14 June 2007

Press briefing

by the NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai
on the Meetings of NATO Defence Ministers
on 14 and 15 June 2007

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesperson): Hello friends. Sorry I am late. I am maybe just not eager to go sit in the back row of the lunch because I can tell you the people in the back row don't get the same food as the people in the front row.

Let me quickly, for those of you who don't always follow NATO from day to day, run quickly with you through the upcoming agenda and what the key issues are, which I am sure you are here to cover, and then give you a very quick snapshot of this morning's discussions. You know that this morning's discussions have focused on transformation, including for example such issues as missile defence and I will come back to that.

There is now a working lunch of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. Ukrainian Minister of Defence Grytsenko, who is very well known to us, will be discussing, I am quite sure, not only the very good state of NATO-Ukraine relations; I might add that Ukraine is the only Partner that is contributing to each and every one of NATO's operations and missions. We have very profound co-operation and that will get more profound in the future, but I anticipate that Ministers will wish to discuss with Minister Grytsenko the political environment in Ukraine. It seems to be moving forward now in a more positive way and I'm sure that will be welcomed.

That will be followed at 14:35 with a point de presse by the Secretary General and the Ukrainian Minister of Defence. Then at the end of their point de presse they will go around the corner and those of you who have cameras and an interest can accompany them because they will inaugurate a public diplomacy display on NATO-Ukraine co-operation looking at the anniversary of it around the corner.

15:15: NATO-Russia Council meeting. This should be one full of interest. There are a number of issues on which there is agreement. I think there's quite a few where there is less agreement - CFE, missile defence, et cetera. So this should be a very interesting opportunity for Ministers to meet, I think for the first time, Russian Minister - or at least for the first time in the NATO format - Russian Minister Serdyukov.

We will then have the EAPC (Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council) bring together at 16:55… all of the members of the Euro-Atlantic community. Tonight will be the working dinner of the North Atlantic Council on operations - Afghanistan, Kosovo and others - because there are developments beyond those two operations as well. Finally tomorrow morning 9:00 o'clock the Nuclear Planning Group and Defence Planning Committee. This is a regular set of meetings about which there is of course no public discussion. And then the NAC with non-NATO ISAF contributors, 37 nations. Minister of Defence Wardak, who is I believe already here, will be part of that meeting and then at 13:05 there will be a press conference with the Secretary General and Minister Wardak to close off the meeting.

There are a number of issues particularly relating to Afghanistan that will be discussed both tonight and tomorrow. Training and equipping the Afghan National Army will certainly be a priority. I know the Secretary General and Minister Wardak, but many Ministers, believe that more should be done, that more could be done and I know more is being done as more offers are being made for what we call OMLTs (Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams) that can be placed with Afghan Forces.

Let me conclude with a summary of this morning's discussions because this will be relatively brief. There were in essence two issues that I wished to raise with you. One is missile defence. This was brought up by every Minister with a number of principles shared universally by all.

One - that missile defence must be looked at through the prism and the principle of the indivisibility of security and that very much in a NATO context; that the 26 Allies should approach missile defence through the principle of indivisibility of security. Second - that NATO is a forum, the forum, for discussing missile defence in a trans-Atlantic context. Third - that the NATO-Russia Council is also an appropriate forum for discussion of missile defence. Of course, in the context of theatre missile defence where we have good co-operation with the Russian Federation, but also of course as a place to air views on wider missile defence issues. That has already happened and it will continue to happen.

Finally, Ministers agreed a way forward on missile defence within NATO on this important trans-Atlantic issue. NATO will now move forward to assess the political and military implications of the U.S. missile system proposals as a follow-up to the decisions taken at the Riga Summit with an aim to have conclusions on the implications of these U.S. proposals on missile defence more broadly by February 2008, obviously with an eye to the summit coming up a couple of months later.

So we now have a way forward in NATO taking into account the new U.S. proposals that have been put forward since the Riga Summit to have a broad assessment of what this means for missile defence more broadly and of course how it will affect and being affected by the NATO discussions and NATO decisions on missile defence. That's the first point.

The second point I wish to address is cyber defence. This was brought up by many Ministers; no surprise that the Estonian Defence Minister was one of those. The discussion had a number of themes. One was concern about the extent and nature of the attacks that Estonia has suffered. They were sustained; they were co-ordinated; they were focused; they were against a public information infrastructure of Estonia. They had clear national security and economic implications for Estonia. There was sentiment around the table that urgent work is needed to enhance the ability to protect information systems of critical importance to the Alliance against cyber attacks and therefore that will be, I am sure, a subject of work here within NATO starting tomorrow or maybe Monday.

Those are the two issues that I wanted to bring to your attention. I'm happy to take your questions.

Q: On missile defence if I can get to that. Could you give us an idea of what Secretary Gates had to share with the NATO Partners? Are things still moving forward in terms of Poland and the Czech Republic?

