by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the working lunch of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs with Libya partners, Berlin
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon. Thank you very much for coming. The Secretary General will make a short introductory statement, and then will be happy to take a few of your questions.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): Good afternoon. NATO Foreign Ministers and contributing partners met today to discuss the crisis in Libya at a key point in our mission.
It has been a very positive discussion and a clear expression of unity of purpose and resolve. Today we have agreed on a joint statement, which clearly lays out the military objectives of our mission in Libya which can be recapitulated in three points.
We are committed to provide all necessary forces and maximum operational flexibility within our mandate. A high operational tempo against legitimate targets will be maintained and we will exert this pressure as long as necessary and until the following objectives are achieved.
- all attacks and threats of attack against civilians and civilian populated areas have ended
- the regime has verifiably withdrawn to bases all military forces, including snipers, mercenaries and other paramilitary forces, including from all populated areas they have forcibly entered, occupied or besieged throughout all of Libya
- the regime must permit immediate, full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all the people in Libya in need of assistance
This is a very clear statement and let me remind you: there are 34 countries involved in this operation. This shows our strong and shared commitment to fulfil our UN mandate and protect the people of Libya.
All of us agree: we have a responsibility to protect Libyan civilians against a brutal dictator. The United Nations gave a clear mandate to do it. The people of Libya desperately need it. And we are determined to do it. Because we will not stand idly by and watch a discredited regime attack its own people with tanks, rockets and snipers.
And let me be very clear, in its historic resolution, the United Nations Security Council called on the world community to do whatever it takes to protect civilians in Libya. And that is what we are doing. Day by day, and strike by strike, we will continue to counter the brutal and systematic attacks against civilians. Our mission is to protect. We will do what it takes to fulfill that mission.
And this is not just in words, but in deeds. Since NATO took over this operation, our aircraft have flown over 2,000 missions, 900 of them strike sorties. We have destroyed tanks, armoured vehicles, ammunition depots and air defences. Yesterday, we continued to strike bunkers, rocket launchers and radar systems in key areas, including near Misrata and outside Tripoli.
The Contact Group which held its first meeting yesterday in Doha, welcomed NATO’s command and control of military operations. I know that questions have been raised whether we have a sufficient number of military assets and capabilities to accomplish this mission.
Today the Supreme Allied Commander Europe Admiral Stavridis has briefed Ministers and has given an overview of the whole operation. Of course his conclusion is that overall we have the necessary assets to carry out this mission, but of course our requirements change as the situation on the ground and the tactics of the regime forces change. Now they hide their heavy arms in populated areas, where before many targets were easier to get to. To avoid civilian casualties we need very sophisticated equipment so we need a few more precision fighter ground attack aircraft for air to ground missions. So while stressing that he is generally content with the forces he has, SACEUR made this point with ministers at the meeting and I am confident that nations will step up to the plate
We are keeping up a very high operational tempo. We are keeping up the pressure. And we will do so for as long as it takes.
Because we have a responsibility: to protect. And we will live up to it.
And with that I am ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU: And please don't forget to introduce yourselves and your organizations.
Agence France-Presse. Second row.
Q: Secretary General, Laurent Thomet with Agence France-Presse. You mentioned that Admiral Stavridis stressed the need for high precision fighter ground attack aircraft. Was he referring to the U.S. assets or planes which are highly accurate and known for their precision, for these type of attacks, especially now that the U.S. has withdrawn its ground attack planes? Can you accomplish your mission without those?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, he didn't refer to particular or specific countries. It was a general appeal and let me add to this, that actually the United States continues to contribute to our mission.
OANA LUNGESCU: I think we had El País there.
