Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the EAPC Security Forum, Astana, Kazakhstan

  • 25 Jun. 2009
  • |
  • Last updated: 25 Jun. 2009 18:18

Press conference by the NATO Secretary General

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (NATO Secretary General): Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon. I’ll be brief in introducing the subject because this is one of those occasions where there is a seminar open to media. It is a seminar I think which is a very good and strong tradition in NATO to have these kinds of exchange of views, not only with what I could qualify as the usual attendees of these seminars and these forums, but also with representatives of non-governmental organizations and inputs by the media. So I think that is rewarding in itself already.

Let me again warmly thank our Kazak hosts for a perfectly organized seminar, not only perfectly organized but we are enjoying great hospitality. So thank you. I see the Kazak Ambassador to NATO sitting in the front row, so I say this through him, but my audience is hopefully a bit broader in thanking the government and the people of Kazakhstan. It’s good to be here. It’s a pleasure to be here.

I’m not going to make long introductions because you know this subject we have been discussing, you know the panels. In other words, the floor is yours to ask your questions, comments on any subject you might like to raise. You might not like any answer you might hear, but we’ll leave that.

MODERATOR: I would just ask you, if you could, to identify yourself; and secondly, there’s interpretation into four languages. The first question, we’ll go to the first row.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), National News Agency of Ukraine. I have two short questions maybe. What was your main message to the partners concerning the operation in Afghanistan? What kind of contribution are you expecting from them in the current circumstances? And the second issue, it is known the position of Kazak authorities who are advocating the development of a bilateral relation between NATO and so-called treaty of collective defence, and also Shanghai Cooperation Organization, so that what is NATO position on that issue? Thank you.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: First of all on your question concerning the partners, it was clear of course again also during the panel this morning that partner participation is essential for the ISAF operation in Afghanistan. You know that as we speak, the coalition at the moment is 42 nations strong. It’s 28 of course NATO. The rest are partners. Highly valued, highly appreciated. And the more which can be done in this respect, the better.

Let me also say that we have made excellent progress with our friends from Kazakhstan on the so-called transit agreement. You know, it’s important for NATO to have an alternative transit route for the operation in Afghanistan.

You know, our Russian partners and friends are also proactive in this sense. So in that respect, with what we call the support of these nations, we have also made interesting and good progress.

On the second part of your question, you saw the Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on one of the panels. We have what’s called, this is the first interaction. I would qualify this as interaction we have with the SCO.

We do not have that as we speak, as you know, with the CSTO, but the SCO, you have seen here represented in the person of the Secretary General.

QUESTION: Two questions, if I may. (Inaudible), from the E.U. Observer. Again, on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, is there any concrete outcome of this first interaction? Have you, I don’t know, made any concrete cooperation pledges?

And regarding the so-called Collective Operational Reaction Force, what is the NATO position and exactly how do you see any future cooperation, especially regarding Afghanistan in this regard? Thank you.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: On your first question, I used the word “interaction”. That’s what it is. The Secretary General was on the panel, which is a first, because there was no interaction up until now with the SCO, but the fact that the Secretary General is here I think is useful for this interaction.

I must ask you again the second part, what reaction force were you referring at?

QUESTION: It is the Russian-led reaction force that they are planning within the collective security treaty.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I leave that to them. Why should I comment? As NATO Secretary General, I think I should leave that to the decision-making process in the CSTO, of which I’m not part.

QUESTION: (Speaks in foreign language).

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Let me start with the second part of your question. I had yesterday a full round of bilateral talks with all the Kazak interlocutors. I had the privilege of having a conversation with the President, your President, and with the Foreign Minister, with the then acting Defence Minister – there is now a new Defence Minister – with the President of the Senate. So I had a full round of bilateral consultations here in Astana.

I think it’s always good to meet face to face and in that regard, I do think that our presence here, my presence here is always by definition a certain vehicle for intensifying the relationship, and I already mentioned the progress we have made on the transit agreement in this regard.

Kazakhstan is an important partner for NATO and that brings me to the first part of your question. I’ll not make any comparisons or react to comparisons made by others even if they’re made by the Russian Ambassador. But NATO is a political military organization, as you know, and I would like to refer to the organization in this terminology. NATO is not competing with anyone.

I have now been dealing with this region in different incarnations, be it as a Dutch Foreign Minister, as the Chairman in office of the OSCE in 2003 where I had very intensive contacts and relationship in this region, the past five and a half years as NATO’s Secretary General.

And NATO is not organizing this forum in Kazakhstan, NATO does not have in Ambassador Bob Simmons a special representative because we want to compete with anyone else. There are other nations and organizations involved in this region and let the nations in this region decide for themselves what kind of relationship they want. And I do know that Kazakhstan and other nations are interested in having a relationship with NATO and how far they want to go, that’s up to them.

But there is no competition. At least, I do not see any competition. So in that regard, I have to disagree with my friend Dmitry Rogozin if he makes this comparison. And I’ll not tread in the intimacies of being a lover of anyone. NATO is a political military organization.

QUESTION: Macedonia New Information Agency. Secretary General, I must ask you, Macedonia, as you know, has done a lot with the reforms to join NATO. We have our peace troops in Afghanistan and for the next year we’re going to enlarge the Macedonian soldiers. Don’t you think that in your mandate, you didn’t give us enough support to become a member of NATO, together with Albania and Croatia?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: No, I don’t think so because I think I’ve done everything which was in my power to bring that about and I’m telling you no news if I say that the decision at the Bucharest Summit a year ago was crystal clear, that the solution has to be found for the name issue. And I hope that there will be some more flexibility in Skopje than I’ve seen up until now.

