Final press conference by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
following the second day of meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs
We have just completed a series of important meetings, with over 50 countries. A quarter of the international community. We discussed the situation in Afghanistan, the South Caucasus, Ukraine, and in the Gulf region.
This shows that NATO is truly a hub of global security. NATO enables countries from around the world to consult on the world’s most pressing security issues, as we have done today.
With our partners in ISAF, we assessed the situation in Afghanistan, and looked forward to the historic elections which will be held on Saturday.
This is the day when the people of Afghanistan decide on the future they want. So my messages to the women and men of Afghanistan is clear: go to the polls. Exercise your democratic rights. Only you have the right to decide your country’s future.
As expected, we have seen a series of attacks including one in Kabul today, an attack which I strongly condemn. But I welcome that the Afghan people have resisted these intimidation attempts.
We wish you a successful election. And we wish the Afghan Security Forces every success, as they protect their countrymen and women on this important day.
While ISAF will provide support where needed, Afghan forces are in the lead across the country. And throughout the preparations for the elections, they have demonstrated commitment, courage and professionalism.
It is vital that the elections are credible, inclusive and transparent. That their outcome is acceptable to the Afghan people. And that any alleged violations are addressed swiftly, through the established institutions.
Today, we also met with Foreign Minister Panjikidze of Georgia. Georgia is the largest non-NATO troop contributor to ISAF, and a keen aspirant to Alliance membership.
We fully support Georgia’s aspirations. And we fully support Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty within its internationally recognised borders.
We uphold the fundamental right of Georgia, and of every country in the Euro-Atlantic area, to make their own sovereign choices without outside interference.
The Georgian people have chosen the path of Euro-Atlantic integration. And successive Georgian governments have made progress along that path. This has to be respected.
Finally, we met our partners from the Gulf region - Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The members of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. This is a strong political signal. It shows how much potential we see to reinforce our cooperation in the future.
This year we mark the tenth anniversary of the initiative. Our cooperation is rich, diverse and effective. For example, aircraft from the region flew wingtip to wingtip with us as we took action to protect civilians in Libya.
In all, today we have seen the value, the variety and the vigour of NATO’s partnerships. And we will continue to build on our record of success at our Wales Summit in September. Because in a dangerous and unpredictable world, we can only achieve security together.
With that, I am ready to take your questions.
Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): We'll start with our Georgian colleague in the front row.
Q: Thank you, Georgian Public Broadcaster First Channel: Mister Secretary General, last week during his press conference, US President Barack Obama said that neither Ukraine nor Georgia are currently on the path of NATO membership. And NATO has no immediate plans for expansion.
As Georgia is the only country... I mean from aspirant countries which has not Membership Action Plan - what chances we have to get it in September? If not MAP, what else NATO can offer to enhance its cooperation and to recognize progress made by Georgia? You just mentioned Georgia as a key aspirant country. Thank you very much.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Indeed, Georgia is a key partner and Georgia has made significant progress in its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Georgian governments have carried through comprehensive reforms.
You have conducted exemplary elections. You contribute in a significant way to NATO-led operations, the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan. Georgia has announced that it will also contribute to the NATO response force. So Georgia has really demonstrated a strong commitment to our Alliance. We appreciate that. We welcome that.
But, still, of course, there is work to do. And today, in my meeting with the foreign minister we discussed how to move forward. As regards your specific question, Membership Action Plan, it is much too early to say anything about how we will address the open-door policy at our summit in Wales.
Definitely, we will address the open-door policy. We have outlined a process leading up to the summit. We will update assessments... assessment reports on each of the four aspirant countries. And these reports will be discussed by foreign ministers when they meet in June. And I would expect foreign ministers to take decisions in June as to how we will address the open-door policy.
Finally, let me just remind you that NATO took a decision at the Summit in Bucharest in 2008, according to which Georgia will become a member of NATO, provided, of course, that Georgia fulfills the necessary criteria. And we work with Georgia within the NATO-Georgia Commission to fulfill Georgia's aspirations.
Oana Lungescu: The second question from the Georgian media.
Q: (Inaudible) I should continue some of the question of my colleague; and ask you about the.... Does NATO think to offer four aspirant countries some new cooperation plan, some entire cooperation plan in Wales Summit? Or it will be that each concrete country has concrete plan? Or maybe it will be then a new cooperation plan for four aspirant countries? Do you think?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Well, first of all, let me stress that each individual aspirant country will be judged upon its own merits. So the four countries that aspire to become future members of NATO will not be assessed or considered as a group. But we will have a look at each individual country. That's my first point.
Secondly, yes, I do hope... I also do expect that we will make progress when it comes to assessing each of the four countries. The question is how; that will be reflected at the summit.
In general, when it comes to partnerships, we are working on initiatives to enhance our partnerships. We will invite partners who so wish to join us when it comes to our so-called connected forces initiative which is about more military exercises, also smart defence projects. That's about capability development. So I would expect the Wales Summit to adopt measures on enhancing our partnerships in general.
Oana Lungescu: Radio Free Europe.
Q: Thank you. Mustapha Sarwar from Radio Free Afghanistan of Radio Free Europe. Mister Secretary General, you have said that Afghan Security Forces are capable of maintaining a security of the forthcoming elections in Afghanistan; but at the same time, as you are aware, that the Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks in the country.
