Monthly press briefing
by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Thank you for coming. Let me begin on a personal note.
Because of the flight ban, I was unable to attend yesterday’s funeral in Poland. I deeply regret that, because I wanted to pay my respects to the Kaczynski family and the Polish people in person.
Today, I would like to strongly commend the Polish people for the way in which they have responded to this tragedy. The loss of life suffered in the crash was an enormous personal loss for many families. It was also a great test of an entire society, and of the political system of a young democracy.
Poland’s response, to my mind, is an example to the world. The Polish people rallied around each other, in a powerful display of unity. They have demonstrated great dignity and courage, in a testing time. And Poland’s Government has proven that while the political system may be young, it is fully mature, and able to withstand even the most powerful shocks.
I also warmly welcome the partnership between Poland and Russia in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy. It is clear to me that Russia is making every possible effort to be a friend to the Polish people in this difficult time. It is a powerful signal of how far Europe has come, in a short time, in healing the wounds of the past. It is also, I believe, a clear demonstration that we can build a better, more united future.
Let me now turn to the Foreign Ministers Meeting later this week in Tallinn Ministerial.
And let me already answer what I know will be the first question: yes, for the moment, the meeting is still on. We are waiting to see if some of the flight restrictions will be eased today, and if so, what that will mean for the meeting. If changes need to be made, we will announce them tomorrow. But for now, preparations continue as before.
We will of course discuss Afghanistan at the Ministerial meeting in Tallinn. The discussions on Afghanistan will include all 46 contributing nations, plus the Afghan Foreign Minister, and representatives from European Union and United Nations Mission in Afghanistan.
The big picture is this. On the ground, our new forces are flowing in. Operations in Marjeh and elsewhere are proceeding according to plan and to schedule. And the Afghan Government, led by President Karzai, is demonstrating its increasing capability and sovereignty – which is what we’ve asked for.
Our aim, this year, is to move forward on transition to Afghan lead. This meeting of Foreign Ministers will mark the next concrete step in that process. We will agree on the principles and decision-making framework for transition. We will ensure that transition takes place when clear political and military conditions are in place, and with the Afghans playing a key role.
But for transition to take place, we need Afghan forces to play their part. Which means we need trainers. We have made progress; in the last two months; about 850 new trainers have been pledged or committed, including 90 trainers offered just a few weeks ago by Canada.
We are still short about 450 trainers. It’s a relatively small number. But those trainers have a big effect. I will encourage Foreign Ministers to see what they can do to free up these mission-critical resources and I expect further offers to come soon.
I spoke extensively last week to General McChrystal. I can say that I’m encouraged by what I’ve heard. The strategy we have in place is turning this mission in the right direction – slowly, but steadily. It will not be easy or quick – but we will see progress this year.
A second major topic of discussion will be the Strategic Concept. The Group of Experts will only finalise their report on May 1st. But I will update Ministers on the work of the Group, and we will discuss the way forward to the Lisbon Summit.
One of the issues to be addressed in the Strategic Concept is NATO’s nuclear policy. In preparation for that, we will discuss nuclear issues in Tallinn.
It is, of course, timely to have this discussion. Some important steps have been taken in recent weeks on nuclear issues: the new START Agreement between the US and Russia, the new US Nuclear Posture Review, and the Washington Summit on securing nuclear materials. This is a comprehensive set of steps towards reducing nuclear risks in the world, and President Obama deserves credit for the leadership he is showing on this.
No decisions will be taken in Tallinn on NATO’s nuclear policy. But I do think the principles of the NATO discussion are already clear: first, that no Ally will take unilateral decisions; second, that as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will need a nuclear deterrent.
Of course, if we discuss deterrence, it also makes sense to talk about missile defence.
My view on this is clear. I believe that, at our Lisbon Summit in November, NATO should decide to make missile defence of Alliance populations and territories a NATO mission – for three reasons:
- First, because there is a growing missile threat to the Allies, including from Iran, and political leaders have a responsibility to protect our populations against it;
- Second, because Europe must demonstrate its willingness to contribute to our shared defence when it comes to missile defence as well; and
- Third, because I believe that building missile defence in a way that includes Russia would help create the true European security architecture we would all like to see.
Of course, there is still a lot of work to do to determine what that would actually mean in practical terms, and what the political implications would be, including for arms control. We will discuss that in Tallinn, with an eye to decisions at the Summit in Lisbon.
Two more issues. First, we will discuss, again, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s request for the Membership Action Plan. The entire NATO Council made a visit there, a few weeks ago, to discuss with the leadership in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And I welcome the decision last week to send Bosnian soldiers to the ISAF mission.
Our policy is clear. It is not a matter of if, but when. The “when” is what Ministers will discuss in Tallinn. But regardless of what we conclude, we agree on one thing: the place and the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina is in Euro-Atlantic structures.