Let me answer you openly, frankly and directly. I would like to see your nation in NATO. I’ve never made any, I’ve never concealed my own ambition and I’ve been to Skopje many times. But it also means quite honestly that I have to see flexibility and I think more than I have seen up until now. So the answer to your question is no, I do not agree if you say, Secretary General, have you done enough? I think I have done enough. My successor will also invest. I have invested in the relationship with Skopje. So will my successor.

So that is my answer to your question.

MODERATOR: Okay, we go to the left here, or right depending on where you sit.

QUESTION: Jakov Lapen, from the Jerusalem Post. I was wondering whether you were concerned by possible regional consequences from the current unrest in Iran and how you viewed that whole situation.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, I’m telling you no news. If we have listened to the comments which have been made by many world leaders, that the situation in Iran is of course of great concern to the NATO allies. I mean, the NATO allies have commented. I have not done so as NATO Secretary General because NATO as an alliance, of course, is not intending to play a role.

But it is crystal clear, if you have listened, as I have done to the comments made by President Obama and by many of the governments sometimes even heads of state of NATO nations, you know what the feeling between the NATO nation is. And that is a feeling of concern and a plea for a freedom of demonstration and for the respect of the rights of the Iranian people.

But again, this will not come as a surprise to you, I think because many people have already gone public before I’ve done so. But given the fact that you triggered me, I’ve done.

MODERATOR: I think we have time for two, two more. So the lady here in the centre.

QUESTION: Rizana Sadiq(ph), head of English editorial of Kazak National Information Agency, Kazanforum. My question is with new presidency of the United States of America, of new leadership of Barack Obama, do you think that there is going to be a new strategy and approach of NATO regarding the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East Peace Process? Thank you.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, that’s quite a lot, Madam.

QUESTION: I am sorry.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Let me focus on let’s say the part of your question which is relevant to NATO. We see in President Obama, as you and I know, a president who has been very proactive as far as our mission, our operation in Afghanistan is concerned, announcing a military surge, a civilian surge. What he intends to do drew very favourable and positive reactions by the NATO allies at the Summit NATO had in the beginning of April in Strasbourg and Kehl in Europe, in Germany, and in France, there’s now a new commander for ISAF who, as you know, commands both the U.S. forces and the NATO forces. There is a review going on. NATO is involved in that review.

So I do think that this productivity showed by President Obama is reflected in the NATO alliance and is also reflected in the position taken by partners as far as Afghanistan is concerned.

On Iraq, I can only tell you that NATO’s activities in Iraq are focused, as you know, on the NATO training mission in Iraq. I was there not that long ago. We are training the Iraqi Security Forces in a successful NATO training mission, including as the backbone of the mission, gendarmerie training. The Italian Carabinieri are having a leading role there. And it’s interesting to note that one of the decisions of the summit in April of this year was that we are also going to have a NATO training mission in Afghanistan, which will like in Iraq be combined with what our American friends and allies are doing already.

So also in Afghanistan, we are stepping up our activity.

Finally, as far as the Middle East is concerned you know that NATO does not have any ambition and I think should not have any ambition to involve itself as an alliance in the Middle East peace process. There are many other actors who are investing a lot in that very difficult, very difficult problem.

MODERATOR: And the privilege of the last question goes to the gentleman close to the cameras in the back.

QUESTION: Hi. Matt Segal, Agence France Presse. Mr. Secretary General, following up on our conversation from last night, NATO’s mandate in Afghanistan ends at the border of Afghanistan. But does NATO have a responsibility for the security in those adjoining regions, namely in protecting or preventing the violence in Afghanistan from spilling over into some of the more vulnerable border regions, particularly central Asia where it’s sitting here in Central Asia at this conference, which is a security forum? And I wonder what NATO’s security responsibility is for Central Asia and for those countries that neighbour Afghanistan where your mandate ends?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, you’ll not be surprised if I answer your question that NATO does not and is not seeking of course any form of formal security responsibility or security responsibility tout court, to say it in French, for neighbouring states because those neighbouring states are very well capable. They are sovereign states and they are very well capable of looking after their own security.

It would be very... not very well understood to put, to use a mild expression, if NATO would involve itself in sovereign nations, and that’s why you quoted me correctly when you said in your question that NATO’s mandate, given to it, as you know, by the Security Council of the United Nations, ends at the borders of Afghanistan.

NATO is doing its best in Afghanistan itself to fulfil its mandate. I do not deny, of course, that there is trafficking across the borders, not only with Pakistan but also with others, with Central Asian states. So your analysis is right.

But I could hardly imagine that NATO will take on or would perceive to have a security responsibility. What we do have and what we do discuss, and for that reason it’s good to have this seminar, but that is also of course one of the issues I’m discussing with my Kazak friends and other Central Asian friends, is that for instance on counternarcotics, the consequences of the problem in Afghanistan with the poppy and the heroin we have projects, we have an important one with the Russians, by the way, to train security personnel also from Central Asian states and from Afghanistan, together with the Russians in a centre near Moscow.

So we are dealing with some of the consequences of our operations in Afghanistan but where it ends, as you quite rightly said, of course, is at the borders because NATO cannot possibly a) be held responsible; or b) act on the territory of what are sovereign states.

Many thanks. Thank you so much.