Q: Good afternoon, Martinez de Rituerto with El País. How are you going to achieve the aim of getting rid of Gaddafi? Never in the past history shows an air operation has been able to dislodge the people that were on the ground without having troops, boots on the ground. And is it not entering NATO in a quagmire in which everything we are going to be asking... or you are going to be asking more to the rest of the people, like happened in Afghanistan when we started asking for 30,000 soldiers and we are still in 150,000 and every time there was a meeting there was a request for more and more?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Our operation is actually clearly defined within the UN Security Council Resolutions. And I will remind you that we conduct our operations in Libya with the aim to fully implement the UN Security Council Resolutions and notably Resolution 1973, which requests the protection of the civilian population in Libya. And this is the clear goal of our operation, to protect civilians in Libya.
I fully agree that there is no military solution solely to the problems in Libya. What we need to ensure a long-term sustainable solution is a political process that responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people. But that's in a political track.
But by the way in the draft statement of today NATO Foreign Ministers have endorsed yesterday's statement from the Contact Group meeting, which called for Gaddafi to leave power.
OANA LUNGESCU: Wall Street Journal.
Q: Stephen Fidler from the Wall Street Journal. Two questions. One related to whether Admiral Stavridis said anything about the rules of engagement and whether they need to be altered to allow targets to be hit that currently aren't being hit. And secondly, what is your opinion on whether NATO would be able to allow arms to go in to the opposition to the regime in Libya, or whether that would be forbidden by the UN arms embargo under 1973?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: SACEUR didn't request amendments of the rules of engagement. As regards arms, we have been mandated by the UN Security Council to enforce an arms embargo and we will do so in strict conformity with the text of the UN Security Council Resolution 1973.
OANA LUNGESCU: We have time for two more questions. BBC at the back.
Q: James Robbins from the BBC. Secretary General, you said you were confident that countries would step up to the plate and provide additional aircraft for ground attacks. Can you tell us what gives you that confidence, particularly when Spain has specifically ruled out doing that today? Is it that you have absolute assurances from specific countries or merely that this is your hope without any specific evidence?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I don't have specific pledges or promises from this meeting, but I heard indications that give me hope. And by nature I'm an optimist.
OANA LUNGESCU: The gentleman over there.
Q: After the BBC the German Public Radio. Mr. Secretary General, is there any gap regarding that definition of the second part of the Resolution? How far could the protection go? How far should it go regarding to that part, responsibility to protect? It seems sometimes that some countries think in a different way.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, actually, also in that respect it is a unified Alliance. We have agreed on a set of rules of engagement, and there has been no request to change these rules of engagement. And our military operate within the current rules of engagement.
We operate with the aim to fully implement the UN Security Council Resolution 1973. It requests effective protection of civilians and we will take the necessary measures, as it is stated in the UN Resolution, we will take the necessary measures to protect civilians effectively.
OANA LUNGESCU: The International Herald Tribune.
Q: Thank you. Judy Dempsey. Secretary General, in concrete terms is NATO, or any of the member states in NATO, advising the rebels on strategy?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: It... first of all, let me stress, it is for the Libyan people to decide the future of Libya. We have no intention to interfere with Libyan politics. It is for the Libyans to shape the future of their own country.
However, we do have contacts with the opposition. As an example, yesterday I met with Mr. Jibril in Doha and of course we discussed the current operation, as well as future political solutions to the situation in Libya. But daily tactics, that's for the opposition groups to decide themselves.
OANA LUNGESCU: One last question, over there.
Q: Mustafa Mahmoud from 1 TV Afghanistan. If the Libyan violence continues how much it will affect NATO's mission in Afghanistan? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: The Libya operation will not have any impact on our ongoing operation in Afghanistan. And by the way, the reason why I have to leave now is that we will start an Afghanistan meeting with our ISAF partners in a few minutes. And that's also testament to our continued commitment to our operation in Afghanistan. So I can assure you that it lies within the level of ambition in NATO to be able to conduct an operation like the one in Afghanistan in parallel with an operation in Libya without having any negative impact on our operation in Afghanistan.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. The Secretary General will be back to answer your questions tomorrow.