Updated: 29-Apr-2005 NATO Speeches


29 Apr . 2005

Video Background Briefing

by the NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

Audio file .MP3/4847Kb
Video interview
James Appathurai

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesperson): Hello and thank you for joining us in the latest in our series of monthly updates here at NATO Headquarters.

It has been an eventful month at NATO and I think the key moment was the informal ministerial meeting, a meeting of foreign ministers in Vilnius. As those of you who click on this link regularly know an informal meeting means that no communiqué was drafted, no formal decisions were taken amongst NATO ministers.

But it had a second purpose as well, the Secretary General believes very strongly that the political dialogue at NATO needs to be broadened and deepened to include more subjects, more opportunities for the transatlantic partners to discuss in a profound, open and indeed informal way the key securities on the transatlantic security agenda and that was very much the spirit going into Vilnius. I think it's worth saying that the authorities in Lithuania did an excellent job in creating the conditions, the right conditions, for just that kind of discussion and that's exactly what took place.

On the evening- the first evening of the ministerial, the ministers had a dinner, a private dinner, where they discussed amongst other things the Middle East and the Middle East peace process. One minister, indeed I think two ministers, described it to the press as the best political discussion they've had at NATO and as someone who listened to it I can testify that ministers certainly had a very profound discussion about the immediate priorities in the Middle East peace process and the long term prospects as well and how the international community as a whole can and should support what is clearly hopeful signs in the region that progress can be made in solving this very longstanding conflict.

Ministers also had a discussion in the evening at the dinner of NATO-EU relations and how to broaden them. One minister proposed an idea that seemed to get broad support around the table and that is to have, again, informal meetings of NATO and EU Foreign Ministers on a semi-regular or regular basis to discuss the broad range of issues on the agendas of both organisations, where they complement each other, where they work together.

What is quite clear is that in many theatres, in the Balkans but also in Afghanistan, and politically in reaching out to areas such as the broader Middle East, NATO and the EU are both there, they are both working, and they're working often side by side to the extent that the two organisations can be aware of what each other is doing and support, mutually complement each other, that only makes sense and so it does make sense to have a broader NATO-EU dialogue. That is exactly the purpose of this proposal to have these informal NATO-EU foreign ministers meetings and that idea will be taken forward.

In the morning of the second day of the ministerial was first a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Russia amongst NATO nations and him and the NATO-Russia Council so at 27. Perhaps the most substantive concrete deliverable from this meeting was the signature of a NATO-Russia Status of Forces Agreement.

Now this is a document which provides legal guidelines and financial guidelines as well for the movement of people and things- equipment, by NATO countries in Russia or through Russia and Russian Forces and equipment in NATO nations as well. So it allows for, amongst other things, joint training. It allows for further cooperation on interoperability, and it can also offer in future an easier route for NATO equipment into Afghanistan for our peacekeeping mission the International Security Assistance Force particularly as it continues to grow to the west and eventually to the south and to the east.

So it is a very practical demonstration of a stronger foundation of NATO-Russia relationships on, as I say, the practical operational side.

There was also a good political discussion, not only of areas where NATO and Russia generally see eye to eye but also on areas where discussion is useful because there isn't a full convergence of agreement, that includes for example Georgia. There has been good signs of progress in the talks between Russia and Georgia recently on the fulfilment of the Istanbul Commitments for withdrawal of Russian bases and equipment from Georgia. This was an issue that was discussed amongst the 27 NRC (NATO-Russia Council) members in Vilnius as well as other issues like the Balkans. So it was a good discussion, it was a practical step forward and a positive meeting.

This meeting was followed by a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission and it one which certainly the press was looking very much forward to because it was an opportunity for NATO and Ukraine, represented by Foreign Minister Tarasyuk to welcome the real progress that has been made in NATO-Ukraine relations.

In essence, there has been as everyone knows, a change of government in Ukraine. A government that is in a much better place to fulfil its own democratic aspirations and it's aspirations to integrate into Euroatlantic structures including of course NATO and NATO wants to help this to happen.

NATO and Ukraine have agreed to have an enhanced dialogue on Ukraine's membership aspirations and other reforms without any prejudice to an eventual alliance decision on Ukrainian membership but in the context of Ukraine's membership aspirations, NATO wants to help and there is a concrete plan of cooperation that has been put in place with four concrete measures including enhanced political dialogue, enhanced assistance from NATO for defence reform.

This is something that was very much welcomed by the Ukrainians, they make no illusions that they have plenty of work to do. The NATO Secretary General pointed out in his press conference with Foreign Minister Tarasyuk that NATO is a performance-based organisation and that the speed at which Ukraine moves closer to NATO, moves closer to Euroatlantic institutions, is in the hands of the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government.

