Updated: 28-Nov-2006 NATO Speeches


27 Nov. 2006

Press conference

by President of Latvia, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga
on the NATO's Rīga Summit

28-29 Nov. 2006 - NATO
NATO Rīga Summit
Bullet Audio of the Press conference

MODERATOR: We're pleased to have you all here and I would like to open the press conference of the President of Latvia, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga. Madame President, the floor is yours.

VAIRA VĪĶE-FREIBERGA (President of Latvia): Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this press centre which will be the centre of press activities throughout the Rīga Summit.

This afternoon I had the pleasure of receiving the Secretary General. We have already had a bilateral meeting and this is but the beginning of a series of very intensive events that we have planned here.

Earlier we had a discussion about the various issues that will be discussed at the Summit itself. Tonight we have already a first event linked to our public diplomacy program, and we are very pleased to see that an outstanding list of speakers and participants have registered for this conference on transformation in the new global age.

Welcome to all the journalists. I am confident that this is going to be a successful summit and that you will have exciting news to send back to your home papers, media and that it will be truly a fascinating event.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Madame President. Now I'd like to open the floor for your questions, and we have some volunteers here, and they will give you microphones. Please use those. So who'll be the first one? Yes. Yes, it's coming.

Q: I'm (inaudible)... I'm from Pakistan , the newspaper. Ma'am, it is being widely speculated that this summit will be focusing on Afghanistan . I wish to ask you that what specification, expectations are you hoping from this summit? Thank you.

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: It will be indeed one of the topics that will be addressed during the summit, and the member countries will be trying to get a plan of action for the near, medium and remote future for our intervention in that country. At the moment NATO forces are active there. Latvia , as well, is represented with a small contingent, which we hope to be increasing in size, so that there are a series of issues involved. The presence of NATO troops, the nature of their intervention, our ability to work together with the government of Afghanistan and of course the ultimate aim, how we can reach it as soon as possible to get that country stabilized and able to govern itself.

Q: TV Company Imedi Georgia . We know about support, Latvia from Georgia might go into NATO. What's the Georgia must waiting(?) to NATO this summit?

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: We will be addressing the question of eventual enlargement of NATO, the timeframe that it might take, the potential candidates for future enlargement, but most of all, we shall be addressing and evaluating the progress of individual countries in terms of the programs of collaboration that they have with NATO.

In the case of Georgia there is this partnership program. We very much encourage Georgia to proceed. It has been making impressive progress. We would encourage Georgia to continue this way and certainly there's an openness to help Georgia maintain its territorial integrity, to continue with all the reforms, both concerning its military and of course it's civilian structures and its governance.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We have a question in the middle.

Q: Raymond Lloyd, the editor of the Parity Democrat Westminster. In 60 years of United Nations history you, Madame President, have been the only woman of ability and courage knowing that you might well face two vetoes to be nominated for the post of UN Secretary General. Three years ago the youngish Norwegian woman Minister of Defence was considered for the post of NATO Secretary General. With your leaving the Latvian presidency next June would you permit yourself to be nominated as a future NATO Secretary General, which would both demonstrate the new-found freedom of once captive nations and being an able and courage woman, symbolise par excellence that in democracies the military is subject to the civilian authority?

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: Thank you for your kind words, Sir, and your appreciation of my career, but at the moment NATO has a Secretary General who is very much in charge, doing an excellent job and with whom I, as president of Latvia , have wonderful collaboration. And I think at the moment it would be premature, definitely premature, to be speculating about what might happen in the future.

My attitude has always been the future is wide open. We make our decisions step-by-step as we come to it. At the moment this is not an issue.

MODERATOR: I have a question.

Q: (inaudible)... for Latvia the meaning of NATO and NATO coming to Rīga ?

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: The meaning, in one word, is extremely gratifying and satisfying. We truly are pleased to be now part of that family of secure nations who have entered into an agreement of solidarity, of mutual support, to ensure their security and their sovereignty and their territorial integrity. These have been painful issues for Latvia in the past. There was this period between the two world wars when Latvia had hoped that declaring itself neutral might keep it out of the whirlwind of conflicts and of history. It did not work.

We are very happy to be part of a military alliance, one that ensures our security and we're very, very truly, deeply satisfied that now being a full member of it, we are able to manifest our contribution to it by being able to host a summit that's an undertaking that is very demanding in terms of the resources, human and otherwise, that it puts in our country. We're very pleased to have been able to offer our facilities, our infrastructures and to welcome everybody here. We're proud of ourselves.