APPATHURAI: I think Secretary Gates is going to be speaking for himself and I don't want to speak for him. What I have seen in public statements by the U.S. government you have also seen that they do indeed intend to carry forward with (inaudible), but Secretary Gates has been saying publicly, he has also said privately, that he is very open to discussions with the Russian Federation on the proposal that they have brought forward on the missile base site in Azerbaijan. So nothing he said behind closed doors was divergent from these views.

Q: James did the assessment that's been ordered for next February, is that basically first of all a (inaudible) of acceptance that the U.S. missile shield will form part of NATO's overall defences and is the basic goal of this to establish the famous bolt-on, some sort of shorter range protection for the south-eastern countries of the Alliance?

APPATHURAI: I think it certainly is a recognition that the U.S. proposals and their discussions with Poland and the Czech Republic are, A, a fact; B, that they are moving forward; and C, that NATO work which has been agreed already in Riga on missile defence needs to take that into account. Now what the conclusions will be in February I do not know, but certainly there will be now a comprehensive assessment that takes into account the factors that are relevant to date and that has to include obviously the implications in both directions of the U.S. system.

If, after the conclusion of this study in February, our governments wish to have a discussion of whether and if so how to, as you say, bolt-on a NATO system to a U.S. system, that will have to wait until February.

Q: Just a follow-up to that. Marc John from Reuters. You say that the study would have to look at all of the relevant factors. Does that include the possibility of the Azeiri radar being used?

APPATHURAI: of course the Azeiri proposal is relatively recent, but the initiative is to have a comprehensive look at all the relevant factors. There is no logic in leaving out one issue or another. That being said, it is for the U.S. and Russian Federation and the Azeiri government I believe to have the specific discussion on the viability or not for the U.S. system of that proposal. So to be clear, as far as I know there is nothing to stop the study itself from looking at the implications of that.

Q: Steve Villa from the Financial Times. Will this study involve a threat analysis, a threat assessment, about the need for missile defence? And is there any input likely or necessary from the Russians on their own threat assessment?

APPATHURAI: Two points. One is we have had a series of threat assessments within NATO already and these have been agreed at 26. I think the most recent and probably the most relevant for this discussion is the one that concluded with the feasibility study that was presented to nations two years ago. It concluded that, A, there is a missile threat to Europe; B, that a defence against that missile threat is technically feasible.

This initiative will include an update to that agreed threat assessment to take into account developments since then. This is a NATO initiative of course. I do not know frankly and I don't know that anyone yet knows how, or whether, the Russian Federation will be engaged in this. But of course we have the NATO-Russia Council for discussions of threat. I can tell you I was present at a discussion in the NATO-Russia Council very recently where indeed both the United States and the Russian Federation presented in a very visual way what their threat assessments were, in particular with relation to Iran. So that discussion is already underway.

Q: Does this decision to have this assessment reflect in any way any scepticism expressed by Ministers regarding the need for this or any sympathy for the Russian position that such a system could actually raise tensions?


Q: Tensions… or the dangers of missile conflict.

APPATHURAI: no NATO nation today called into question the U.S. discussions with their allies, nor raised questions about its desirability or feasibility. Of course all NATO Allies, and that was not just repeated today, but has been repeated publicly a number of times, all NATO Allies want to have the maximum transparency with the Russian Federation; want to do the utmost to allay any concerns about, the U.S. proposals. Certainly within the NATO-Russia context as well. We wish to be as transparent, as open as possible, to ensure that these ideas do not unnecessarily raise tensions. We have tried very hard in the NATO context. I know that the United States has made every effort to do the same, to be transparent. It has made a very forward-leaning offer to the Russian Federation for co-operation when it comes to intelligence sharing, when it comes to technology sharing, when it comes to co-operation on this particular issue.

I believe in fact that discussion of this very base in Azerbaijan is something that has been discussed for quite a long time and indeed that the United States had raised in the past. So I think there is a good esprit now in the relation, a good spirit in the discussion between the United States and the Russian Federation now and certainly in the NATO context as well.

Q: James isn't it a bit difficult… if I understand correctly, NATO tacitly agrees that the U.S. can go ahead with its plans and the Czech Republic and Poland. So how can you go into Russia saying we're open for all discussions at the same time? Isn't this bound to raise new tensions with Russia that NATO doesn't seem to seriously consider another alternative?

APPATHURAI: Two things. One is it's not for NATO to agree or not agree to the United States discussions with its individual allies. You know this of course very well. But what NATO is going to do based on the decision Ministers agree today is to take that work into account as we look at our own initiatives. That being said, the Russian Federation themselves have I think in their initiative, in President Putin's initiative, to raise the issue of the base in [inaudible] done two things. One - acknowledged that there is a threat as the United States has done. And two - to take a proactive approach in discussing ways in which co-operation on missile defence could ease any tensions overtaking this project forward.

So I think in fact that the discussions between the Russian Federation and the United States have taken a step forward both in terms of substance and in terms of spirit. Certainly the United States has welcomed it and welcomed it publicly, and as I said, I think the spirit now is positive.

I have a delicious lunch to get to. Thank you very much. The Secretary General will be here… I'll get you the exact time. You'd know it better than I do. In an hour and a bit, 2:35. Thanks so much.