Finally, NATO reform. Let me just say that I will be putting before Ministers a number of initial ideas to reform the way NATO works. I am determined to make this organisation more efficient, more modern and more effective, and I want to move on that this year. And as you know Defence Ministers in Istanbul tasked me to develop proposals on a streamlined command structure for the June Ministerial.
Those are the issues I wanted to raise. I am happy to take questions.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): (...) Well, those are the issues I wanted to raise. And I'm happy to take your questions.
Q: Klaus from Financial Times, Deutschland. As I'm German, of course, for us, it's always interesting to know about the situation in Kunduz and what might happen in the next month. As you have changed your transport routes, is there I don't know resources flowing from the North? Do you think, the Taliban have now turned their attention towards this area? Do you think this trend will continue? Will we see more of these attacks we've recently seen in Kunduz area? And what is NATO going to do against it because I've heard that there is more US troops going to come?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I think we can foresee that as we step up our endeavours in South and East, then the Taliban will spread to other parts of Afghanistan. But at the end of the day, it will of course make a difference that we have decided to increase the number of international troops significantly and at the same time to increase the capacity of the Afghan security forces. So despite the fact that the Taliban may spread their activities, we will prevail. We can handle the situation.
Q: Could you say something about the transport routes?
Q: About the transport routes, that there is no more, let's say, resources coming from the North which has an effect on Kunduz.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I would not go into details on that. We have not seen anything that affects our operations in Afghanistan negatively.
Q: Ben Nimmo from the German Press Agency DPA. Secretary General on relations with Russia, you've made a couple of moves in recent months. You talked about the missile defence including Russian cooperation or participation. You've also asked for more helicopters from the Russians for drugs training. Have you had a response on either of those proposals yet? And if not, are you respecting... expecting to discuss that with the Russian Deputy Prime Minister tomorrow when he joins by videoconference for the NAC? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, we have not received final responses from the Russian side. We are still waiting for a concrete response as far as the Afghanistan package is concerned. We have received some positive signals as regards missile defence, a strong Russian interest in that issue. And I would expect it to be one of the items on the agenda for the NATO-Russia Council in the coming weeks and months.
JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesperson): Pascal?
Q: Monsieur le Secrétaire-général, Pascal Mallet de l'Agence France Presse. Vous parlez de défense anti-missile et de question nucléaire. Vous allez aborder cette question pendant le dîner: la défense anti-missile. Et pendant le dîner, le souper, il y aura aussi la question nucléaire. Est-ce que vous voyez forcément un lien entre ces deux aspects ou est-ce que c'est pure coïncidence?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Non, les deux questions ne sont pas liées de l’un côté. Mais de l'autre côté que les choses soient claires, je crois que l'OTAN doit conserver une capacité de dissuasion nucléaire crédible. Mais dans le même temps, la menace des missiles augmente. Et cela justifie pleinement que l'OTAN se dote d'une défense anti-missile des territoires et des populations. Cette défense anti-missile doit être vue comme complémentaire de la dissuasion, et non comme un substitut. J'ajouterais que les pays de l'OTAN doivent aussi poursuivre leurs efforts en faveur du désarmement et de la non-prolifération.
Q: Yes, Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. Just wondered what impact the Icelandic explosion has had on NATO's operations thinking in particular of the Baltic air surveillance and possibly air transport to Afghanistan. We've also heard that some NATO aircrafts may be damaged by the ash cloud. Do you have any details?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I will make it very clear. And I can assure you that the Icelandic volcano does not have any effects on our operations nor our... neither our operations, nor our territorial defence of Allied member States. I've no information about the F-16.
Q: Secretary General, (inaudible) Bosnian TV, first of all, sorry for this intervention from the balcony. Could we go back to Bosnia? You were there recently. What are your impressions? Are there still some changes that country can catch that invitation from MAP?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: You know the decision we took in December, we decided that Bosnia-Herzegovina will get a Membership Action Plan when sufficient progress as regards to reforms has been achieved. We are currently evaluating that. And this will be the... one of the major topics for our meeting in Tallinn. And it would be premature to prejudge the outcome of that discussion today. But as I stated in my introduction today, it's not a discussion of if but rather a discussion on when. And we will encourage Bosnia-Herzegovina to make the necessary progress one way or the other. But I will not anticipate the outcome of the discussions in Tallinn. But as we have repeatedly stated, we would very much like to see Bosnia-Herzegovina as a part of our family in the future.
JAMES APPATHURAI: Il y avait une question. En fait, il y avait Pascal en avant... Pascal?
Q: Just a follow on this reassurance that the Icelandic volcano does not have any effect. Can you confirm that all military aircraft are flying normally even in the forbidden airspace? I mean where it has been decided that nobody should fly. Has prevented you and others from going to the Polish burial. Or should we consider that everything is normal. This to say: nothing to declare; nothing to signal.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Based on the information I have, I can assure you that our operations are not affected by the volcano and our territorial defence and the activities that are connected with territorial defence are not affected by the volcano.
