Updated: 14-Dec-2005 NATO Speeches


12 Dec. 2005

Video Background Briefing

by the NATO Spokesman

Audio file .MP3/8644Kb
Video interview
James Appathurai

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Hello and welcome to the latest in our series of regular briefings on what's going on here at NATO Headquarters. This will be the last one of the year and the major event that takes place at the end of every year here at NATO Headquarters is meetings of NATO Foreign Ministers. This year also with our partners in the EAPC, with the Foreign Minister of Russia and with the Foreign Minister of Ukraine. And I will come to those in a moment.

But one other event of importance that took place here in Brussels just before our ministerial meeting was an informal dinner hosted by the Belgian government, which brought together the Foreign Ministers of the European Union and of NATO. It was an open agenda because it's what we called an informal meeting, so ministers could discuss whatever they wished to discuss.

The main topic of discussion was the presentation by Secretary Rice of the United States to her colleagues around the table of the U.S. position on the issue of CIA flights, particularly, of course, in Europe .

This is an issue which has dominated the headlines, and I'm sure you have not only read about it, but have your own views on it. Foreign Ministers wanted to hear Secretary Rice's views, and she wanted to hear theirs.

Now, they had a very frank and open discussion. She led off the dinner with this and there was well over an hour of discussion on this issue.

The NATO Secretary General, my boss, announced that from his perspective she had cleared the air on this issue, and in fact, I think other Foreign Ministers walked out of the room and gave the same impression.

It was an important discussion. It was an important transatlantic issue that needed to be addressed. It was logical that it should be addressed here, and in clearing the air the night before the NATO ministerial, it certainly allowed for NATO Foreign Ministers to get down to business here in this headquarters and discuss the many issues that are on the NATO agenda, and that need to be tackled.

Ministers led off with a working breakfast early on the Thursday morning and discussed the Middle East . And they really ranged across the entire Middle East and all the relevant issues that are current there. For example, the Middle East peace process, developments in Syria and Lebanon , developments in Iraq and of course developments in Iraq .

NATO is not looking for a role in the Middle East peace process, in the Syria-Lebanon issue, on Iranian efforts to develop or not nuclear weapons. The Alliance is, however, engaged in the Middle East region through the Mediterranean Dialogue, through the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, and of course, with our training mission in Iraq, and I'll come back to that in a moment.

For all these reasons the context of what takes place in the Middle East is, of course, very relevant to NATO ministers. Secretary Rice led off with a discussion of the Middle East peace process. She has just, of course, returned from playing an instrumental role in opening the Rafah Crossing.

Secretary Rice, of course, led off the discussion of the Middle East peace process. She played a very important role recently in opening the Rafah Crossing. Minister Douste-Blazy of France discussed Syria and Lebanon and many ministers came in on the subject of Iran and how to approach the very sensitive developments that are taking place there.

It was a good and open discussion in the tradition of what began for NATO Foreign Ministers in Vilnius, a discussion of the Middle East very broadly. And of course, ministers stressed the importance of reaching out through dialogue, through partnership and in open communication to the countries of North Africa and Israel, though the Mediterranean Dialogue; and to the countries of the Gulf through the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, and these countries are indicating in ever-greater numbers an interest in joining in partnership with NATO and discussion with NATO through the ICI.

Ministers then turned to a discussion of NATO's operations and missions, each of which in various ways is developing.

Let me begin with Afghanistan, because Afghanistan is, of course, a clear priority for the Alliance. And at this ministerial ministers took an important decision, and that was to endorse the operational plan, the revised operational plan for the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. They endorsed this revised operational plan that will guide the expansion next year of this mission into the south of the country.

NATO is now leading this Security Assistance Force in Kabul, the capital, in the north and in the west. This mission will expand to the south, and NATO and its partners in ISAF will be present in three-quarters of the country through Provincial Reconstruction Teams and with the deployment to the south through several battalions of troops to allow these PRTs, these Provincial Reconstruction Teams to do their work.

This in the south, Afghanistan, is a less stable place than in the north and in the west, a less benign environment and the PRTs will simply need more force protection to be able to carry out their mission.

Under the revised operational plan NATO ISAF will also play a greater role in training the Afghan national army, a new role in helping to support the training of the police and will work more closely with the coalition-led force, or with the coalition force operation, Enduring Freedom, led by the United States to ensure that the two operations are aware of what each other is doing, that they can provide mutual support where necessary, where they can stay out of each other's way where necessary.

