Monthly press conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

  • 07 Oct. 2009 -
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  • Last updated: 08 Oct. 2009 11:19

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): Thank you for coming. I would like to address three main topics today. And then I'm happy to take your questions.

First, Afghanistan. As you know we are now in the process of studying General McChrystal's assessment. It is under discussion in the Military Committee and in the NATO Council. These have been initial discussions, and we reached no conclusions yet, but I can say that the exchange of views on approach has now fully begun.

Three things are, however, already clear to me. First, that our overall approach must include making Afghanistan strong enough to resist terrorism and insurgency on its own. It is, to my mind, impossible to assume that the extreme elements of the Taleban would not, if left alone, once again harbour al-Qaeda and other terrorists. They have done it in the past, they're doing it now, and they will do it in the future.

That means that we need, as an international community, to train and to equip the Afghan Security Forces so that they can provide for security in their own country, because while we will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes, this cannot and should not mean forever.

That is why we must fully resource the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, which should be up and running by the end of the month. We will need to provide army and police training teams, equipment and sustainment money.

This is an investment in a stronger, self-sustaining Afghanistan, which is in our shared interest. We need to do more now so we can do less later. That is a message I will convey clearly to Defence Ministers in Bratislava in two weeks.

Then my second point on Afghanistan. Security forces aren't enough to resist the kind of threat Afghanistan faces. The Afghan people must increasingly see their government give them health care, education and good governance. That will suck the oxygen away from the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

We need to see transition to Afghan lead in civilian areas as well. This is why I support the proposal of an international conference in the coming months to agree a new contract with a new Afghan government, where they commit to improve governance and fight corruption. And we commit to continue and step up our support.

None of this will be easy. And it certainly cannot be done by one country alone. Which brings me to my third point on Afghanistan. There must continue to be a fair balance between what the United States is doing and what the other allies are contributing to this effort. Last week in Washington I gave a speech in which I reminded the U.S. not to talk down the contribution from the non-U.S. allies. I think that message was heard loud and clear.

But today my message is to the non-U.S. members of the Alliance. It is important, not only for this operation, but also for the long-term health of the transatlantic relationship, that the non-U.S. allies also find a way to contribute more to the mission.

The United States must know and see that in difficult times, indeed precisely when it is most difficult, this Alliance stands together and contributes together. If the United States do not see that now, I am afraid many in the U.S. will wonder about Europe as a real partner in security. And that would be damaging over the long term for NATO and for the transatlantic relationship.

This Alliance is about sharing security, but that doesn't just mean sharing the benefits. It also means sharing the costs and the risks. That is what we have done in Afghanistan until now. That must continue as we move towards transition to Afghan lead.

And in conclusion on Afghanistan, I know that this is a difficult period. The operations are challenging. But there should be no doubt about some key points. First, NATO's commitment to this mission is as strong as ever.

Second, that our effort in Afghanistan is helping to keep us safe, and to make the lives of Afghans better, so that extremism cannot get rooted in this country.

And third, that we will stay as long as it takes to finish the job.

Then my next theme today, NATO-Russia relations. I'm pleased to say that we have gotten off to a good start. My proposal to conduct a joint review of 21st century security challenges has been taken up and I think it could be the basis for us to see, with fresh eyes, that we share common threats.

The political dialogue has also stepped up. The NATO-Russia Council is meeting regularly. I had a good meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in New York two weeks ago. We will probably have a meeting of Foreign Ministers in early December. And I have accepted, with great pleasure, an invitation to go to Moscow later in December to meet with President Medvedev and other Russian leaders.

On the practical side, we have already started looking at where we can step up our cooperation. Afghanistan is an obvious example, but there are many more. So all in all I am pleased with what we have accomplished until now. I know that there will still be fundamental areas on which we disagree for reasons of principle and interests. That's the way it is. But we can create a web of cooperation that is strong enough to survive these differences, if that cooperation materially improves the security of all NATO countries and Russia.