Q: Martin de Retuerto, El Pais, concerning the nuclear issue. You've said there are reasons to discuss these internally. And you quoted the START agreements in Prague, the revision of the strategy in the United States and the summit in Washington. But you didn't mention that five Allies had requested this discussion, just because it is not important what they are asking. And when you say that as far or as long as there are nuclear weapons anywhere in the world, NATO will need them. Will need them in Europe or somewhere else? Because these five Allies are asking precisely that Europe eliminating their... the NATO nuclear weapons. Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Ah well, the letter is not that specific. I think you should read once again. But I appreciate their initiative. And I think all Allies agree that it is timely to discuss our nuclear policy in Tallinn. Obviously, there may nuances among Allies when it comes to our future nuclear policy. But the five countries as well as other Allies have assured me that they stick to the principle that no Ally will take unilateral steps. We will keep Alliance unity on this issue.
And my personal view is that while I definitely share the grand vision of a world without nuclear weapons, I think we should take our point of departure in a real world as it is now where nuclear weapons exist. And we also know that a number of countries aspire to acquire a nuclear capacity. Adding that situation, I think a nuclear deterrence should still be an integrated part of NATO’s nuclear policy.
Q: Yes, if I may, Marisa Ostolani from ANSA Italian News Agency. I would like to have your opinion about the crisis regarding three emergency aid operators that were arrested days ago in Kabul and now they were released. And I would like to know if he was afraid or scared that this kind of situation had been affecting the contribution that Italy will apport to Afghanistan. And if you're staying even in contact with the Italian authorities about that or not. Thanks.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I'm happy to see that they have been released. And secondly, I don't think it will have a major impact on the Italian commitments to our operation in Afghanistan. I consider Italy a strong ally. An ally that has really contributed significantly to our mission in Afghanistan. And I would expect that commitment to continue unchanged.
Q: Terry Schultz, National Public Radio, even it's pretty obvious, I'm going to ask about something that we've done almost at the end of our line-on. I have to just ask one more time on the ash cloud. Because you didn't answer whether planes are in the air, even you were asked that directly. I understand that you want to say that defence is not compromised. But when you say it's not affected at all, that would mean that perhaps you haven't to change any training missions or anything. And specifically, it's already been reported that supply routes to Afghanistan have been impacted. And that you'll be making more use of the Russian routes hopefully and the Kazakhstan as well; can you speak to any of that?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I think you understand very well why we never go into details about operational specifics. But what I can assure you is exactly what I have said repeatedly that the ash cloud does not have a negative impact on our operations and territorial defence. That's what I can tell you once again.
Q: Speak about supply routes for Afghanistan, that's something...
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I beg you a pardon.
Q: Supply routes to Afghanistan.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Our operations in Afghanistan are not affected negatively.
Q: Yes, it's Ingrid Norwegian Press. You mentioned you're still lacking 450 instructors in Afghanistan. How is the situation in the police force and the training teams there?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, but when I speak about a shortfall of 450 trainers it covers both army and policy. But there's no reason to hide that. We have a specific need to train and educate Afghan police.
Q: Hello, Kyo Osaki from Japan Yiomiuri. Again, on the volcanic ash, are there any major study you have... taking safety measures that you have taken from NATO planes. Or are there any major study you might take in the coming days? And also on a completely different subject, on the nuclear policy, your nuclear policy, is your debate going to catch up on the future of British and French nuclear? In other words, are you going to discuss it in the context of NATO's strategic concept? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Firstly, on volcano, our air forces willly always take their necessary steps to ensure that they are capable to conduct all their operations. So they have taken the necessary steps and they will take the necessary steps to ensure that our territorial defence is intact and that we can conduct all our operations.
Concerning our nuclear policy, we will of course discuss the total of our nuclear capacity including the French and the British nuclear capacities. But at the end of the day it is a complete view that is decisive, though as you know the French do have their specific nuclear policies. But still though the French nuclear capacities are not integrated in NATO framework, the French nuclear capacities still want to be considered as a part of the overall deterrence.
JAMES APPATHURAI: Last question, in the back.
Q: Secretary General Radio Latvia. On Tallinn again, if I may... If... As we know that it would take place in the Baltic State in Estonia, do you expect that even if it's not on agenda that Baltic ministers could raise question on mistral and Georgia and other issues related to Russia. Thank you very much.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, all issues can be raised. We will have an opportunity to discuss the relationship between NATO and Russia and of course all issues related to that can be raised. But I have no information as to which issue, specific issues individual ministers may raise. But we will have a discussion on the relationship between NATO and Russia.
JAMES APPATHURAI: Questions, we don't have time for, thank you very much.