by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen following the second day of meetings of NATO Defence Ministers
We have just had an ISAF meeting.
We have seen important signs of progress in Afghanistan this spring.
The Afghan security forces did an outstanding job in securing the first round of presidential elections in April. The Afghan people showed great courage by turning out to vote in millions. Every single vote cast was a victory for democracy, and for Afghanistan.
Minister Mohammadi has assured us that the preparations for the second round of elections are well on track, and that the Afghans are determined to build on their achievements.
It is vital that the second round is carried out transparently and in line with international standards, and the result is both credible and acceptable to the voters of Afghanistan.
We are also are making progress in delivering on the pledges we made over the past four years, at the NATO summits in Lisbon and Chicago.
As we promised, we will complete our combat mission by the end of this year.
As we promised, we have built up a capable Afghan force of 350,000 soldiers and police, who are ready to take full responsibility for their country’s security.
As we promised, we are also planning a follow-on mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces beyond the end of this year.
In that regard, I welcome President Obama’s recent announcement, and the significant contribution the United States intends to make to this mission, called Resolute Support. This is consistent with our planning. Together with the contributions offered by other Allies and partners, it shows NATO’s continued commitment to Afghanistan.
But as we have made clear, the Resolute Support Mission can only be launched if the required security arrangements are signed and the necessary legal framework is in place.
That is why I welcome the fact that both candidates in the presidential election have shown their support to signing the necessary agreements as a priority. It is in all our interest to build on the gains we have made.
We also remain committed to helping sustain the Afghan forces. And we remain committed to an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, an enduring partnership which will involve both political consultation and practical cooperation.
This is the best way to help ensure Afghanistan’s security, and our own security.
Today, we also met in the NATO-Georgia Commission. Georgia is one of the largest non-NATO contributors to our mission in Afghanistan and an important partner.
This was a timely meeting, and a chance to discuss our shared concerns over Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine.
NATO’s stance is clear: We uphold the right of every country to make its own security choices. And we stand up for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of both Georgia and Ukraine, within their internationally-recognised borders.
We will not accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea, nor Russia’s recognition of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia as independent states.
The people of Georgia have chosen the path that leads towards European Union and NATO membership. That is their sovereign choice. We respect it. So should Russia.
Georgia has made remarkable progress in recent years, and under successive governments. Its track record on democratic and defence reforms has been impressive. It has decided to participate in the NATO Response Force, our rapid-reaction force, for the next four years. And it is strongly committed to our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.
More remains to be done to open the door to NATO membership, but Georgia has made real progress and Georgia is on the right track. NATO Allies welcome that progress, and I am confident that Georgia will stay on the path of reform as we strengthen and deepen our partnership.
And with that, I am ready to take your questions.
MODERATOR: We'll start with Afghan Media over there.
QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Secretary General. I am Nusat (ph) from Noorin (ph) TV, Afghanistan. How many NATO troops will take part in Resolute support after 2014? And does NATO intention to extend its training mission post-2016, when the United State mission ends?
My second question is would NATO consider any strategic alliance with Afghanistan to defend any external threat to this country post-2016?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, on the exact size of the Resolute support mission, we have not yet taken decisions on the exact figures. But of course the United States' announcement gives you an indication of the size of the future Resolute support mission.
I can tell you also, based on my conversation with our military commanders, that I'm confident that we will get the necessary resources to carry out what I would call a fully fledged train-advise-assist mission.
Next part of your question is what about after 2016. We haven't yet taken a decision on the duration of a future Resolute support mission. Right now we will focus on actually establishing the train-advise-assist mission, Resolute support… that Resolute support mission from the first of January, 2015.
But more generally, I can tell you that our… in a more long-term perspective, our relationship with Afghanistan will be determined by the content of our enduring partnership with Afghanistan.
The enduring partnership will be developed in the coming weeks and months, discussed, and maybe some decisions also taken at the summit in… in Wales. We look forward to engaging with the new President and discuss our enduring partnership with Afghanistan. And it will be that enduring partnership that will shape our future relationship and activities in Afghanistan after 2016.
The final part of your question relates to, let's say, external security challenges, including of course terrorist activities. Let me emphasize that the NATO-led Resolute support mission will be a non-combat mission. It is a train-advise-assist mission and not a combat mission.
But as you can see from President Obama's announcement, the United States will, based on the bilateral agreement with Afghanistan, probably conduct counter-terrorism activities in collaboration with the Afghan government. And I think that will be the most robust answer to external threats.
QUESTION: Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency. Mr. Secretary General, there has been some recent improvement in ties between India and Pakistan following the visit of the Pakistani Prime Minister to India recently. So how do you think this improvement will reflect on developments in Afghanistan? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: It's my assessment that any improvement in the relationship between Pakistan and India will benefit the whole region, including Afghanistan. And it's my clear view that we need a constructive engagement of all countries in the region if we are to ensure long-term peace and stability, not only in Afghanistan but in… in the whole region. And in that respect, rapprochement between Pakistan and India is crucial.
MODERATOR: Gentleman over there, in the middle.