But what is clear from the decision taken in the operational plan is that these will be two distinct missions, with two distinct mandates. NATO ISAF, with our partners, will be focusing on stability and reconstruction, and the coalition will be focusing much more on... well, will be focusing on counterinsurgency and counterterror. These will not be roles for the Alliance, though NATO forces and partners will have the ability, the rules of engagement, and the capability to defend themselves robustly throughout Afghanistan; not just in the south, but throughout the whole country.

This decision to implement the revised operational plan next year, as endorsed by ministers yesterday, will in a sense be a foundation for the position that NATO will take to a very important conference will take place in London at the very end of January and beginning of next year. A conference led by the Afghan authorities and co-chaired with the U.K. government, potentially also by the United States, whereby the international community will agree to a compact with the Afghan government.

The Afghan government sets the priorities for its own country. But the international community has to help and it has to help in a coordinated way. Clearly NATO alone cannot accomplish everything that is necessary for Afghanistan to stand on its own two feet.

I'll give you one example. Narcotics or counternarcotics. It's quite clear to everyone that reads the paper that the majority, indeed, the vast majority of heroin produced in the world has its origins in Afghanistan.

So counternarcotics is a priority for all of us, because the heroin that's having its origins there is ending up in our schools, our back alleys and in the veins of drug users in all of our countries. So we have to tackle it.

But to tackle it effectively burning crops alone simply cannot be the answer. Farmers need another income. Income substitution therefore is very important. The overall economy has to develop. There has to be an effective police department, an effective police system. There has to be an effective judicial system with judges and lawyers. There has to be a prison system.

All of these things are at the very beginning stages of development in Afghanistan and NATO alone simply cannot provide everything that's necessary to have an effective counternarcotics program in the largest sense. And that is just one element of the development that Afghanistan needs to encourage if it is, indeed, one day, and hopefully one day soon, to stand on its own two feet.

Ministers also looked at Kosovo; another important operation for the Alliance with 17,500 troops in Kosovo. Of course, NATO is very interested in the developing political situation. That is, that President Ahtisaari has now begun the UN-sponsored status talks for Kosovo, which will hopefully and hopefully soon lead to a resolution of the final status issue when it comes to Kosovo.

The Alliance is playing a political role in that we have a representative at the extended contact group, which oversees this whole process, and the Alliance will, if President Ahtisaari wishes for it to happen, provide him with staff in his inner circle, not in the same level as the EU or the UN, but as working staff in his office.

At the same time, KFOR will stay on the ground, in force, developing to be more flexible and more mobile, more present in the field, more in touch with the average Kosovar and will meet any attempt to undermine the political process through violence with a very stiff response.

Ministers also assessed the progress of NATO's humanitarian operation to support Pakistan after the earthquake a few... a couple of months ago. The Alliance has airlifted in over 2,700 tonnes of relief supplies, making NATO by far the largest airlifter of relief supplies. NATO doctors are treating hundreds of wounded everyday. NATO engineers are presenting building schools and clearing roads.

This operation will come to an end on schedule, and in agreement with the Pakistani government, around the 1st of February, and NATO troops will be deployed back home.

NATO is not and does not aspire to be a humanitarian relief organization. But in this case, in the face of what was such a terrible, and is such an ongoing terrible humanitarian disaster, the Alliance was pleased that it was in an opportunity to help.

Let me mention Iraq. NATO has a training mission in Iraq, as you know. The Alliance has opened with the Iraqi government a joint staff college just outside of Baghdad to train senior officers.

Ministers discussed here at the ministerial expanding the training mission to include also a basic officers' training course and training for non-commissioned officers; sergeants, for example. They are the essential link or unessential link between the officers and the regular soldiers. NATO will move, I believe, soon to take over these courses and expand the curriculum that it is offering at the joint staff college at Ar Rustimiyah.

As the Alliance continues to help Iraq develop security forces so that it can stand on its own feet and not depend on international forces and we hope to help this happen as soon as possible. It's something the Iraqis want, it's something all NATO countries want and I believe the international community, more broadly, sees this as an absolutely priority goal for international security.