The quicker that they make reforms, the quicker they will move closer to NATO. But it was a good meeting and if any of you are interested in more details on the concrete package of enhanced political and practical cooperation. You can find it on this website.

Then, we- or ministers, moved to an informal luncheon and this was a luncheon of NATO foreign ministers only. In essence a continuation of the dinner that had begun the night before, and there was a broad discussion of the areas in which NATO is operating where is has missions: Iraq, and the Balkans, and Afghanistan. And in all three cases, ministers looked forward not as much to the nuts and bolts of delivering military capabilities--that's something defence ministers will do at their next meeting--but they did look forward to the political processes and in particular in the Balkans; the importance of supporting and participating in the political process whereby Kosovo's progress in meeting the standards set by the international community have or have not been met and if they have been met sufficiently, the move towards status talks- final status talks.

This is something that of course engages very much the Contact Group in which NATO participates, in the United Nations, it engages very much the EU, but it engages NATO of course as well with almost 18,000 troops on the ground NATO is as much a part of the political process as it is essential to the military security and stability of Kosovo as we go now fully into what will be a very interesting but volatile, potentially volatile, political process.

Near the end of the lunch, Secretary Rice brought up an issue that has certainly been on the lips of many of our ministers in the past and has certainly been on the minds and the attention of all us and that is the very serious security situation in Darfur. Secretary Rice said, and this was echoed by all the ministers, that this is of course a situation that needs attention, that not enough has been done and that the AU, the African Union, which is in lead and must remain in the lead in addressing the situation in Darfur, may require support, may come to NATO to ask for support and that if the AU were to come to NATO that she hoped that NATO would keep an open mind on this subject and provide that support.

Ministers around the table echoed the importance of addressing this issue, keeping in mind of course the very important role that is already being played by the European Union and the support that's being provided bilaterally by many nations, and the importance to take a pragmatic approach--not to let any ideological differences or institutional rivalries hobble us from doing what is necessary and that is to provide support in the most efficient way and the most effective way.

Subsequent to that, indeed just a week later, a letter arrived from the Secretary General of the African Union Commission, Mr. Konare, to the NATO Secretary General asking if NATO would consider providing logistical support to the African Union as it expands its mission in Darfur. The African Union's own assessment is that this mission needs to almost double in size which puts of course enormous logistical challenges on the plate of the African Union and they want to see if NATO could and would be willing and able to provide them some logistical support.

The Secretary General has discussed this with the NATO ambassadors. Talks are beginning between NATO and the African Union but also between NATO and the European Union and the United Nations to ensure that we know what the requirements of the African Union are, what is already being provided, as I say, by the European Union, by the United Nations and on a bilateral basis, and where NATO can add value because that is absolutely the important thing here--NATO should add value to what is already being provided to the requirements of the African Union.

So this work is going forward, the Secretary General is of course in direct contact with his counterparts in the other international organisations and the staffs at the working level are already in contact as well. We will see where this goes forward, an African Union delegation is expected in Brussels later in May and that will be an important time for discussions on how and whether- whether and how NATO can provide support to the AU in a pragmatic way in support of and in partnership with the other relevant organisations and countries that are providing support.

As I look forward to May, the other perhaps important milestone aside from the usual visits, important visits of various ministers to NATO Headquarters is the Euroatlantic Partnership Council - Security Forum. Now what is this? It is a meeting which, in a sense, builds on our regular meetings of foreign ministers of the Euroatlantic Partnership Council and that NATO nations and all of our partners.

This meeting will take place in Sweden, hosted by the Swedish government very generously, and it will have a slightly unusual format. Instead of being a regular minister of foreign ministers, it will be a more creative free flowing discussion of the security issues on the international agenda including the Middle East, including the frozen conflicts in Central Asia and the Caucasus, including of course institutional cooperation in addressing the security challenges that remain in the Balkans including peacekeeping in Kosovo but also integrating the whole region into the Euroatlantic community and into the Euroatlantic structures.

And unusually, for a meeting of this kind, it will be open to the press from beginning to end. Indeed the press will participate in all the discussion panels. So we're hoping that this will be an innovative and fresh look at how we engage in security discussions amongst the NATO and partner countries, the 46 countries that will be represented there at one level or another but many of them at ministerial level, as a bit of an experiment for how we can make this discussion more open, more fruitful, more informal in a sense along the same lines of NATO meetings. That's it for this month, I look forward to speaking with you a month from now. Thank you.

Go to Homepage Go to Index