Updated: 22-Apr-2005 NATO Speeches


20 April 2005

Press briefing

by the NATO Spokesman
at the Informal NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting

20-21/04/2005 - Vilnius
Informal meeting of Foreign Ministers

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. For those of you I haven't met, which is actually quite a small number, I think, my name's James Appathurai. I'm the NATO spokesman. And since the dinner this evening is closed to almost all of us, I thought it would be a good thing... good opportunity for us to meet now and talk about what will happen during this evening and tomorrow.

This is on the record; something we don't always do in this format, but we thought it was the right thing today.

The schedule, as you know, for tomorrow, is that there will be a press conference by the Secretary General after the NATO-Russia Council. A press conference after the NATO-Ukraine Commission and then again another one after the working lunch ends.

The working lunch will end... it may well end on time, but the press conference that the Secretary General will give has been moved up by 15 minutes. So just so you know, it'll be at 15:45 instead of at 16:00. And the Secretary General will be followed immediately by Secretary Rice in that sequence, because she had to head back to the United States.

We'll of course, post the schedule. You should keep an eye on the schedule, because it may change, of course.

Let me talk very briefly about how these meetings should go and what the key issues are on the agenda. And then I'll be happy to take your question.

Bien sûr, s'il y en a entre vous qui préfèrent parler en français je réponds facilement aux questions en français aussi étant un très bon Canadien.

The working dinner tonight will have for its main focus three subjects. The Secretary General will kick off the discussion by putting some ideas on the table to enhance the political dialogue within NATO. You all know that there's been a lot of discussion on this subject about how to use NATO more fully as a forum for the allies from North America and from Europe, to have a more open, a more broad, discussion on political issues for very obvious reasons. The more that the allies are aware of each other's viewpoints, of each other's concerns, and each other's approaches, the less there will be disagreements, the more there will be common approaches.

And that is something, of course, that we at NATO, and I think anyone observing international security thinks is a good idea, and that is common approaches between North America and Europe in facing the security challenges that we face today.

I think there is a general agreement that NATO has been underused as a forum for this kind of political dialogue. You heard Chancellor Schroeder repeat at the Munich Security Conference what the Secretary General has been saying almost since he took office. And NATO is, of course, a privileged platform for this kind of discussion because it has, and it is unique in having, in a Transatlantic context, the United States at the table, with Canada and other non-EU members on a permanent basis day-to-day.

So the Secretary General will put some ideas on the table before allies, and then turn the conversation over to Minister Moratinos and Secretary Rice because they don't want to just talk about how to enhance political dialogue, they want actually to enhance political dialogue. And the first step in that will be a discussion of the Middle East, including the Middle East peace process.

You have seen, I'm sure, reports of what Mr. Moratinos, Minister Moratinos said in Luxembourg. I cannot comment on what it is that he's going to say, because very frankly I don't know what he's going to say. But I do know that they will discuss ideas on enhancing NATO's outreach into the Middle East and into North Africa, and with Israel through the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

And we expect that Secretary Rice will talk about the Middle East peace process itself. Ministers, of course, will respond to that.

The third part of the discussion that I expect to take place tonight, will be on enhancing NATO-EU relations. This is something which the Secretary General has been very clear in recent days, needs to be expanded. It is constrained at present and focused largely on cooperation in the Balkans. It should be expanded to include the broad spectrum of issues related to the areas where both organizations are engaged. Far beyond, of course, Bosnia and to include all the various aspects that is beyond simply technical military cooperation. To look at or to discuss broad approaches to building peace and security to include civilian aspects as well, where the EU in particular has a comparative advantage, but where the two organizations are working side by side and should complement each other by sharing perspectives on approaches. That's what the Secretary General believes should happen.

Minister Fischer, Joschka Fischer will kick off the discussion on enhancing NATO-EU relations.

It's hard to divide the discussion between the informal dinner this evening and the lunch because they're not going to just draw a line. We stopped talking about this subject at 11:00. They will move into the morning... into the luncheon with whatever was leftover from the night before. But there is, of course, going to be a discussion on, of course, NATO's many missions and operations, and that includes Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq.

In terms of Afghanistan, ministers will certainly discuss how to take forward the political process after the parliamentary and district elections that NATO will support. But there's a broader political process, including the UN and led by Karzai government, that NATO will want to support as NATO expands into the south, and eventually into the southeast and east as well.

