by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers, Brussels
The focus of our first session this afternoon has been the situation in Libya, which is of great concern to us all. In our southern neighbourhood, Libya has become the scene of violent clashes and a growing humanitarian crisis.
At this stage, it is unclear which future direction the country will take. What is clear is that the international community is united in condemning the outrageous and systematic violence against the Libyan people and that our first concern must be the plight of the civilian population.
This crisis requires close international coordination. That is why we have been in regular contact with other international organisations, in particular the UN, the EU, the African Union and the Arab League. I also invited the EU High Representative Cathy Ashton to take part in our meeting today.
Time is of the essence.
Today we have decided to increase the presence of NATO maritime assets in the Central Mediterranean. Our strategic operational commander SACEUR Admiral Jim Stavridis will move into the Central Mediterranean maritime assets under his command.
These ships will improve NATO’s situational awareness – which is vital in the current circumstances -, and they will contribute to our surveillance and monitoring capability, including with regard to the arms embargo established by the UN Security Council Resolution 1970.
We have also directed NATO Military authorities to develop as a matter of urgency detailed planning with regard to humanitarian assistance and, assuming a further UN Security Council Resolution, more active measures to enforce the arms embargo.
We considered as well initial options regarding a possible no-fly zone in case NATO were to receive a clear UN mandate. Ministers agreed that further planning will be required.
So, our message today is: NATO is united, NATO is vigilant, NATO is ready to act.
In moving forward with these options, we bear in mind the sensitivities in the region. We agreed that any NATO operation must show its added value to existing efforts; it must have a clear legal mandate; and strong regional support.
We will also maintain intensive contacts with humanitarian organisations and other key actors.
And we are not losing sight of the wider changes underway in the region. We are determined to enhance the role NATO can play to assist the transition process more broadly, in particular in Tunisia and Egypt. It is clear however that any assistance should only come following a specific request.
We want to strengthen long-standing partnerships. We also agreed that any NATO initiative should be coherent and complementary with that of other international organisations, in particular the European Union.
And now, it is time for your questions.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): With that, I am ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): And please introduce yourselves and focus your questions on Libya. BBC.
Q: Secretary General, Jonathan Marcus, BBC. You talk of NATO being united and vigilant. How united is the Alliance when one of its key members, France, is already talking about the possibility of direct military action against Colonel Qaddafi's air force and airfields?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I do not comment on unconfirmed rumours from anonymous sources.
Q: Permettez-moi de poser la question en Français, Russia Today, version arabe. Vous dites que l'OTAN est unie. Mais on a cru comprendre que la France ne souhaite pas un rôle de l'OTAN. Ça, c'est un. Deux, est-ce que vous avez un porte-avion proche de la Libye? Est-ce que vos forces sont prêtes d'intervenir immédiatement si demain on a une résolution de Conseil de sécurité?
OANA LUNGESCU: Est-ce que vous pourriez aussi vous présenter s'il-vous-plaît?
Q: Je me suis présenté, Madame, Khaled Soliman from Russia Today, version arabe.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Oui, l'OTAN est uni. Nous avons pris une décision aujourd'hui. Pas consensus comme toujours. D'autres (inaudible) militaire de faire la planification nécessaire pour toute éventualité. C'est une organisation unie qui a faite cette décision.
La deuxième partie de votre question?
Q: Est-ce que vous avez les moyens pour intervenir demain si le Conseil de sécurité vous demande d'intervenir? Est-ce que vous avez un porte-avion proche de la Libye par exemple?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Mais vraiment ce n'est pas la réalité. Nous avons aujourd'hui une résolution du Conseil de sécurité des Nations-Unies. Cette résolution n'inclût pas l'utilisation de la force des armes. Et c'est le fait.
Q: Monsieur Rasmussen, nos correspondants disent qu'il y a aujourd'hui des attaques par l'armée libyenne contre l'opposition à Ras Lanouf et d'autres grandes villes en Libye par la mer. Est-ce que vous pouvez confirmer ces informations?
OANA LUNGESCU: Est-ce que vous pourriez aussi vous présenter?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Non, je n'ai pas l'information.
Q: Valentina Pop from EU Observer. Let me rephrase the question a bit so... you said you couldn't comment on unconfirmed rumours, but the French Defence Minister was surely in the room and perhaps proposed anything or were there any discussions at all as to direct air strikes on Libya? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, not at all.