Finally, let me mention quickly that allies also expressed their concern over the deteriorating security situation in Darfur. Something that Secretary General Annan has since echoed.

The Alliance airlifted in, in support of the African Union, and at the request of the African Union, seven battalions of African peacekeepers into Darfur, and one battalion of African police officers. Despite that, the situation in Darfur is deteriorating. There is great concern in the international community, and NATO ministers share that concern and will certainly look in various international fora to see how they can support renewed efforts to help bring peace and security to the people who are suffering so terribly in Darfur.

Let me turn now to the meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. That is the meeting of NATO member states, and NATO partners, to a total of 46 countries.

The discussion which took place over a working lunch concentrated on two main issues. The first was NATO's... NATO-led missions and operations. NATO's partners make an essential contribution to those operations, sometimes they make the same level of sacrifice. For example, two Swedish soldiers recently lost their lives in an attack on their convoy in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission.

The lunch, the working lunch of the EAPC also looked at the issue of values in partnership. In other words, what values should the EAPC, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership hold? How could it support them? Should there be sanctions against countries that do not meet those standards?

There was a range of views around the table. There was certainly no consensus view, but I think it was very important that allies and partners together had an open discussion of values, and what values they wished to promote through the partnership right across the Euro-Atlantic area, through these 46 countries as well.

The next ministerial meeting was a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council and that is the 26th NATO nations and Russia, with the participation, of course, of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

There was one concrete deliverable coming out of this meeting, which ranged, of course, across a very broad range of political discussions. The concrete deliverable was an NRC pilot project for training of Afghan and Central Asian officials by the 27 NRC countries to counter the flow of narcotics coming out of Afghanistan.

Clearly, as I mentioned earlier in this brief, heroin poses a threat to all of our countries, and 90 percent of the world's heroin finds it origins in Afghanistan. So we need to cooperate to try to stem it. NATO nations and Russia agreed to work together to stem the flow by training Afghan and Central Asian security officials in Moscow, in Kabul and elsewhere, to help spot and deter the flow of narcotics.

I think it is also an interesting historical analogy that while Afghanistan was quite recently a battleground between east and west, it has now become an area where NATO nations and Russia agree they face a common threat and agree to cooperate together to try to stem it.

There was also, as I mentioned, a broad range of political discussions on a whole host of issues, including, of course, the security situations in Afghanistan, in the Balkans and elsewhere.

Let me turn finally to the last meeting of the day and that was the meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission; NATO and Ukraine.

It is no secret to those of you who watch these briefings, that Ukraine, the Ukrainian government, has made clear its aspirations one day to join NATO, and Foreign Minister Tarasyuk at the press conference after the meeting made it clear that he believes that Ukraine will be ready to join NATO within three years.

Allies all stressed that the future of Ukraine is in Ukraine. The progress by which Ukraine will move closer to NATO will be achieved by Ukrainians and in Ukraine. But NATO stands ready to help. NATO has an open door. That means countries will join the Alliance and the Alliance is ready to work with Ukraine in what we call our Intensified Dialogue--and if you want more details on that it's available on this website--to help Ukraine meet the standards of NATO membership, as it makes clear its desire to move closer to the Alliance.

There was a very good and open, frank discussion between ministers and it concluded the day.

There was one other decision taken at the ministerial which I think is noteworthy, because it will shape in many ways the activities of this Alliance for the coming year. And that is ministers agreed that there should be a summit meeting held in Riga, in November of 2006 and certainly held the door open to the possibility of another summit in 2008.

In NATO, unlike for example, in the European Union, we do not have summit meetings very frequently. They are rare events, and as a result they take on great political importance where there is enormous pressure to deliver summit-level, achievable results. And that is what we'll be working towards, not just for 2006, but with an eye to 2008 as well.

What progress needs to be achieved on a whole host of issues from transforming the military capabilities of the Alliance, to transforming the funding arrangements for the Alliance.

Also to take into account the membership aspirations of many countries. The three countries that are formally in the Membership Action Plan, but other countries like Ukraine and potentially Georgia, who also have membership aspirations. And of course, to look at the Balkans more broadly as developments take place there. The arrest of General Gotovina, of course, changes the calculus for Croatia as well.

So there are a whole host of issues that need to be looked at. And they will be looked at from now right up until November of next year and beyond.

Thank you for tuning in and I will wish you...

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