In other words, we have to make NATO-Russia cooperation too good to lose, while remaining true to our core principles. That must be our aim.

Then let me, as my third and final theme, just outline for you the roadmap of work ahead of us in NATO. First, on Afghanistan, I can tell you that yesterday General McChrystal's resource request was sent up the NATO chain. It will now be analyzed by our military authorities and then we will have a political discussion among NATO and ISAF Defence Ministers at the Bratislava Ministers meeting which will take place on the 23rd of this month.

In this Bratislava meeting we will also discuss our common military budget. The problem is money. Basically, we don't have the budget we need to meet the demands of our operations and capabilities. Nations have decided to do things we can't fully pay for, and this can't continue.

We have an increasing gap between requirements, on the one hand, and resources on the other hand. This gap must be filled as soon as possible. And I will want to see with ministers how we can address this, either by making savings, or by taking a hard look at what we consider priorities.

And then finally, I might add that missile defence will also be on the agenda in Bratislava. I envisage a short preliminary discussion based on a briefing by the U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates.

So all in all the Bratislava meeting will be an important meeting and I hope interesting enough that I see many of you there.

And now I'm happy to take your questions.

Q: Secretary General, (inaudible) from German Television. I'm here. I would like to ask some questions to you, the first point, Afghanistan. You said that you were in Washington and spoke with the Obama administration. Can you give us an idea how far these talks have been progressed? In the press it is said 40,000 troops might come from the U.S. till the end of the year. And it is expected that Europe will do something too. Do you have any signs that there will be a number like 40,000 troops from the U.S. again, and what do you demand from Europe?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I'm definitely not going to comment on internal U.S. deliberations and considerations. I respect fully the American decision-making process. I can tell you that it is premature to discuss exact figures right now. As I mentioned the resource request from General McChrystal has now been forwarded to the NATO chain. We will examine that paper carefully and then, based on that, we will take necessary decisions, also as far as resources are concerned.

And in addition to that, I would stress one point in particular. Our training mission in Afghanistan. We really need resources for that training mission. Personnel, as well as money, because one thing is to provide a sufficient number of trainers and provide appropriate education facilities, but we also need financial resources to sustain a strong, strengthened Afghan Security Force. And I would encourage all allies, and not least the Europeans, to increase their contributions, in particular to the training mission.

Q: Secretary General, over here. Chris Dickson from Europe Diplomacy Defence, a couple of questions. I'll try to make them very brief. I understand that you and other... and the North Atlantic Council are considering the options put forward by General McChrystal. Are you also exploring the alternative scenarios that have been affiliated to the vice president, I believe, of a reduction in allied forces and an increase in more targeted counterinsurgency activities? Is that on the table at NATO?

A couple of other questions, briefly. Do you have any comment on the fact that the EU originally charged with developing and training the police in Afghanistan seems to have failed in that mission?

And finally, I understand who's going to pay all the plans you have for financing the training of the Afghan National Forces. I still don't understand who's going to pay for the ongoing operations of those armed forces as the estimated costs exceed the Afghan resources.

Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Firstly, a reduction in the number of troops in Afghanistan is definitely not on the agenda. We are currently examining the analysis presented by General McChrystal. Probably we will pursue a slightly different approach, a more comprehensive approach, and basically I support McChrystal's approach, a broad counterinsurgency approach, because as I said in my introduction today, security for us is also about stabilizing the Afghan society so that terrorism and extremism cannot flourish again in the country. And you could not achieve that goal just by hunting down and killing individual terrorists in the mountains. This is the reason why I basically support the approach presented by General McChrystal.

As far as the EU police mission is concerned, it's of course not my business to interfere with EU decisions, but in my previous capacity as Prime Minister of Denmark, I have on several occasions expressed my view that it is a bit embarrassing that the EU has not succeeded yet in full deployment of the police mission in Afghanistan and I still think it's a very important mission and I would encourage all members of the European Union, many of them are also members of NATO, to do their utmost to ensure full deployment.