MODERATOR: Okay, we had a question right here, in the centre.

Q: Yes, my names is Yuri (inaudible) from BNS Business. Although we do have a common language, I'll speak in English so everyone understands me.

We as a business newspaper have... we sometimes feel a little on the sidelines of such major political and military events as the NATO summit, but you as the representative of our country have been all over the world representing Latvia since we joined NATO. Do you feel, or did you get an impression, that our participation in NATO has somehow improved the investment climate in Latvia as seen from abroad? Has that helped us to improve the business climate and the attractiveness of Latvia as a place for foreign investors?

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: My personal feeling is yes. That would be the brief answer. Of course, we have to also acknowledge that Latvia became a member of the European Union at the same time. In that sense we got a double guarantee. Any potential investor coming to Latvia has the guarantee of the European Union and its standards in terms of civilian governments, in terms of the fairness of competition in our country, all these are ensured by our having become members of the European Union.

At the same time, the security offered by NATO surely plays a role as well. As one would say in science, we have two variables confounded, but very happily in this space. We have a synergy between the benefits of being in the European Union and the benefit of being in NATO. I think the sum is greater here than its separate parts, and the benefits have been already clear to see.

MODERATOR: (inaudible)...

Q: Paul Ames from the Associated Press. Madame President, this is the first NATO summit for some time where partner nations have not been represented at Head of State and Government level. Do you think that was a mistake? Do you think it would have been better to invite some of the other nations which are more interested in NATO affairs, but not members of the Alliance ? And are there any plans perhaps to brief leaders of those countries, perhaps Russia and Ukraine , for example, on the results of this summit in Rīga ?

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: The results of the summit, of course, will be public for everybody when we come out with the declarations. But the intent of this specific summit was to concentrate on NATO transformation. So that this is a members-only summit with the express desire for us to concentrate on our housekeeping, on our plans for the members specifically. How we come to agreement about our future priorities, about our commitments, about our collaboration with others. And it’s having done that, our bit of homework, then we are ready to go on and talk to our partners. And this has been part of the plan.

The summit of 2008 will be specifically one where the emphasis will be on our partners and eventually also on enlargement of NATO. This is very much a transformation summit. The Alliance itself is the focus here.

MODERATOR: (inaudible)...

Q: (inaudible)... Madame President, in your opinion, what will be the main Rīga message from Rīga Summit to the world?

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: Sorry, can you say that again?

Q: What will be the main message of Rīga Summit to the world?

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: In one word that NATO is alive and well and adjusting to an ever-changing world. The NATO that was created at its origins was faced with a Europe divided in two. It lived for many decades through a Cold War. When the Cold War ended a new world arose and NATO adapted to that. Now, as the years go by, we're seeing the world changing with increasing speed and rapidity and we have to face challenges of a wide variety of sorts, not least of which terrorism, but others as well. And in that sense the transformation of NATO and its readiness to assume news roles, but to keep always this ability to collaborate among the members, even in this very enlarged format. After all, 26 members is more than the earlier members that we had. I think it's a challenge that NATO itself has to show its readiness to respond to a changing world.

MODERATOR: Question right there.

Q: Mrs. President, hello. Mrs. President, here. Here.

Hello. Judy Dempsey, International Herald Tribune newspaper based in Berlin . There's an awful lot of talk about this global partnership. Do you think this will actually... is this just another name for coalitions of the willing?

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: A rose is a rose is a rose by any other name. I think the question is what is the essence of that form of collaboration? We could choose to stick different tags and labels on it, but the whole point of the exercise is what do we wish to achieve. It seems to me it's the substance of the thing. And the way we see it as a country that joined the Alliance in the latest wave of enlargement, we see this as the progress of nations towards peace, security and democracy. That is the essence of the whole question.

Q: Do you see, Mrs. President, do you see a weakening that eventually it could weaken the whole idea of collective defence, or the weakening of the European influence inside NATO?

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: Which would?

Q: This global partnership?

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: So far the collaboration of NATO forces with partners elsewhere has actually been to relieve NATO of the necessity of say sending more troops to travel Spot X in the world by having somebody else who's willing and able to do so arrive there with their troops. If they do that and if they are partners, that means the Allies themselves can keep more troops at home, actually be better equipped to defend their territory, if that should be the necessity, and I don't see how having people coming to help you can weaken you, as long as, of course, they're on your side.