There is also the very important issue of counternarcotics, and I'm sure the ministers will want to discuss the broad approach that the international community is taking in support of the Karzai government in countering narcotics.

They will discuss the Balkans. I am sure that a lot of the discussion will centre around Kosovo. You all know that there is a lot of diplomatic activity under way now to begin or to move towards the assessment this summer of the standards that Kosovo must meet before a discussion on the status, the political status of Kosovo.

NATO is engaged in this process politically through the Contact Group Plus, and many NATO nations are part of this process as well. And of course, NATO is engaged very fundamentally in the military sense in the sense that KFOR is deployed there with some 18,000 troops. And whatever happens politically affects what happens militarily and vice versa.

Indeed, this is one example of enhancing the political dialogue within NATO. What KFOR does it not simply military technical. It takes place in a political environment, and it influences the political environment. Having a political discussion amongst NATO allies in the context of KFOR makes eminent sense. Just as it makes eminent sense, for example, to discuss the broader regional issues related to specific areas in which NATO is engaged. For example, if NATO is engaged in Afghanistan and NATO is engaged in Iraq, what happens in Iran is indeed relevant to what happens to NATO. And a discussion on that subject may well be something that allies wish to discuss. I'm going back to the dinner the night before, but I'm trying to give you a flavour of where new ideas might be put on the table.

They may well also discuss Bosnia-Herzegovina. I do not know, but as you know there have been some rather unfortunate incidents relating to new recruits in the armed forces, and this may well come to the NATO... come to the table of ministers at the luncheon.

They will, of course, also discuss the training mission in Iraq, which his going forward as it should. There is nothing particularly controversial anymore. The training mission has been expanded. We are looking to expand it further, and I'm sure they will discuss how to carry that forward.

Let me turn now to the NATO-Russia Council and the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

The substantive element, if you wish, the substance form the NRC will be the signature of the NATO-Russia Status of Forces Agreement.

Now this Status of Forces Agreement is a technical legal document. NATO has had one since 1951 and if you're interesting in what a SOFA looks like you can go to the website because we've posted it on the website. It's not very exciting reading.

But what it does is allow for the transit and training of foreign forces on other countries' soil. In other words Canada, all NATO nations have a Status of Forces Agreement which governs the presence of other countries' soldiers on our territory. In my case their legal status, the arrangements for financing, or even taxes, but the judicial protections that they have and what they don't have, etcetera.

So what this does is allow, or facilitate, joint training. It facilitates the transit of forces and equipment through territories. We have these SOFAs, NATO has these SOFAs not only with NATO countries, but also with almost all of the partners, in the Partnership for Peace, and this is very much in that sense as well, but it will facilitate NATO-Russia training, both... in both directions. The presence of NATO forces in Russia and the presence of Russian forces in NATO countries as well. And any other kind of technical cooperation that we might envision in future.

So it's an important step... an important step for us, excuse me, and I think for the Russians as well. And that will be inked, that will be signed tomorrow morning. They will then have a very open discussion--I have seen the notional subjects that are potentially on the agenda, and they include Kosovo, they include Afghanistan, and they include Georgia. And Georgia is obviously an issue of great relevance to Russia, but also to NATO allies, not least in the context of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. So I expect an interesting discussion on that, and all of the subjects on the agenda.

It is, again, an informal meeting, so anything else might be raised, but those are the ones where I believe they will be focusing their discussions.

Then there will be the NATO-Ukraine Commission. This will obviously be one of the more important meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission since it was founded in that there is a new government in Ukraine that has very clear aspirations for reform and for moving closer to Euro-Atlantic structures, including NATO, and they have made those aspirations very clear.

This is also a government that is in a better position to fulfil their own aspirations for reform, particularly democratic reform, and that are very much part of the NATO-Russia... sorry, NATO-Ukraine relationship in the context of the agreements that we have: the action plan, the various annual target plans that help us to support Ukraine in meeting its own aspirations. So ministers will want to hear from Minister Tarasyuk Ukraine's aspirations, Ukraine's goals and the steps that Ukraine wishes to take, but Ukraine will also hear what NATO wants to do and will offer to Ukraine to help them meet those aspirations and to move closer to Euro-Atlantic institutions, and as I say, particularly to NATO and to facilitate their own defence reform.