Yesterday, they killed a provincial council... council's candidate in Northern Sare Pol province along with his eight colleagues. Today, there was a blast in Kabul. And just this morning, in a press release sent by them to the Afghan media, they called the forthcoming elections as fake and symbolic and warned that they will target anyone who will take part in the elections. My question is that how damaging and serious a threat can this be to the credibility and transparency of the April 5 vote? Thank you.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: I... I don't think we should be surprised to see that the enemies of Afghanistan try to disturb the election process. We know very well that the Taliban doesn't like democracy. So they will. They don't like... They don't want the Afghan people to make their own decision on Afghanistan's future. So we have known in advance that the Taliban and other enemies of Afghanistan will do all they can to disturb the electoral process. And of course, their strategy is to try to catch the headlines, to make the headlines.
But that shouldn't overshadow the fact that actually according to the briefings we have just received in our meetings today the overall level of violence is lower now than at any time during the last two years. That's the assessment of our commanders in Afghanistan that, overall, the level of violence is low.
Secondly, we have seen the Afghan security forces deal with these security challenges in a very professional manner. According to the information we have received, the Afghan Security Forces have taken responsibility for the protection of more than 500 political gatherings and ensured that they could take place in an orderly manner. That's very important in such a political campaign.
And finally, I also note with great satisfaction that Afghan voters are registering in a quite high number. So it's clear to me that the Afghan people resist these intimidation attempts from the Taliban side. So I'm confident, that the Presidential elections first round on Saturday will take place in an orderly manner.
Oana Lungescu: Kuwait News Agency.
Q: Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency, KUNA. Mister Secretary General, do you think that today's meeting with the ICI countries will lead to more enhanced practical cooperation and also to more cooperation in the field of NSG, between the West and Gulf countries to reduce dependency on Russia? Thank you.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: We agreed today that we will look into ways to enhance our cooperation - both practical cooperation and political consultations on security matters of common interest. And of course energy security is one of the issues... one of the security issues of common interest.
Now, of course, NATO is not the main actor when it comes to energy security; because energy security is basically also about diversification of energy supply. But of course there are aspects of energy security that is also hard security such as protection of sea lanes and critical energy infrastructure. So we have many issues to discuss with our ICI partners.
Oana Lungescu: Reuters TV (inaudible).
Q: Amanda Weston with Reuters. General Breedlove made a comment earlier today saying Russia has the necessary forces at the Ukrainian border to make an incursion within three to five days. And so I was wondering what your reaction is to that? And also where NATO plans to go from here with that in mind?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, I really share the concerns expressed by SACEUR. We know that... or we have seen a very massive Russian military build-up along the Ukrainian borders.
And as I mentioned yesterday, we haven't seen any signs of any significant reduction in that military build-up. And we also know that these Russian military armed forces are at very high readiness. This is really a matter of grave concern.
If Russia were to intervene further in Ukraine, I wouldn't hesitate to call it an historic mistake. That would lead to further isolation... international isolation of Russia. It would have far-reaching consequences for the relations between Russia and what we, as a whole, might call the Western World. It would be a miscalculation with huge strategic implications.
Now, we're not discussing military options. We do believe that the right way forward is to find a political and diplomatic solution. And in order to de-escalate the situation, I urge Russia once again to pull back its troops to live up to its international obligations and engage in a constructive dialogue directly with the Ukrainian government.
Oana Lungescu: NPR.
Q: Teri Schultz for NPR and CBS. I'm... SACEUR Breedlove said that Russia could achieve its objectives within three to five days. What's NATO’s assessment of what those objectives might be? And have you heard back from the Russians directly on... with any reaction toward yesterday's suspension? I understand Ambassador Groushko wrote something kind of sassy on his Twitter account. And his predecessor Ambassador Rogozin says that perhaps this was an April Fool's joke.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yes, well, I haven't received any direct Russian reaction. And I'm not going to guess about motives. But, of course, we have seen public statements from the Russian side, including statements that would... that indicate Russian pressure on Ukraine to change its constitution. And I have to say that constitutional matters are really an issue to be addressed internally in Ukraine without external interference. That's for the Ukrainians to decide.
And we have also seen public Russian statements indicating that they... at least statements that I interpret in the direction that Russia wants to re-establish a Russian sphere of influence, covering the former Soviet space. And to go directly to the point, I think this is what it is about. So, of course, there may be many side motives. But I think this is what it is about: attempts to intimidate Ukraine in an attempt to control or at least have a major impact on the political development internally in Ukraine and in addition to that to re-establish a Russian sphere of influence covering the old Soviet space. I think that's what it is about.
Oana Lungescu: I think we have one question there from our German colleagues.
Q: Bertina (?), First German Television. The Upper General described the situation at the border very drastic, very dangerous. Do you think this is a form to de-escalate, to be diplomatic? What do you think about the quotes of Commander Breedlove? Is it a diplomatic way?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: But I think General Breedlove just describes realities on the ground. And I think he has not only a right to describe the realities on the ground; but he has an obligation to describe realities on the ground. And hopefully by unveiling what is the truth about the Russian military build-up, we could emphasize further the need for the Russians to pull back their troops. I hope they have heard that message. Because if they sincerely want to find a political solution, I think the first step should be to de-escalate the military situation and pull back the troops.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much. This concludes the press conference. Thank you very much for covering the ministerial.