Q: Petra De Koning, NRC Handelsblad. The Dutch Parliament decided yesterday that the Dutch military commitment in Oruzgan will end completely in 2010. What is your comment on that, and what do you think the impact will be on the contributions by other nations? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, first of all, I recognize how much the Dutch have already done and are doing in Oruzgan and the sacrifices they have made. The Netherlands' contribution is making a real difference on the ground. Let me also stress that of course I fully respect national decisions.

Having said that, and also in my capacity as NATO Secretary General, I must say that I would regret a Dutch withdrawal from this mission. Firstly, because we are at a critical juncture, where there should be no doubt about our firm commitment. Any such doubt will just play into the hands of those who want us to fail.

Secondly, because this operation is not easy, and we need all allies contributing.

And thirdly, because I believe that we will begin to see in the foreseeable future transition to Afghan lead across the board, as I have described today, and the Dutch contribution to supporting transition would be very valuable.

Q: Secretary General, here. News Agency Interfax, Ukraine. Question about your report about war in Georgia. What is your assessment for this report and how this report could influence the Euro-Atlantic aspiration of Georgia and Ukrainians? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, the bottom line is that the report will not have any impact on the decisions already made in NATO. I would remind you of our decision taken at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008, according to which Georgia and Ukraine will become members of NATO, provided of course, that they fulfil the necessary criteria.

According to the report, there have been mistakes on both sides in this conflict. However, I think that the most important thing now is to focus on the future, look forward, and I would encourage all parties in this conflict to show restraint and refrain from any step that could increase tensions in the region.

Q: I'm Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. On missile defence, the Obama administration's decision to change its missile defence posture in Eastern Europe stirred concerns, especially in the Baltic countries, about the American commitment to their defence. You're about to go to the region. would you favour stepping up NATO's presence in the Baltics, for example, by holding more military exercises or establishing more NATO installations or bases?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that it is my strong belief that the American commitment is as strong as ever. And the American decision concerning missile defence, the missile defence system, should not be misinterpreted.

The Americans have not decided to scrap missile defence. On the contrary, it is a decision to deploy a missile defence system sooner than the previous plans allowed. It is a system which can include all NATO allies, which can protect all NATO allies. So in conclusion, the American commitment to the defence of Europe is just as strong as ever.

The second part of your question concerns the situation in the Baltic states and other allied nations. I can assure you that NATO has plans and arrangements, appropriate plans and arrangements, for the security and defence of all NATO allies, without any exception. And about visibility, I could refer to our air policing mission in the Baltic states, with point of departure in Lithuania, as a brilliant example of the solidarity within the Alliance.

And by the way I'm going to visit the base during my visit to the three Baltic states, and I look very much forward to that.

Q: Georgian Public Broadcasting, (inaudible). Mr. Secretary General, about your second point, you were talking about relationship with Russia, concretely about Georgia, Russia has not changed its policy and in this week they signed an agreement about free visa regime with separatist regions and also said that... Lavrov said, for example, that they do everything for recognition of these two separatist regions. What will be your comment and your position about this? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, the NATO position is unchanged. We don't think it is in accordance with international rules to recognize the two regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We insist on respect for the sovereignty of Georgia and Georgia's territorial integrity. So our position is unchanged.

Q: Thank you very much. I'm Magdy Youssef, from Nile News, Egyptian Television. Secretary General you said many times that you're staying in Afghanistan as long as the job need. Is it the same position of all the allies. And the second, that we know that the mentality of the Afghan people, it's quite difficult, so are you thinking one day to use maybe the Arab countries, or Muslim country to help you in Afghanistan, since they are maybe closer to the mentality of Afghanistan? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, first of all, until now our mission in Afghanistan has had full support from all allied nations. Based on the well-known principle of solidarity it's my clear expectation that this will continue.

