by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the start of the NATO Foreign Ministers meetings (including Q&A)
In nine months’ time, we will hold the next NATO Summit in the United Kingdom. There, we will chart the future of this Alliance.
Over the next two days, we will discuss how to shape the Summit agenda so as to ensure the Alliance remains fit, outward looking and ready to respond to the challenges the future will bring.
We will meet with our ISAF partners, and the Afghan foreign and interior ministers, to discuss our current operation. And we look forward to hearing from them on preparations for timely, transparent and inclusive elections next year.
The recent Loya Jirga showed very clearly the progress Afghanistan is making. The Afghan forces did a remarkable job in ensuring that a gathering of such scale took place in a peaceful manner. And the participants delivered a clear message for continued partnership and cooperation.
I welcome the Loya Jirga's endorsement of the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan. And I look forward to its timely signature.
It will be important to put in place the necessary legal framework for the deployment of the NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces after 2014. We will be working closely with the Afghan government in the weeks ahead on this issue.
But it is clear that if there is no signature on the legal agreement, there can be no deployment and the planned assistance will be put at risk. It is my firm hope and intention therefore to continue our efforts to support Afghanistan, once these agreements are concluded.
We will also meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov in the NATO-Russia Council.
I expect we will agree on new areas of cooperation, and initiate a pilot project on the destruction of old and dangerous ammunition in the Kaliningrad region of Russia.
We will also continue our discussions on the destructions of chemical weapons in Syria. Overall, I expect the meeting will send a strong political message of our shared commitment to our joint work.
Finally, we will hold a session of the NATO-Georgia Commission with Minister Panjikidze to discuss how to further enhance our cooperation after successful elections processes.
I welcome Georgia’s clear determination to pursue the path of reforms, and its aspirations for Euro-Atlantic integration. And I welcome the fact that Georgia and Moldova initialled their association agreements with the European Union last week in Vilnius.
NATO’s position is very clear. It is every country’s sovereign right to choose its own path, and its own affiliations. Our goal is a Europe whole, free and at peace, and sharing common values.
With that, I am ready to take your questions.
Question: Secretary General, Paul Brennan, from Al Jazeera, a two part question. First all what are your worst fears if the 2014 deployment to Afghanistan does not go ahead and second of all at this meeting over the next few days what priority will be given to the situation which is ongoing in Ukraine at the moment?
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First on Afghanistan, let me stress that we are still prepared to deploy a train, advise, assist mission to Afghanistan after 2014 if the Afghans so wish. At the end of the day its their decision. But we stand ready to help the Afghans further develop their security forces, they are already quite capable, but we do believe that they need our continued assistance and that’s why we are prepared to deploy the so-called Resolute Support mission to Afghanistan. My concern is that if we are not able to deploy a training mission to Afghanistan it may have a negative impact on the security situation in Afghanistan and further more it may also have a negative impact on the provision of financial aid to Afghanistan.
We have pledged to contribute to financing the Afghan security forces. That assistance is put at risk if we can’t deploy our own training mission to Afghanistan. And furthermore the international community has pledged to provide development assistance to Afghanistan. That aid might also be put at risk. So a lot is at stake and I am hopeful that the Bilateral Security Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States will be signed and pave the way for a NATO legal framework so that we can deploy a training mission after 2014.
As regards Ukraine, first of all I strongly condemn the excessive use of police force we have witnessed in Kiev. I would expect that all NATO partners, including Ukraine to live up to fundamental democratic principles including freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Obviously we fully respect Ukrainian decisions on their alliance affiliations and to which organisations they want to belong or with which organisations they want to cooperate. But I would expect such decision-making processes to be truly democratic.
Question: Dieter Ebeling, with DPA: Secretary General could you elaborate on what you mean by timely signature. Is that the end of this year? And the second question, tonight you are talking about the open door policy meaning the open door for possible new members. Do you honestly think that any of these four countries you are basically talking about is in any way close to any membership or membership action plan or whatsoever with NATO? Isn’t there a large consensus that they are not?
Secretary General: First on timelines as regards the signature of the legal framework for our possible continued presence in Afghanistan. I would be reluctant to set an exact date but I have to remind everybody that there are certain realities on the ground including planning, including budgetary and parliamentary procedures in potential troop contributing countries. And those facts on the ground make it necessary to sign that legal framework very soon. That was also the clear message from the Loya Jirga and I hope that President Karzai will listen to that clear message from the Loya Jirga. As regards our open door policy, it is much too early to go into details. We have still nine months to go before the Summit. Anyway, I am sure the Summit will reiterate that our door remains open.
Question_ Justyna Pawlak from Reuters, I have a question on KFOR about the decision of France to withdraw its troops from next year from KFOR and Kosovo. Is that going to be a problem for NATO or will you be able to find troops elsewhere to fill in the gaps?
Secretary General: I feel confident that we will be able to fill the gaps so to speak. We all know that France has a lot of engagements in other theatres and France has contributed to our KFOR mission very significantly during many years. So I think based on the principle of solidarity that we will be able to fill the gap. There is a clear political commitment to maintaining a troop presence in Kosovo sufficient to ensure a proper implementation of the political agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.