Weekly press briefing by NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
OANA LUNGESCU: I will now just carry on, on the record, with what’s been happening and what’s likely to happen in the next couple of months.
The Secretary General has just concluded a two-day visit to Washington. We actually just got back this morning. So if I appear jetlagged, it’s because I am.
The Secretary General met the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton; the Defence Secretary, Robert Gates; and other senior members of the Administration. They discussed priorities for the year ahead, obviously leading up to the next NATO Summit which, as you know, will take place in the United States in the first half of 2012.
He received strong U.S. endorsement for his plans to turn the Lisbon Summit agreement into action, including the start of transition in Afghanistan, enhancing alliance partnerships, including more practical cooperation with Russia, and following through with NATO reform.
On Afghanistan, there is a shared sense of commitment. NATO allies and partners in the ISAF coalition provided nearly 10,000 additional troops over the last year. At the same time, as President Obama decided to send an extra 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and now, together with our Afghan partners, we’re on track to launch transition this spring, building on the momentum we’re seeing on the ground.
The training of Afghan security forces remains the ticket to transition. The Secretary General stressed that the NATO training mission in Afghanistan is a great success, but he also made clear that we will continue to need more trainers from now on, until transition is complete.
On Friday, the Secretary General will make the keynote speech at the Munich Security Conference. I can reveal that the theme is building security in an age of austerity. And for those of you who aren’t coming to Munich, that’s also going to be, I think, the key theme of his next press conference on Monday, in Brussels. And for the first time it will take place at Residence Palace, so it should be rather easy for you to get there.
Time and details to be confirmed, I think, by tomorrow, but it’s very likely to be after midday.
Now let me give, as I promised, an overview of the major upcoming ministerials from now on to June, to start implementing the Lisbon agenda.
NATO Defence ministers will have an informal meeting in Brussels on March 10th to 11th. NATO Foreign ministers will have an informal meeting in Berlin on April 14th to 15th. And NATO Defence ministers will have their formal meeting in June, in Brussels on the 9th and 10th of June.
Now, at the March meeting, ministers will primarily discuss missile defence, NATO reform and Afghanistan. On missile defence, they should agree on the development of consultation, command and control arrangements. That will be in March. And there will be an overall missile defence action plan to be endorsed by Defence ministers in June.
At the same meeting in June, Defence ministers will assess the progress of the joint analysis on how NATO and Russia can cooperate on missile defence.
And in March we expect ministers to discuss the reform of NATO agencies. That is the details of the structure of the new agencies, their geographic footprint. And the goal is to take a final decision no later than the June ministerial.
You remember that in Lisbon we agreed to reduce the number of agencies from 14 to three, covering the major functions of procurement, support and communications and information.
On NATO’s military command structure, ministers will have a first discussion on the geographic distribution of headquarters; and again, the mandate given at Lisbon is to reach an agreement by the June ministerial.
On Afghanistan, in March, Defence ministers will be briefed on the campaign progress, on the situation in Afghanistan. They’ll review progress and preparations for the start of transition which we expect, as I said, to start in spring.
And finally, in April, in Berlin, the Foreign ministers will focus broadly on partnerships, and that’s when we expect a new partnership policy to be agreed and also for ministers to give substance to the Afghanistan-NATO enduring partnership agreement that was signed in Lisbon.
So I hope you’ve got all those dates in your diary. I’m afraid I have about, I think, yes, less than 10 minutes to takes questions, if there are any, just because I have to catch another plane.
We have the same people again.
QUESTION: Sorry. On a topical issue, Egypt, while the SecGen was in Washington, did he discuss the Egyptian situation with the American authorities?
And particularly from a NATO point of view, I know that we’ve got Operation Active Endeavour in the eastern Mediterranean. Is there any implication for that mission of what’s going on in Egypt? Any redeployments planned or is that not really involved at the moment?
OANA LUNGESCU: Well, obviously in Washington the Secretary General discussed the whole broad agenda that NATO has. There was no specific discussion of Active Endeavour, and as far as I know there is no Egyptian involvement in Active Endeavour.
Obviously we are watching developments in Egypt very closely. The situation seems to be changing by the hour. We deplore the loss of life. We call on all parties to refrain from violence.
And NATO urges all parties to engage, without delay, in an open dialogue to ensure a peaceful, democratic transition with full respect of human rights.
As you know, Egypt is a valued partner in the Mediterranean dialogue. It’s a country that’s played a very important role in developing that partnership, and we hope and expect that it will continue to play a constructive role in the future.
QUESTION: Klaus Akin from Financial Times. Two questions. The first question is on the meeting of the ministers of Defence in Brussels and NATO reform. Will they just talk about the agencies or about the headquarters?
And the second question is last week Islam Karimov was here in Brussels as well and there was no opportunity for press, and so I’m just asking two questions. What did they talk about? And finally, who invited him? Was it NATO, Secretary General Rasmussen? Or was it the E.U. Commission, the President of Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso?
OANA LUNGESCU: On the March ministerial, there will be a discussion of NATO agencies and also the first discussion on the geographic distribution of headquarters.
In terms of President Karimov’s visit and the talks that he had with the Secretary General, the bulk of those talks were focused on the situation in Afghanistan. Obviously, there is a joint interest in stability in Afghanistan and, of course, there was also a discussion on partnership and the values that President Karimov is aware are at the basis of NATO as an alliance and at the basis of our partnerships.
In terms of the invitation, the visit took place in the context of President Karimov’s visit to Brussels and we did not issue the invitation. I understand that it was President Karimov who inquired and initiated the talks here at NATO headquarters.
The last question.
QUESTION: Okay. Yes, on reform, I was just wondering, aside from the reduction in the geographic footprint – i.e., the number of agencies: 14 – will there be a substantial reduction in the numbers employed by all of those agencies on a scale similar to the 5,000 positions that are going to eliminated from the NATO military command structure?
OANA LUNGESCU: Obviously that’s part of on-going discussions. What I have said is you know that there will be the reduction of the number of agencies from 14 to three.
QUESTION: (Off microphone).
OANA LUNGESCU: Absolutely. And that’s why they’re still on-going discussions.
QUESTION: (Off microphone).
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. And I hope to see you all on Monday at Residence Palace.