Press Conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting with non-NATO ISAF Contributing Nations

  • 04 Dec. 2009 -
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  • Last updated: 04 Dec. 2009 17:56

We’ve just completed what I consider to be one of the most important meetings of the Foreign Ministers of the countries contributing to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan

It was important for three reasons.

First, because the 44 countries represented around the table made it very clear that despite all the challenges, all the uncertainties and all the casualties, they remain absolutely united in this mission. The strongest message in the Ministerial room today was solidarity.

Second, because nations are backing up their words with deeds. At least 25 countries have announced that they will send more forces to the mission in 2010. They have offered around 7,000 new forces, with more to come. Counting the US contribution, that means ISAF will have at least 37,000 more soldiers in 2010 than it did this year. That is solidarity in action, and it will have a powerful effect on the ground.

Third, because the ISAF countries agreed on a new roadmap for this mission. Yes, with more forces. But also with a new focus on protecting the Afghan people. With substantially more aid money. With a strong determination to insist that our Afghan partners live up to their part of the bargain – including at next January’s conference in London. With a new policy to support actively the reintegration of Taliban fighters who lay down their arms. And with the intention to transfer lead security responsibility to Afghan forces as soon as possible next year, where conditions allow- which means stepping up our training as well. Because Afghanistan is a sovereign country, everything we do is to help the Afghan government exercise that sovereignty.

The Ministers around the table also agreed on an important clarification, considering some of the media reporting of the past few days: transition doesn’t mean exit. There should be no misunderstanding. We are not going to leave Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of terrorists and the extremists who host them. It will not happen.

In sum, this meeting launched a new phase in this mission. There is no doubt that the going will be tough. No one should expect instant results. But with the right approach and the right resources, we can succeed – and we have both.

James Appathurai (NATO Spokesman): Thank you. Questions. You can start right here.

Q: NOS Dutch TV, Paul Snijder. Did you in any way discuss the Dutch participation in the Afghan operations since the Dutch are planning to leave next year? Have you been able to convince the Dutch to lengthen their mission?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: We did not, in this meeting, discuss the Dutch contribution specifically. Of course, the Dutch Minister made an intervention. I can tell you that I have spoken with the Prime Minister, as well as, of course, the Foreign Minister. I think it is of utmost importance that the Netherlands continue their commitment to our operation in Afghanistan, but at this stage I will not go into further details.

Q: Johnny Dymond, BBC News. Can you tell me a little about... a bit about pledges for training because that seems to be a shortfall as far as the security forces of Afghanistan are concerned and yet more and more emphasis is laid on Afghanistanization.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: We have today heard quite some pledges concerning additional resources for our training mission in Afghanistan and I appreciate that very much. I think the details will be discussed next week at the force generation conference which will take place on the 7th of December. Today we have not discussed the details, but a number of countries have pledged additional resources for our training mission.

Q: Elise Labott with CNN. To follow up on the training issue, did you specifically talk about what the conditions would be for an eventual transition and kind of Afghanistanization of the security and do you feel that based on so far what you hear about the resources that you have for training that you'll be able to make that deadline?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: There is a broad support among all allies and partners that the transition to Afghan lead will be condition-based. It's clearly our aim to hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans, but it is a pre-condition that the Afghan Security Forces are capable to take on that responsibility. We have not discussed in detail what should be the specific conditions. At the end of the day it is also for our military people on the ground to make that assessment, but there is an overall agreement that it is a condition-based approach. Our aim is clear, but it will not be a run for the exit. It will be a well-coordinated and well-prepared transition to lead Afghan responsibility in provinces, in districts where conditions so permit.

Q: Georgian Public Broadcasting. What are you waiting for on your meeting with Russian Foreign Minister today? And will be the matter of Georgia amongst the discussion? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Well, first of all, concerning Georgia, we had yesterday a meeting in the NATO-Georgia Commission in which we took stock of progress in the reform process in Georgia. We reconfirmed that decision we took at the Bucharest Summit in 2008, it still stands, according to which Georgia will become a member of NATO provided the country fulfils the necessary criteria.

We also reconfirmed that we insist on respect for Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty. And we welcome the progress we have seen in the reform process in Georgia.

Concerning today's meeting in the NATO-Russia Council, I expect an agreement on three very important documents, which will mark I would say, a new beginning in the relationship between NATO and Russia.