Q: Christoph Nufer for Swiss Television. Secretary General, I have a question. Is there a slight change in position? When I listen to you and I listen this afternoon to Foreign Minister Hague there were three conditions for these possible no-fly zone; demonstrable need, clear legal basis, firm regional support. Clear legal basis, there is not the word UN Security Council. Is this deliberate or is this coincidence?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, actually, we've had a discussion this afternoon based on these three principles and that will be the guiding principle for any NATO action or operation. Firstly, there must be a demonstrable need. Secondly, there must be a clear legal basis. And thirdly, a strong regional support.
And actually, I mentioned these three principles in my introduction. Because that will be the guiding principle for any NATO operation.
OANA LUNGESCU: Second row.
Q: Secretary General, Chris Ship from ITN News in the U.K. You have set these three conditions, the needs, the UN mandate and the regional support. We're not really close to any of those things. It is hardly a strong message to Colonel Qaddafi to stop doing what he's doing.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I think it is a quite strong message. As I said, we operate on the basis... we need a clear legal basis. I assume that will be a clear UN mandate, but I take note of the fact that the current UN Security Resolution 1970, does not authorize the use of armed forces. Having said that, I can't imagine the international community and the United Nations stand idly by if Colonel Qaddafi continues attacking his people, systematically.
But I have to say we do not look for intervention in Libya. And we will need a clear legal basis for any action.
OANA LUNGESCU: Al Arabiya.
Q: Noureddine Fridhi from Al Arabiya News Channel. Secretary General, how could you characterize the situation in Libya today? Is it already a civil war? And do you take in mind with your military experts the possibility of this civil war may lead to the partition of the country with all its security implications on Libya, on the region and on Europe?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I will not embark on definitions, whether it's a civil war or not. What we can see is that it is an armed upheaval. There is fighting. There is, of course, also the risk of division within the country and the risk of seeing a failed state in the future that could be the breeding ground for extremism and terrorism.
So obviously this is a matter of concern and also the reason why we strongly urge the government of Libya to stop violence, to allow a peaceful transition to democracy in the country.
Q: Sir, I'm Ahmad Bashir from Radio Free Europe based in Czech Republic. Sir, the discussions for today was focused on Libya, but I have questions about Afghanistan that how do you consider the civilian casualties in Afghanistan? It's a main issue nowadays and how will not to consider and how will not to avoid the further casualties in Afghanistan.
Secondly, NATO is very optimistic about the transition process in Afghanistan. If the Afghan forces fails to take the responsibilities in Afghanistan, will NATO leave the country by 2014 or they will stay there?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Obviously Afghanistan will remain at the top of our agenda, and we will deal extensively with Afghanistan tomorrow. Tomorrow we will have a meeting with our ISAF partners and the only item on the agenda will be Afghanistan.
And we will take the important decision to endorse the recommendation from the Joint Transition Board, which will be the start of a process leading to increasing Afghan responsibility for security in their own country.
We hope to see that transition process completed by the end of 2014. I'm quite optimistic about that timetable. It's a challenging timetable. It's a transition process that must be condition-based. We have to make sure that the Afghan Security Forces are actually capable to take responsibility.
But based on the development we have seen in recent months, I feel confident that Afghan Security Forces will be able to take gradually more and more responsibility and be capable to take responsibility all over Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
We will, of course, stay in a supporting role. We will move from a combat role into a supporting role, and assist if necessary.
As regards civilian casualties, I strongly regret civilian casualties. And our commanders in the field have a strong focus on diminishing the number of civilian casualties, and they have actually also succeeded in reducing our share of civilian casualties.
But I also have to say that the responsibility for a huge majority of civilian casualties lie with the enemies of Afghanistan. According to United Nations statistics around 75 percent of civilian casualties are caused by the enemies of Afghanistan. We will continue to do our utmost to diminish the number of civilian casualties.
OANA LUNGESCU: The last question, Wall Street Journal.
Q: Stephen Findler, the Wall Street General. Secretary General, you mentioned movements of maritime assets in the Mediterranean. Could you explain more precisely what those assets that will be moved are, and where they will be moved and specifically what their capabilities will be? You also said that there was... one of the reasons they will be moved is to enforce an arms embargo, but is there any evidence of the breaching of the arms embargo that needs to be enforced?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, I have to clarify that enforcement of the arms embargo from our side would require a new UN Security Council resolution. What I said was that an extended surveillance and monitoring activity in the Mediterranean would help monitoring the compliance with the UN Security Council mandated arms embargo.
So that's what it is about. It's not enforcement of the arms embargo because that would require a UN mandate. But it is surveillance and monitoring activities that can help monitoring whether the arms embargo is actually implemented.
I will not go into operational details. We are speaking about maritime assets that can be moved within the authority of Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Stavridis.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. The Secretary General will be back for another press conference tomorrow. Now we have to go to the next working session.