Pakistan is going to complicate NATO's downsizing and its on-going operations?

Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen (NATO Secretary General):  First, on the sustainability of the Afghan Security Forces. Actually we got an excellent briefing by COMISAF General Dunford during the last Defence Ministers' meeting and I think there is a broad agreement that the Afghan Security Forces have made strong progress; that they are increasingly capable of taking responsibility for the security all over Afghanistan; and we are all confident that they will be able to take full responsibility for the security by the end of 2014, as planned.

Let me remind you that there is still some time to go. We are still training, educating, giving advice to the Afghan Security Forces, and even beyond 2014 we will still be there to help the Afghan Security Forces through training, advising, assisting them.

So that's the essence of COMISAF's briefing, that obviously the Afghan Security Forces will still need our assistance and that's exactly the purpose of the operation Resolute Support that we are planning to establish from the 1st of January 2015.

On the last part of your question, I don't have detailed information about recent incidents in Pakistan, and I'm definitely not going to guess about motives, but I feel confident that the Pakistani authorities will do all they can to secure transit through Pakistan because at the end of the day that's also in Pakistan's own interest.

Q: Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency. Mr. Secretary General, it is linked with the previous question actually. It's on the drone strikes last week in Pakistan in which the Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed. Following that several Pakistani politicians have called for a stop to the NATO supply route going to Afghanistan. So are you concerned that this might happen?

And my second question is: generally, what is NATO's view on the drone strikes? Do you think it is contributing to restore stability and peace, or creating more resentment among the population? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First, on supply routes or transit routes through Pakistan. I hope that they will remain open. I feel confident that the Pakistani authorities will maintain open supply routes and transit routes because it is in Pakistan's own interest to contribute positively to stability and security in the region.

On drone strikes, first of all, I have no comment on specific reports in that regard, but in general let me stress that terrorists constitutes a threat to the whole region. We also know that the security of Afghanistan and Pakistan is interlinked. There can't be security in the one country without security in the other. And finally, we do realize that Pakistan herself has also been the victim of terrorism, and the Pakistani people, the Pakistani society suffer a lot from terrorism, and I can assure you that we stand together in combatting that evil, and that's exactly what I discussed with Prime Minister Sharif when I met him some weeks ago.

Oana Lungescu: Agence Europe, over there.

Q: Bonjour, M. le secrétaire général, (inaudible...)  Europe Diplomacy & Defence. I have two questions on NATO-Russia relations. A few days ago the Russian president decided to dissolve the Russian interagency working group on the missile defence cooperation with NATO and he also eliminated the special envoy position to NATO on this subject, so first question: What is your opinion on this? Do you think it puts an end to the structural dialogue between NATO and Russia on missile defence?

And second question, could you remind us what was the latest proposition from NATO to kind of break the ice on this matter? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First, on the internal Russian organization or the interagency organization of missile defence deliberations. I have no comment on that. It is absolutely an internal Russian matter how they want to organize their interagency procedures.

You ask me whether that decision would have an impact on the dialogue between Russia and NATO on missile defence or whether it would mean an end to the structured dialogue on missile defence. No, we still have our NATO-Russia structures. They are not impacted by internal Russian decisions on interagency structures. We do have NATO-Russia structures, namely the NATO-Russia Council, and I envisage a dialogue on missile defence to continue within that framework.

Actually less than two weeks ago we had a NATO-Russia Council at Defence Ministers' level and we discussed missile defence. And I would envisage such discussions to continue. So we do have a structured dialogue within the NATO-Russia Council.

Having said that, there's no reason to hide that we do not yet agree on missile defence. As you know we have invited Russia to cooperate on missile defence, and you asked me if I could refresh memories on our latest proposals as to how we could move forward that cooperation.

I could mention one very concrete proposal we have tabled. We have suggested to establish two jointly-staffed missile defence centres. Centres that could constitute a framework for exchange of data, preparation of joint exercises, the elaboration of joint threat analysis, just to mention some issues that could be addressed within the framework of such two jointly-staffed centres.

So it's a concrete example of how we want to establish a framework so that the Russians can see with their own eyes that our system is a purely defensive system.  It's not a system directed against Russia.

Oana Lungescu: I had the Japanese press over there.

Q: Hi. I'm Takasha(ph?) with NHK Japan Broadcasting. I have a follow-up question with regards to the killing of the Taliban... Pakistani Taliban leader.

The Pakistan government has been critical about this incident because it might backfire in terms of their effort to talk with the Taliban for the negotiated process. And how do you respond... what do you think of the impact of this killing of the Pakistan Taliban leader to your effort in Afghanistan? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: As I said, I don't have any comments on these concrete reports. But in general we are, of course, very much concerned about international terrorism, as well as terrorism in the region. And terrorism is a threat to the whole region.

I do believe that there is a growing awareness in the region of the need to engage constructively with each other, with the aim to ensure long-term peace and stability. And I do believe that the Pakistani authorities, government as well as the military, do realize that it's also in Pakistan's interest to ensure peace, security and stability in Afghanistan. Stability along the western Pakistani border is definitely in Pakistan's self-interest.

