Updated: 02-Nov-2004 NATO Speeches


28 Oct. 2004

Video interview

with Isabelle Francois
Director of the NATO Information Office (NIO) in Moscow

Video file
Audio file .MP3/3455Kb

INTERVIEWER: Isabelle Francois, welcome. You're the newly appointed director of NATO's information office in Moscow. Congratulations, and thank you for taking the time to talk to us as you prepare to leave for Moscow and take up your duties. You are the new director of the office, but no newcomer to NATO-Russia co-operation. Could you tell us a little bit about your background in this area?

ISABELLE FRANCOIS (Director, Moscow Information Office): Sure. I came to NATO about six years ago, and I came as a Canadian from the Department of National Defence. I had already, at that time, experience with dealing with NATO-Russia relations. I was following NATO issues generally and had been focusing on the development of the NATO-Russia relationship and the beginning of the Permanent Joint Council.

When I came to NATO in 1998, of course, this was just before a tense period on the NATO-Russia relations, with a deep frost following NATO's intervention in Kosovo, so I began really, effectively, working on NATO-Russia relations when we started the negotiations for the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council. This has been a very interesting, fascinating period. And from then on I focused on the development of the defence-related aspect of that relationship; more specifically, defence reform issues, our common fight against terrorism, and in six years I guess I have helped prepare no less than 16 defence ministers meetings. It's been an intense period, a very interesting period.

So, that is by way of background.

INTERVIEWER: In this time, is there a striking event or specific episode, activity, that you remember particularly well?

FRANCOIS: Yes, actually. We had, in December 2002, the second conference on the role of the military in combating terrorism. That was held at the invitation of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Borisovich Ivanov, and this is an event that we organized together with our Russian colleagues, and this was an opportunity for me to actually see for the first time the true meaning of a new equality in this relationship. And we were able to pull our resources together, work together intensely, and we've been able to put together a very successful event. This was, both professionally and personally, a very rewarding time and it demonstrated that, when we pull our resources together, we can actually achieve and co-operate together very well.

INTERVIEWER: You are days now from departing to take up your post. What are your expectations of… well, upon arriving in Moscow?

FRANCOIS: Well, I guess I'm very fortunate in inheriting from my predecessor, Rolf Welberts, and his deputy, Michael Hewitt, a very well established office, not only in Moscow but also in Russia's 11 time zones, so an office that is running well and that has established already a good reputation. So, when it comes to the NIO's original mandate, to disseminate information and to network and develop partnership with various elements of society, from journalists to scientists, NGOs, I think that this work is well underway and I hope to be able to build on this solid foundation.

Now, of course, as it relates to changing NATO's image in Russia, I guess this is a long-term investment, and I'm sure that responding to the sceptics will continue to be a challenge, and I suspect that things will not change overnight. The same thing applies to sceptics on the NATO side about this relationship. I think that we will be working arduously to it, but of course this is more like a marathon rather than winning the sprint, if you see what I mean, so I suspect that sustainability will be my focus on this, to borrow from our military colleagues' terminology.

And, of course, I will not be alone in this endeavour. I'll be working with a very experienced staff at the NIO, our colleagues from the NATO military mission, and of course our Russian partners who believe in this co-operation and this long-term vision of ours.

INTERVIEWER: As you look forward to the days, months and years of working in Moscow, what will your personal priorities be?

FRANCOIS: Well, as you know, the NIO predates the NRC, and I think that one of my priorities will be to go beyond the NATO information office. Of course I will continue to provide the information regarding NATO policies and decisions, on what we do in Afghanistan to the Balkans, but I think I will be looking for opportunities to develop with our Russian colleagues key public messages.

In terms of public diplomacy, I think it is very important that we tackle together some sort of information strategy whereby we develop these messages together and whereby we address some of the less positive rhetoric, public rhetoric that we often see in the press, and I think that we can look for opportunities as we prepare for the foreign ministerial in December. We will have issues like the Russian decision with regard to the Partnership for Peace Status of Forces Agreement as well as the Russian decision to support the NATO operation in the Mediterranean, Active Endeavour. I think those will be two issues that will have some prominence, and I think that they'll be perfect opportunities to develop some public messages for the press together, in the true spirit of the NRC.

INTERVIEWER: You mentioned some of the ways in which NATO and Russia are working together, or will be; Active Endeavour, for example. What do you think today is good about NATO-Russia co-operation, and what could still be improved?

FRANCOIS: What is good? I think that we have managed, in 2-1/2 years, to set up a structure that is able to deliver some substance; practical co-operation we can now do in a wide range of areas. From theatre missile defence to civil emergency planning, we have a structure that is in place. We also have a forum for an open dialogue that is very useful, a forum where we can agree, decide, but we can also agree to disagree when need be, and that is a very useful thing to have.

What can be improved? I think that, beyond the phase of setting up the NRC, I think it is now time for us to look into more operational co-operation. I think, ironically, we had more operational co-operation prior to the NRC, in the Kosovo crisis, but we are now missing operational experience. I truly hope that, with the Operation Active Endeavour, we'll have this opportunity. I think that this is where the future of the NRC lies, in operational co-operation.

I think also that, ultimately, through this practical co-operation and this open dialogue, we will be able to develop, over time, shared values. This will be the bedrock of this solid relationship.

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