Firstly, I expect an agreement on a joint review of the 21st century common security challenges, which will map out areas in which we see common security threats, and hopefully it can lead to practical cooperation between NATO and Russia in these areas.

Secondly, a reform package concerning the efficiency of the work in the NATO-Russia Council.

And finally, a work program for 2010.

Q: Ian Traynor of the Guardian. Secretary General, you say that at least 25 countries will be supplying at least 7,000 more forces for Afghanistan. I wonder if you could tell us how many of those 25 are Alliance member states and what kind of indications were suggested by France and Germany?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Well, I'm not going to release figures from each individual ally or partner. It's for each individual country to make public themselves, if they so wish what will be their additional contribution in 2010.

And for the same reason I'm not going to publish at this stage how many of these additional pledges come from NATO allies and how many from partners.

What I can say is that in addition to the clear pledges already tabled we have heard indications, or more than indications that other allies and partners will be and probably will be in a position to announce further contributions during the coming weeks and months.

Q: Faridah Saifi, Radio Azadi, Afghanistan. You said that different nations that they commitment for sending solider to Afghanistan. If we go to the root of the security problem in Afghanistan, weak government, corruption, it's all issues, but the thing that people think and Afghan people, the poor people said that they haven't job, they haven't opportunity to have income. Many people even they accept the Taliban's money and they take part in suicide attack for surviving their families.

In what the nation focus for finding job for people? One thing. Second thing, that during this two days after President Obama announced the new policy in regard of Afghanistan our listeners think that international community frustrated by being with Afghanistan and this new policy and transition it is something just international community wants to find a way and leave Afghanistan. What is your opinion about this issue?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: I understand very well the concerns expressed by many people in Afghanistan. And this is also the reason why a core element in our new approach to our mission in Afghanistan is to ensure reinforced development and reconstruction in Afghanistan to the benefit of the Afghan people. We will pursue what we call a population centric approach. We will protect the Afghan people. We will ensure development and reconstruction delivery of basic services. Quite some countries have pledged additional funds for development assistance to Afghanistan.

Having said that, I also have to add that it is also a responsibility of Afghanistan herself, and not least, of course, the Afghan government, because none of these initiatives are of any use if it is not backed up by good governance, efficient governance in Afghanistan, including a determined fight against corruption, a determined fight against drug trade.

So, the international community stands ready to assist Afghanistan in promoting economic and social development, but it also takes a strong effort from the Afghan people and not least the Afghan government.

Q: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. Back to Russia. Do you expect Russia today to make a commitment for help in Afghanistan that goes beyond what it is already doing? President Medvedev yesterday, again spoke of the possible role in training. There's also been talk of Russia providing equipment. Will any of this be discussed or decided at today's meeting?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Well, we know that the Russians are interested in further engagement in our operation in Afghanistan, but I don't know if Foreign Minister Lavrov is in a position to announce new initiatives today, but I think we will have a press conference later today. In this press conference I will be able to inform you about what actually happened in the NATO-Russia meeting today.

Q: Jamal Al Majaida, United Arab Emirates, Emirates News Agency. Your Excellency, United Arab Emirates is a member of Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Will it need to defend the United Arab Emirates in case it's attacked in the future? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: As I said on my first day in office, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and the Mediterranean Dialogue are among my top priorities as NATO Secretary General. And the North Atlantic Council and I visited last October Abu Dhabi for an important conference jointly organized by the United Arab Emirates and NATO. And I had most fruitful bilateral talks with His Highness the Crown Prince, His Highness the Prime Minister and His Highness the Minister of Foreign Affairs, whom I also were very pleased to meet today again here in Brussels.

And let me tell you that all 28 NATO members enjoy a security guarantee under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. The United Arab Emirates is an important ICI partner country, which has also contributed, alongside NATO, to peace enforcement in the Balkans and which is contributing to providing security and stability to Afghanistan.

NATO and ICI countries face common security challenges and threats: failed states, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which cannot be successfully tackled by any country alone. And these threats require a multilateral and cooperative approach to security, including through the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Ttherefore it is clear that the security of the United Arab Emirates, and of all our ICI partner countries, is of strategic interest to NATO.

James Appathurai: I'm afraid that's all you have time for, Secretary General.