Q: Thomas Lauritzen from the Danish Newspaper Politiken. Concerning Steadfast Jazz, the Russians have been critical of this exercise taking place so close to their borders. Talking about it reviving Cold War memories and things like that. What's your response to that?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: I don't see any reasons for those Russian concerns. The exercise, Steadfast Jazz, is not an exercise directed against Russia. It's a NATO exercise with the aim to test the NATO Response Force and test our ability to work together.

Exercise Steadfast Jazz takes place in Poland and Latvia because Poland, as well as the three Baltic states, offered to host this year's Steadfast Jazz exercise. But let me remind you that we have conducted a lot of Steadfast Jazz exercises during recent years. Actually I think 17 exercises taking place in 14 different countries. And as I mentioned, we're already now planning a new exercise to take place in 2015, which will be hosted by three countries in the southern part of Europe; namely Italy, Spain and Portugal.

So these exercises take place in different places within NATO territory, which I think is quite normal. And finally, we have provided full transparency. We have invited Russian observers to have a look at the exercise. So we have nothing to hide. The Russians can see with their own eyes that this exercise is meant to test our ability to work together; it's not directed against Russia.

Oana Lungescu: Jane's.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. I want a follow-up question on MD. I mean regardless of whether there's an MD structure within the NATO-Russia Council, the fact that Russia has eliminated all interagency cooperation on the issue is significant. And it suggests that Russia's moving away from NATO on MD. And yet at the same time, the two sides have just finished their technology demonstrator STANDEX to guard against IED attacks in urban environments. How do you explain the contradictory trends?

And secondly, have the Allies agreed on the future budgetary resources needed to carry out those five CFI-connected forces aspects that you described, or does that debate still lie ahead of us? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, let me stress that I'm not suggesting that it would be an easy task to reach an agreement with Russia on missile defence cooperation. In no way was that what I tried to express.

On the contrary, we do know that we are faced with huge challenges when it comes to missile defence. But what I stressed was, that it is an intern Russian decision how they will organize the interagency procedures. And that decision doesn't affect our framework for a NATO-Russia dialogue on missile defence, which will still take place within the NATO-Russia Council.

But we do know, also from the discussion we had a couple of weeks ago, among Defence Ministers. We still have our disputes. We are far from an agreement on missile defence. But still, I appeal to the Russians to understand that it's also in their interest to cooperate on missile defence because the Russian people are also threatened by... or are a potential target of missile attacks, and through cooperation we could make a Russian missile defence, as well as our missile defence, much more efficient.

And that's why we have taken concrete steps, including suggesting two jointly-staffed centres to promote such cooperation.

I hope the dialogue will continue, but I do realize that it will be difficult.

On the Connected Forces Initiative and resources we are still working on that. Now the political decision has been made on five very important elements in this overall Connected Forces Initiative, and we will continue work in the run-up to the NATO Summit in 2014, and obviously such political decision will also be followed by decisions to resource that policy appropriately.

Oana Lungescu: Going to Reuters at the front.

Q: Adrian Croft with Reuters. Secretary General, two questions if I may. One was about... after the NATO-Russia Council you raised the possibility that NATO and/or Russia could help eliminate serious chemical weapons. I wonder if there'd been any developments in that area?

And the second question was in relation to the Kosovo election violence. I understand that the aim had been to reduce KFOR force levels in the future, if possible. Is that going to change the timetable for downsizing KFOR, do you think? What happened yesterday?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: The first on NATO-Russia cooperation on chemical weapons. I think I answered, if I remember the question I got correctly, I answered that if there were to be a request from the United Nations to assist OPCW in carrying out the important task to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria, I think members of the NATO-Russia Council will consider it. But we haven't received such a request. I also stressed that the United Nations and OPCW are in the lead of those efforts in Syria.

Now, on KFOR, we have no intention to reduce the KFOR presence for the time being. You are probably referring to previous plans to further reduce the KFOR presence, but those plans have been put on hold because we consider it important to make our contribution to the implementation of the political agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. And when that political agreement was signed both parties requested NATO assurance that we would stay and ensure full implementation of the United Nation Resolution 1244 and ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all people. And it's our intention to stay as an impartial guarantor of peace and stability, and I think recent incidents just stress how important it is that we continue to carry out that task.

Q: Gérard Gaudin, Belgium News Agency. You told us that you, I think, proposed to establish two missile defence centres. Is it a NATO proposal and what was the initial Russian answer to that?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yes, it is a NATO proposal, but actually, if I may add to that, inspired by a previous Russian suggestion. So we would have expected a more positive response to that, but so far we have not received a positive response.

Oana Lungescu: One last question over there.

Q: Has NATO already convinced the Turkish government not to buy the Chinese rockets?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: It's not for NATO to decide. As I have stressed previously, it remains a national decision to decide which military equipment to acquire. Having said that, I have also stressed that seen from an Alliance perspective, it is, of course, of utmost importance that systems acquired by Allies can work and operate together. And I feel confident that the Turkish government, the Turkish military, the Turkish authorities, are aware of that very important aspect.

Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much indeed.