So I expect this to be, again, a very interesting, very interesting meeting indeed, and it'll be followed by a joint press conference between the Secretary General and with Minister Tarasyuk.

That to me, to my mind, is the essence of the meeting. Let me now open the floor to any questions you might have. Please.

Q: Thanks. As far as dialogue is concerned, the German Chancellor Schroeder had proposed that a panel be established, which should think about possibilities of improving the dialogue. As far as you know, is the Secretary General going to take up that idea, and is he going to make concrete proposals?

And as far as the NATO-EU is concerned, second question, I'm basically talking about the Slovak Turkish question there, because it's never really been specified. (inaudible) for dialogue seem to be a rather Turkish-Cypriot (inaudible) and what are... what can we help to completely achieve that (inaudible)...?

APPATHURAI: In terms of the panel I think it's no secret that the Secretary General doesn't believe that a panel is necessary. So I think it's unlikely that he is going to propose that.

He has been on the record in saying that he believes that NATO is perfectly capable of enhancing political dialogue internally; that foreign ministers and defence ministers of NATO have not only the mandate, but the responsibility to take forward that reform and are perfectly capable of doing it without the use of an outside panel of experts.

So I don't expect to hear the panel idea put forward by the Sec Gen.

In terms of NATO-EU relations, I cannot and would not point out any particular country or parties that are individually holding up NATO-EU cooperation. What is the case is that NATO-EU cooperation can and should be broadened. One idea that the Secretary General may propose is of a more informal gathering of foreign ministers of NATO and the European Union. So all together, in the way that happened already once when Colin Powell came to Brussels just recently and had no time to go to both institutions, so they all gathered together and had a meeting in that format. That may be one idea that he puts on the table to in a sense broaden the dialogue in an informal basis. But we will see what comes out of tonight's discussions.

Q: Given that principal dialogue is the order of the day then, do you think... do you see any chance that the ministers will attempt to go beyond a discussion of purely military operations in Kosovo and to attempt to try and narrow some of the division across the Atlantic on what exactly the final status of Kosovo should be and put the independence question, for example, and even come up with some kind of consensus within the NATO countries on what (inaudible) NATO should look like?

APPATHURAI: Well, it's a good question, and I frankly don't have a very good answer because I don't know how they're going to approach this. What I do know is that NATO does not want to substitute, or attempt to substitute for the groups or organizations that are mandated to judge on this issue.

This is the UN and the contact group. And NATO is participating in the contact group discussions, so there is a certain NATO approach to this issue as it is, but you're quite right to say that largely the focus that we've had in NATO when it comes to Kosovo has been detailed discussions on crowd and riot control, capabilities and caveats. And they want to lift their eyes, as ministers, and have a discussion of the broader political issues related to, not only to KFOR, but to the standards and the status questions.

And at the very least, to share views and share perspectives, which already is an inherent value of having them all around the table in this format as well.


APPATHURAI: The microphone, there's no translation, she can't hear you. Can we try a different microphone or...? Can you hear him now?


APPATHURAI: I'm sorry...

UNIDENTIFIED: The channel...

APPATHURAI: Maybe the channel. She said the quality of the sound is very bad, and she can't hear him.

UNIDENTIFIED: I'll get you a ring device.

APPATHURAI: I can hear her. She can't hear him, François(?). The problem is... would you like to come here? Yeah, why not?


APPATHURAI: She still didn't get the question. Do I understand that you want to know if there'll be discussion of Moldova, is that the...? Is that correct? Moldova?



APPATHURAI: And Georgia. Thank you.

There will almost certainly be a discussion of Georgia. That is an issue which is informally slated to be addressed. As to whether Moldova will be addressed I do not know. It is not one that has been in any way prepared, but as I say, it is an informal meeting and therefore any Minister is free to bring up whatever issue they wish to bring up. So I do not know.

Q: James, I just wondered if you'd give us some details, (inaudible)... in Ukraine (inaudible)...?

APPATHURAI: I would like to. I'm in a certain... I have my limits drawn on this issue, but the... What you can expect is a form of enhanced political dialogue, enhanced dialogue, which... with political elements and practical elements too. The package of more practical elements will be made public the moment we walk out of the meeting, so we will publish it as soon as the press conference begins. I'm sorry to not give you any more detail, but my leash is short on this issue.