MODERATOR: Second row, here.



The question is: What about the question of Russia ? We are very pleased since the end of the Cold War NATO has had a program of collaborating with Russia in different formats for the past five years or the past ten years. This, from where we stand, is progress, and we're very pleased to see that, and of course, we are absolutely ready to support NATO's engagement with Russia as a partner in fighting global dangers that concern us all equally, starting with terrorism or others.

Q: Matthew Fisher from the National Post of Canada . If I can ask you a parochial question, because of your extensive Canadian background, what values did you learn in Canada and about alliances such as NATO that made you think it's so valuable for Latvia to belong to this rather large western partnership?

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: Of course, I can remember from my student days at Victoria College that one of the three wise men who were actually instrumental in developing the whole concept of NATO was Lester Pearson. Also an alumnus of Victoria College at the University of Toronto . So that from those early days I had this example of statesmen looking beyond their borders and looking beyond the immediate needs of their populations to a broader future, and also to a broader partnership. Precisely because of what the world had gone through, including Canada and Europe , during the second world war, and indeed, the first world war, was something one didn't want to see repeated.

And therefore, the creation of the Alliance, one of its very first basic principles was let us do everything we can to protect the countries that are part of the Alliance to ensure that we do not have to fight the sorts of wars that caused so much grief and loss of life in the second and first world war.

Q: I was wondering if Russia ... Russia issue will be discussed in this specific summit, especially on the issue of future enlargement of the Alliance and possible reaction from Russia vis-à-vis a possible Georgia joining in the organization?

And on the Afghanistan issue, will the Alliance ask for more troops from its members and in what numbers?

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: As far as discussing Russia , as I indicated earlier, yes, we will be, in talking about our collaboration with various partners, we'll be addressing our cooperation with Russia . But this, as the moment, is proceeding actually to plan and this is not a burning... there are no burning issues actually on the table concerning NATO's collaboration with Russia .

As far as enlargement is concerned, then it is much the same situation as in the previous wave of enlargement. Decisions about NATO's enlargement lie entirely and solely in the hands of member nations. They are the ones who have the say and who will decide whom they wish to include in the Alliance or not. And non-members of the Alliance , basically, have nothing to say about it. It will be a matter of the candidate countries, of those countries, which in close cooperation, how they are able to progress, to proceed and to meet a criteria and how the Alliance itself will be ready to absorb them and to collaborate with them.

But the opinion of anybody standing outside of the Alliance actually is without pertinence.

MODERATOR: And we have time for a final question, please. In the first row.

Q: Madame President, Martinez de Rituerto with El País , Spain . Madame President, you have said a couple of times, or three times, that this is going to be the summit of the transformation of NATO, but from we are hearing and listening to people speaking about is going to be mainly building with the future of NATO in relation with Afghanistan.

Some leaders are coming to Rīga to ask for reinforcements of troops there for a more eagerness to put soldiers there from other partners in the Alliance , members of the Alliance . And about lifting caveats of the people that are there.

Do you think that NATO members should send more soldiers to Afghanistan and lift the caveats so that the generals on the field are freer to use their resources to fight against the Taliban? Thank you.

VĪĶE-FREIBERGA: The summit will be addressing the question of the NATO presence in Afghanistan , which is a fact. And of the commitments that NATO has made to help that country, the elected government of that country, to gain control of its territory, to maintain peace, and to control various bodies linked to organized crime or otherwise, who simply do not submit to civilian authority in that country.

Our question, the crucial question will be, how can we...(BREAK IN TRANSMISSION)...position and that of Latvia is that if NATO is engaged in that country, if it has set it as a goal, to be present there, and to help it, then of course it should do so wholeheartedly and to engage in the way that will produce results. Because to be there simply as decoration or as guests and as tourists, is hardly the aim. The aim is to change the situation on the ground to transform that country so that it is able to govern itself. This is a very difficult challenge. The resources it requires are quite tremendous, and it's a matter now for members of the Alliance to come to an agreement.

How important is it for all of us to ensure that that country can move forward? How much will it require of us? Are we able to come forth with these requirements?

But certainly a sort of half-hearted presence there, as far as Latvia is concerned, doesn't seem to be worthwhile. We should either go there wholeheartedly and really work hard and get the job done, or else then possibly say we're unable to deal with it and leave it to its fate.

MODERATOR: Thank you Madame President, and thank you dear colleagues for your interest in coming here.

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