Your second question concerns participation of Arab countries or Muslim countries. Actually, some of them contribute to our mission in Afghanistan. And let me just add to this one brief reflection, which I have also shared with political leaders from Muslim countries, that I think an increased contribution from Muslim countries, soldiers with Muslim backgrounds, could strengthen the fact and the visibility of the fact that our mission in Afghanistan is not a question of religion. It is a fight against terrorism and extremism. And it is of mutual interest that we step up our endeavours in that fight against terrorism.

Q: Martinez de Rituerto, El País. Secretary General, you have said today that we are for the long run in Afghanistan, but the public opinion is not seeing results. At the same time that the public opinion is being requested all the time new efforts, economical, soldiers, and this is said in the very same day in which Spanish soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.

What would you say to the Spanish public opinion so that they can be convinced that Spain has to contribute to this effort you are requesting?

First question. And the second one, if I may. It gives the impression, the whole situation in relation with Afghanistan, that things are not clear in strategic terms, in strategic direction. We are having noises and you have emphasized that we are there for the long term, but there are noises saying that perhaps we should start to bring back our soldiers.

Are we not preparing already the exit strategy in emphasizing the formation and the capacitation of the army, so that we can leave in four or five years time? Are we thinking already in the exit strategy? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me convey my condolences to all bereaved families and express my sympathy with families affected by casualties in Afghanistan.

Next, I do believe that people understand why we are in Afghanistan. That it is because of our own security. We cannot allow Afghanistan once again to become a safe haven for terrorists. If we did, terrorism could easily spread from Afghanistan through Central Asia and further. We could all be targets. You mentioned Spain... I think, Spain, unfortunately is very familiar with the scourge of terrorism.

So I think people do understand why we are in Afghanistan. Not to speak about the risk of destabilizing neighbouring Pakistan, a nuclear power. That would be very, very dangerous.

Having said that, I also understand why people are a bit impatient. So am I. We would all like to see rapid progress on the ground. We want to see that we really make a difference in Afghanistan and this is exactly the reason why it is so important to ensure a stronger Afghan ownership and transition to Afghan lead.

Our peoples in the troop-contributing countries need to see a light at the end of the tunnel. And this light will be to gradually hand over responsibility to the Afghans themselves, province by province, as the capacity of their own security forces develops. And this makes me, once again, stress why it is so important that we get our training mission up and running so that we can train and educate more Afghan soldiers and more Afghan police.

Q: Yes, hi, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. Two quick questions, if I may? You mentioned that Russia and NATO might discuss ways that Russia could support or cooperate the Alliance in Afghanistan.

My question is, beyond Russia's current offer of indirect assistance, and it is indirect, by allowing transit of ISAF material across its territory, what is plausible in terms of additional Russian support or cooperation?

Second question, different topic. You mentioned that on the common military budget that the gap between requirements and resources must be filled as soon as possible, either by making savings or reviewing NATO's priorities. My question, does reviewing options or those priorities include a further loosening of the way that the SIP can be used for operational purposes? And would that be in a substantial way? For instance, the Alliance is already doing this on the airborne ground surveillance system, and that's expensive.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, first about Russia and a possible Russian contribution to our mission in Afghanistan. I could mention some examples of how we could further Russian engagement in Afghanistan. Russia has already provided transit through Russia. I think this transit agreement could be expanded. That's one thing.

Next, Russia could provide equipment for the Afghan Security Forces. Thirdly, Russia could provide training. These are just some examples, and I think we should explore, in a joint effort, how we could further Russian engagement. I know from the Russians that they are interested, actually, in a stronger engagement and we have to find pragmatic ways and means, because basically Afghanistan is one of the areas in which we share interests with Russia, and that's exactly my point. We may have disputes with Russia in some areas, but we should focus on practical cooperation in areas where we share interests, and Afghanistan is one of them.

Concerning your second question, which is a bit technical, I would say, at this stage I would just indicate that everything is on the table. And we will now examine, we will explore in the coming weeks and months how we can fill the gap between requirements and resources.

I don't think it would be appropriate to comment on this in further details at this stage, but everything is discussed.