QUESTION: Japanese Daily, Mainichi (ph). My name's Saito (ph). I have two… two questions about the duration of Resolute support mission. I'm afraid two years is too short to train completely Afghan Security Forces. Are you afraid such situation?
And the second question is some member states are surprised to hear Mr… President Obama's announcement. Is there any… enough consultation among the member state to such a number and the duration of mission?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: On… on the issue of consultations, I mean, NATO is a forum for continuous consultations. So we consult. Actually, at this head-- at this very headquarters we consult each and every day.
On the duration of the Resolute support mission, as I said, no decision has been made yet on… on the duration. Now we will focus on actually establishing the Resolute support mission.
But let me add to that, and also emphasize, that we stay committed to the Afghan Security Forces. Our Resolute support mission to train, advise, assist the Afghanistan Security Forces is only one part of our support for the Afghan security forces.
At the same time, we have pledged to financially sustain the Afghan Security Forces. And I would expect the international community to reaffirm its pledge to sustain the Afghan Security Forces.
And we have see the Afghan Security Forces develop very professional skills. They have handled recent security incidents in a very professional manner. They have, in short, a secure environment for the conduct of the first round of presidential elections.
So I'm confident that the Afghan Security Forces will be able to take full responsibility all over Afghanistan, and supported by us, by the Resolute support mission and supported financially.
MODERATOR: We'll take two… two ladies next. The lady in the first row from Radio (inaudible).
QUESTION: Thanks a lot, sir. What political pressure can be put on Pakistan in light of the (inaudible) coming from their Treasury to Afghanistan? What's your response on this? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We call on Pakistan to engage positively and constructively in ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the region. I would expect Pakistan to live up to her international commitments.
We appreciate that the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military have taken steps to counter terrorist activities in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We do believe that there is room for intensified efforts in… in… in that respect.
I know that individual allies are engaging with Pakistan in order to encourage Pakistan to continue the fight against extremism and terrorism in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And I would expect Pakistan to engage constructively with Afghanistan to ensure long-term peace and stability in the region.
MODERATOR: ARD, German Television.
QUESTION: Bettina Ashakos (ph). Mr. Secretary General, one question to the NATO Georgia Commission. You said Georgia is on the right track. Can you foresee when it could become a member of NATO? In two years, in five years, or can you say anything about this?
And don't you expect resistance from other member countries, like for example Germany, against the full membership of Georgia?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: And the brief answer is no, I can't answer your question because we haven't discussed any timetable in… in today's meeting. That was not the purpose of the meeting.
We have noted significant progress in Georgia when it comes to defence reforms and also broader reforms of the Georgian society. And that progress has been acknowledged at today's meeting. But we also realize that there is more work to… to be done.
How we will address the open door policy at… at the summit remains to be seen. We will have foreign ministers to meet by the end of this month. And according to the plan we have outlined, foreign ministers will discuss updated progress reports for each of the aspiring countries, including Georgia.
And based on these progress reports, ministers will take decisions as to how exactly we will address the open door policy at the summit. So that's why it's a bit too early to… to answer your question.
Having said that, I'm sure that the progress Georgia has achieved will be reflected proper-- properly at… at the summit.
MODERATOR: Gentleman over there.
QUESTION: (Inaudible)… Georgian Public Broadcaster. Mr. Secretary General, what can be expectation from (inaudible)…? What instrument can be alternative of membership action plan for Georgia? Thanks.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yeah, I regret to tell you that I can't answer that question yet because we are in the process now of preparing the summit. And we have not yet taken any decision as to how we will address the open door policy at… at the summit.
It is a very important issue, and we will have to handle it carefully. We have four aspirant countries. Each of them will be treated individually based on their merits, so to speak, based on the progress they have achieved. And we are right now in the process of evaluating each of the four aspirant countries and then, as I said, foreign ministers will discuss it and take decisions by the end of this month.
MODERATOR: Final quest-- question, Europa Press.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ana Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency, Europa Press.
Coming back to Afghanistan, Secretary General, I understand that you don't want to give too much figures of the total possible size of the force for Resolute support, but if it would be… if it's expected to be around the 12… 1200, which was a bit the upper frame already kind of planned by the military.
And my second question would be on the regional footprint, if it's expected that actually by 2000-- from 2016 onwards, the regional footprint in a kind of way would disappear, and that the mission would actually be more concentrated in Kabul and Bagram, as we understand it. Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, on… on the size of the Resolute support mission, as I told you, we have not discussed and we have not decided on exact figures.
But having said that, based on the American announcement, I think it's safe to say that, pending of course contributions from other allies and partners, but I'm confident that other allies and partners will contribute also in a significant way. Based on… on… on these announcements and indications, I think it's safe to say that we will see a Resolute support mission at the upper end of the scale of what has been our planning assumptions so far.
And about the footprint after 2016, well, it follows from what I have told you today that we have not yet discussed the duration of the Resolute support mission, and the longer-term relationship between NATO and Afghanistan will be determined by the content of our enduring partnership.
So it's… it's a bit too early to elaborate on how exactly we will conduct activities in Afghanistan after 2016.
MODERATOR: Many thanks, and we'll see you at the next ministerial meeting later in June. Thank you.