Joint press point
with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Mr Plamen Oresharski
Prime Minister, it is a pleasure to welcome you to NATO Headquarters. Your visit so soon after your appointment shows that Bulgaria is strongly committed to our Alliance.
NATO’s core task, of course, is security. And Bulgaria has shown an impressive commitment to building security in Europe, and beyond.
Bulgarian troops are doing just that in Afghanistan, where they are helping to train the Afghan security forces. Just two days ago, Afghanistan’s army and police began taking the lead for the security in the very final provinces of the country. That is a real milestone, and Bulgaria helped to make it possible.
Bulgaria is also building security in Kosovo, where your servicemen and women are helping to train the Kosovo Security Force, and develop their civil protection capabilities.
And you are a keen supporter of NATO’s Building Integrity initiative, which helps to reduce the risk of corruption in the defence and security sector.
All these are valuable contributions, and I thank you for them.
Your commitment is even more valuable at a time when all Allies face tough financial choices. Bulgaria is a firm supporter of Smart Defence, our new guiding principle for working together to provide the capabilities this Alliance needs.
You support a shared project to provide C-17 heavy transport aircraft, a vital lifeline to our troops on operations. And you are one of a group of countries which will acquire five unarmed spotter drones, to allow NATO commanders to see over the horizon, in any weather, and at any time of day or night.
This is the sort of commitment we need. And we will continue to need it in the future, as we look to reverse the decline in defence spending, and move back towards healthy levels.
Prime Minister, let thank you again for your country’s contributions. And I look forward to your support and your commitment in the months and years to come.
Plamen Oresharski (Prime Minister of Bulgaria): Mister Secretary General, allow me first to thank you for accepting our request for invitation on such a short notice.
We requested this practically first visit outside Sofia, my first visit as Prime Minister, in order to emphasize upon continuity in Bulgaria's foreign policy and our engagement with the Euro-Atlantic Pact. We will keep our engagements as they are and to broaden the cooperation within the pact. I take this opportunity once again to affirm that we are a professional government with a program. And we will keep the program... the program that we announced. And we received support for it in the Parliament.
And we will be working so as to improve economic development and the social situation of the Bulgarian citizens. I hope that when the economy improves we will be able to focus more attention on rearming the Bulgarian army, a process that we started in the past.
But in the years of economic crisis, it slowed down in Bulgaria as well as in other member countries. Within our capabilities we will participate in the mission in Afghanistan the next year. And I'd like to assure you once again that we will support the intervention of all our neighbours from the Western Balkans in NATO. We think that in this way we will create even more stability in the region. Thank you once again, Mister Secretary General. And I'll be glad to meet you in Sofia.
Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): We haven't got a lot of time. So I'd like you to please stick to one question and make clear who that question is addressed to. We'll start with Bulgarian National TV.
Q: Thank you, Oana. Mister Rasmussen, such difficult times for Bulgaria. The prime minister said that budget is in a very difficult state. Do you feel that this could have a result on following the engagements of Bulgaria-NATO? Mister Prime Minister, do you guarantee that it will keep the engagements?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Of course, the prime minister and I have discussed the economic situation in Bulgaria, including the level of the defence budget. And I expressed my concerns as I have done whenever I meet political leaders from the Alliance.
Of course, I understand very well the economic situation and the political situation in Allied nations when governments are forced to cut budgets across the board. It is difficult to suggest that the minister of Defence should be exempted from that. But I also have to stress that of course there is a lower limit as to how little you can spend on defence and still live up to our obligations.
Having said that, I appreciate that Bulgaria has stayed committed to our operations in Afghanistan, in Kosovo; and Bulgaria also participates in a number of multilateral projects. So despite the economic challenges, we see a very strong commitment from Bulgaria. And today, the prime minister also assured me that once the economy recovers that will also be reflected in increasing defence investments and of course continued modernization of the Bulgarian armed forces.
Plamen Oresharski: I don't know what exactly you mean with keeping up with the engagements. We will keep them as they were undertaken. I assure the Secretary General that at this point it will be impossible to increase the budget for defence. But at the first possible moment in the future we will improve the funding, especially for modernization of the Bulgarian army.
Oana Lungescu: Quick last question to National Public Radio.
Q: Teri Schultz with National Public Radio and CBS News and also on behalf of Reuter's Adrian Croft. Mister Secretary, two days ago, you were in Kabul handing over full command of security operations for the country on a day which... over which there was really a sense of optimism when President Karzai said he would start peace talks with the Taliban. The US said it would be involved.
Now, there are no peace talks planned. And President Karzai, perhaps more importantly for NATO, has suspended talks with the United States over the bilateral security agreement which also holds up NATO SOFA Agreement. Could you address both the sort of up and down of the possible peace talks? And also where this leaves NATO with.... NATO and US as the lead force in ISAF with no security arrangement negotiations? Are we in a dangerous situation right now?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: I don't think we are in a dangerous situation. I had very good meetings with President Karzai. And based on the conversation we had, I am confident that at the end of the day we will reach an agreement on the security arrangements that will create the framework for the NATO training mission Resolute Support after 2014.
Of course, reconciliation is never an easy process in any part of the world. At the Chicago Summit, last year, we made clear that the process leading to reconciliation must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. We said that reconciliation is a process which must include the breaking of ties to international terrorism, renouncing violence and compliance with the Afghan constitution.
Security transition is a critical part of ensuring stability in Afghanistan and in the region. And I think peace talks could reinforce security gains and further contribute to Afghanistan’s long-term security and unity. So I hope such talks will start sooner rather than later.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much indeed. We don't have time for any follow-ups. Thank you.