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Pascal?

Q: Monsieur le Secrétaire général, vous me permettez de poser une question en français. Deux questions en fait. La première, c'est à propos de ce que l'Europe peut faire, quelque soit le nombre de troupes que les États-Unis vont envoyer: 10 000, 40 000, zéro. Vous avez dit: pas de commentaire. Mais est-ce qu'aujourd'hui on étudie déjà le nombre d'OMLTs ou de soldats que les Européens peuvent ou doivent envoyer?

Deuxième question, sur la Russie. La France est en train de réfléchir à la vente d'un gros bateau (helicopter carrier), un bateau de débarquement et de transport d'hélicoptère qui faciliterait beaucoup les opérations amphibies (amphibious operations) de la Russie dans le futur. Est-ce que les pays de l'OTAN, et vous particulièrement, vous avez une opinion sur cette vente très possible de matériel militaire français, merci, à la Russie?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Premièrement, concernant le nombre de troupes. C'est toujours ma position que c'est prématuré de discuter le nombre de troupes tant le nombre de troupes américaines que les contribution européennes. Mais en général, je vais encourager les Alliés d'augmenter les contributions en particulier concernant la mission de formation en Afghanistan.

Parce qu'il est crucial de mettre en place notre mission de formation en vue de développer la capacité des forces de sécurité afghane. Il faut transférer la responsabilité pour la sécurité aux Afghans eux-mêmes. Donc nous avons besoin une opération de formation efficace.

Concernant la deuxième question, je ne comprends pas totalement le sens...

Q: I'll repeat in English, voilà. The French are now thinking of selling a big landing ship to the Russian navy.


Q: Est-ce que l'OTAN a une opinion sur l'opportunité (in English, opportunity) de vendre ce genre de matériel à des Russes partenaires, mais aussi avec lesquels nous pouvons avoir quelques petits problèmes?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Non, je ne vais pas commenter sur ce sujet.

Q: Khalid Hameed Farooqi, Geo News Television, Pakistan. Secretary General, we are seeing there's the rift between the U.S. and Pakistan on Af-Pak policies, and there is a mounting pressure from the public and there is a debate also in the Parliament in Pakistan that that policy is unacceptable for Pakistan.

How much damage will it do to operation... NATO operation in Afghanistan, and are you consulting Pakistan for the new strategy being developed of McChrystal in Afghanistan?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We need a very strong cooperation with Pakistan. Recently I met the Pakistani President Zardari in New York. We discussed this issue and we agreed that it is of utmost importance to ensure a strong Pakistani engagement in our endeavours to fight terrorism in the region. It's of mutual interest.

And I would like to commend the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military for their fight against terrorists in the border region. I think we need a strengthened cooperation, but of course based on mutual respect. And our cooperation must take place on equal footing.

Concerning the NATO-Pakistani relationship, it is definitely progressing. We have established border coordination centres, liaison teams, a tripartite commission dealing with regional issues, a tripartite commission of Afghanistan, Pakistan and ISAF. So all in all I think we have created an excellent framework for cooperation between NATO and Pakistan.

Q: Secretary General, Fukushima of Mainichi daily newspaper, Japanese daily newspaper. About the financial support to the training mission in Afghanistan, by what means would you like to encourage and convince the world nations to contribute to that purpose? And do you need to create any other channels so that to have this money in addition to the ANA fund in order to also you can use the money to train the police ANP mission in Afghanistan?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: If I understand you correctly, it's a question about increased financial contributions to the training mission and in particular maybe financial sustainment of an increased number of Afghan Security Forces.

We have established a trust fund to finance the Afghan Army, and definitely we need increased financial contributions. I appreciate very much the Japanese financial contributions to our mission in Afghanistan. And if I may, I would encourage Japan and other countries to look closer into how these financial contributions could be increased, with a view to transition to Afghan lead across the board from security to development.

JAMES APPATHURAI: That's all we have time for. Thank you very much.