Q: James, is the Status of Forces Agreement with Russia is (inaudible) and followed up immediately with some actual training exercises, either of NATO troops in Russia, or the other way around? And can you also give us a kind of broad NATO view of what the organization feels about holding these first foreign ministers' meeting on the territory (inaudible)...?

APPATHURAI: In terms of the Status of Forces Agreement I think it's worth mentioning that many NATO nations have bilateral arrangements with Russia already and we have done training with the Russians before. But always on an ad hoc basis. This Status of Forces Agreement will cover all NATO allies, and it will be a standing agreement. It will facilitate what we have done already in the past, but on an ad hoc basis and with a little bit more effort.

It will not immediately enter into force. It has to be ratified by the Duma. There's an internal Russian process that has to take place. We don't expect any trouble with it, but it's not that it will enter into the force the moment it is signed. There remains some more technical steps to follow, but this will happen very, very quickly and it will certainly not hold up any cooperation that we're doing now. Indeed, I believe a SHAPE team, one of our... from our military headquarters, is even now observing the new Russian peacekeeping brigade that is just about to enter into force, which has as one of its orientations to be able to work with NATO in joint peacekeeping efforts.

The value... or how to put this, the sense of meeting here, of course there is a history... a historical element that NATO holds a foreign ministers' meeting here in one of the seven new countries. This goes without saying. It is always a testament to the progress that these countries have made in joining the Euro-Atlantic family. They now share the same freedoms, the same values and the same security that all NATO members share, and this country is very much contributing to it, as well, as we can see in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. So it is only appropriate, I suppose, that it takes place here, but it does demonstrate the value of NATO enlargement for new members, as well as old ones.

Léon in the back here. Okay well...

Q: Just to get back to this political dialogue. According to the NATO charter nothing prevents NATO countries to have this political dialogue, so now you're playing this up, in a certain number of areas(?). I'd like to know what was, or what is the main obstacle that prevented this political dialogue from happening before?

APPATHURAI: It has happened, of course. My own sense, and I'm going to speak on a personal basis here, not as NATO spokesman, but having been at NATO a few years my feeling is that there was such a strong focus in NATO on capability improvements and on adapting to the new operational requirements over the past few years, which took up so much of the political attention of the ambassadors at the table and of the nations. And you remember George Robertson's mantra for three years was: capabilities, capabilities, capabilities, because so much attention had to be paid to that, that the Alliance as an organization, and indeed as a bureaucracy, has focused excessively on these issues, capabilities and the technicalities of operations. And simply paid less and less attention over the past few years to the overarching political dialogue that could and should take place within the Alliance, and indeed, has taken place for decades within NATO.

You're quite right that the NATO charter allows for this to happen and that's why no fundamental change to NATO's charge needs to be put in place. Indeed, it is not just in NATO's charter, but it is one of NATO's fundamental security tasks as set out in the Washington treaty, and in the strategic concept, to have strategic political dialogues, to share perspectives, and to help shape common approaches, be they military or political approaches. It is a fundamental security task of NATO.

And what the Secretary General wants and what I think all the ministers support, is to meet that fundamental security task more effectively than we've done in the past few years.

Q: A question of the agreement with Russia on the Status of Forces. You mentioned, James, the possibility of transfer of troops. Could that be relevant also in the supply, for example, of ISAF in Afghanistan, in that context?

APPATHURAI: It certainly could be seen in that context, yes.

Q: Given the fact that this unofficial meeting of NATO... of foreign affairs ministers, is being held for the first time out of Brussels in Lithuania, in Vilnius, can it be respect(?), it could be treated as a specific acknowledgement of Lithuania as a key player in the process of dialogue among NATO and Russia and Ukraine, bearing in mind that eh... specifically this meeting, is centring around these issues in these meetings?

APPATHURAI: I think there's no denying that this government has certainly played an important role recently in the democratic changes in Ukraine. So there's no doubt about that.

From my own perspective, the fact that this meeting takes place here is simply a reflection of the fact that Lithuania is a full ... fully participating member of the Alliance. It is, to my mind, not exceptional, but normal that it should take place here because Lithuania is a full and normal country contributing to NATO's operations and NATO's political development.

Thank you very much. We'll see you... I'm going to do a background brief tomorrow morning at 9:00. So on background, but to give you a flavour... shall we do it here? We'll do it here. To give you a flavour of the dinner tonight, which will eavesdrop on.

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