North Atlantic Council meeting
10 February 2003
by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson
As you all know, silence on the technical issue of tasking the NATO Military Authorities to undertake prudent contingency planning to deter or defend against a possible threat to Turkey was broken by three NATO countries this morning.
In parallel, Turkey has requested consultations under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
Article 4 states that NATO’s members will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any NATO country is threatened.
These consultations began this morning and will resume this afternoon, at a meeting of the NATO Council at 4.30 p.m.
This is undoubtedly a difficult situation. But Allies have had differences before and will have more in the future. What matters is to arrive at a consensus. And we will.
We are united in our commitment to the security of all NATO’s members. The question still is not “if” but “when” to begin the planning.
We have a difficult issue in front of us. It is an issue which concerns solidarity with one ally – Turkey. It is NOT related to any possible participation by NATO in a military operation against Iraq.
I am not trying to minimise the issue. It is serious. The NATO nations take it seriously – hence the debate – and Allies will act responsively and collectively.
Questions and Answers
Spokesman: Thank you. I will now invite questions. Could you please ask your questions in a short way and, also, avoid asking multiple and sub-questions, so everyone has a chance. Thank you very much. We’ll start with Klaus Pompers, ZDF.
Q: Klaus Pompers: Very short question, Secretary General: Who is to blame?
Robertson: I don’t allocate blame. Three countries have broken silence. Therefore, 16 countries agree with the tasking. But the differences of opinion that exist today are no different to differences that have existed. They’re just slightly more serious at this time. But I don’t allocate blame or praise. We have to work to get a consensus. That’s difficult. It’s sometimes very painful. But we’ve done it before and I’m confident that we can do it again.
Q: Secretary General, Judy Dempsey, Financial Times. Did Turkey ask for Article Four in 1991?
Robertson: The discussions in 1991 were complicated and we’re not actually sure whether they asked for those consultations under Article Four, or whether that was avoided by the deployments that took place. But I’m pretty certain that this is most likely to be the first time that a nation has asked for formal consultations under Article Four.
Q: Michael Thurston, AFP. It’s been over three weeks, now, that you haven’t come to an agreement. How long do you think it’s going to take for an agreement? Is it possible to reach an agreement within days, weeks, or...? How long is it going to take?
Robertson: Well, I’m confident that we will reach agreement, but I can’t say when that’s going to happen. Three nations have yet to be persuaded. But we’re going to meet today. We are probably, if necessary, going to meet tomorrow or the next day, and we will eventually get an agreement, because that’s the way the alliance works and everybody this morning, including the countries who have broken silence, have emphasized the unity that there is in terms of defending Turkey and of achieving an alliance consensus.
So there’s a lot of work going on in this building, but also in a lot of capitals as well, to try and find the formula that will allow the taskings to go ahead.
Q: Sabine Rau, ARD. I’m here.
Robertson: Yeah. Yeah. You’re always there. Yeah.
Q: Will the subject of NATO’s council meeting this afternoon be the Turkish demand for article four. And if the council would agree to this demand, would that mean that the planning could start immediately?
Robertson: Well, I know that it’s complicated and it’s complicated for me as well, but the consultations under Article Four have already started. I consider that the meeting this morning was the beginning was the beginning of those consultations asked for by Turkey, and we will resume those consultations this afternoon. But it’s a request for consultations in a formal context and therefore, the taskings, those instructions to the military authorities to come forward with the contingency plans are still on the table and they will be the subject matter of the consultations that take place.
Q: Jan Balliauw, Belgium Television. I’m here. Belgium is a small country and host country of NATO. Will it have consequences for the position of Belgium in the alliance? For instance, the location of headquarters?
Robertson: The design of the headquarters is along the corridor. The location of the new headquarters is across there. That is not in doubt at all, nor is the abiding support that we get from the host nation to this country. There is an honest disagreement inside NATO about when to start contingency planning. We are now working on that, in order to get a solution to it.
I have made the point, I’ll make it again: It is serious that after three weeks, we have not got an agreement. But a lot of people are working very hard to make sure an agreement takes place, and I’m confident that if people look at the serious implications of not getting a decision than that will, I hope, give an impetus to providing a solution and getting a consensus.
Spokesman: Last question in the back there, please.
Q: Mag News. I’m sorry you’ll not be able to see me. Anyhow, do you still plead that there is no argument among the NATO members?
Robertson: Well, there’s still an argument. I’ve never denied that there was an argument. I think that would be foolish. There is a very heated argument inside NATO about the timing. But that what it’s about. It is about the timing. And clearly, if we haven’t achieved agreement after three weeks of discussion, then that argument is of a serious nature.
But at the same time, I think people are focusing on it now in a very determined way, that Turkey has asked for consultations under four, and many of the countries concerned believe that that now focuses it in an invaluable way on Turkey and its defence and that that may well lead, or help to lead to a solution to the present problems, the existing difficulties.
Spokesman: Thank you very much. Merci beaucoup.
Robertson: Thank you very much. Thank you.