From the event


16 Jan 2008

Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and the Prime Minister of Croatia, Ivo Sanader

MODERATOR: Thank you for coming. The NATO Secretary General and the Croatian Prime Minister will make short statements and then answer some questions for you.

Please Sec Gen.

JAAP DE HOOF SCHEFFER (NATO Secretary General): Ladies and gentlemen good morning. It was I can say, once again, a pleasure; but this time a special pleasure to receive Prime Minister Sanader of Croatia at an important moment of course in the relationship between Croatia and NATO. But let me start by also publicly congratulating you Prime Minister with your re-election and with the new government. Croatia as we all know, a nation which is aspiring for NATO membership, is  playing an important role in the region.

And last but not least, being for 2008 and 2009, a non-permanent member of the Security Council. Let me also congratulate you on this achievement. Prime Minister it shows that the international community quite rightly takes Croatia very seriously.

On the meeting we had with the North Atlantic Council I think that Prime Minister Sanader, but he'll speak of course himself about this as well, got a strong signal of appreciation for what has been achieved on the road to NATO membership. And also a strong signal of encouragement to continue to finish I should say the necessary reforms. A lot has been achieved that was crystal clear. A lot has been achieved in increasing public support for NATO which is a point, I remember when Prime Minister Sanader came to us in 2007, was a point addressed by many Ambassadors. A lot has been achieved. We have seen the figures go up. May I point to Ambassador Božinović who has played an important role in this by strengthening public support, which is so important? Not only now, but under any circumstance.

Of course the return of refugees was discussed; the fight against corruption; judicial reform; to go those final miles. So a signal of appreciation and a signal of encouragement. You know that as we speak at the moment, as I always say there are no tickets punched. No guarantee can be given. That is still the same. We are in the run-up to Bucharest. We're very close to Bucharest now and it goes without saying that Prime Minister Sanader's visit to NATO was very timely indeed.

NATO's door is open; NATO's door has never been closed for those nations aspiring for NATO membership and it goes without saying that NATO's door is not closed for Croatia. So the message was go the final mile. I said in the meeting you can do two things - and I speak as experience of having run a marathon - you can sprint those final 200 metres and 242 kilometres and 195 metres. You can sprint the final 195 metres. You can do that. You can only walk them as long as you are on time before the formal registration of the time closes.

In other words, appreciation, encouragement, the realization I should add of Croatia being a security exporter with us; not a consumer, but an exporter and high appreciation for what Croatia and Croatian forces are doing in Afghanistan. I already underlined the regional role of Croatia in a time where important decisions are going to be made as far as the region is concerned. Important elections are coming up.

In other words, Prime Minister Sanader is welcome, was welcome, signals of appreciation, signals of encouragement.

Thank you very much. Prime Minister please.

IVO SANADER (Prime Minister of Croatia): Thank you Secretary General. Ladies and gentlemen it's a pleasure meeting you again here after a very successful meeting in the North Atlantic Council. I'm very grateful to the Secretary General for his personal support of Croatia on our way to NATO membership. As Bucharest Summit is closer to us, we do believe that we can accomplish our work in order to be able to get the invitation and we hope to be able to get the invitation at the Bucharest Summit.

I'm telling this encouraged with this meeting because as the Secretary General said, a lot of representatives have shown their appreciation for the work we have done and we are doing currently. Croatia, and that's why I committed myself and my government, will stay as a reliable partner of NATO, reliable partner of the international community in the region and we know that there is still a need to achieve full political stabilization into region. Croatia will be a part of the international community in resolving the open issues and unfinished business in the region, especially our responsibility is growing with the fact that we are a non-permanent UN Security Council member in the coming two years.

We will discuss and consult our partners, especially NATO partners and EU partners, on all important issues which will come up on the agenda of the UNSC.

Ladies and gentlemen I am sure that we are facing challenging times and that at the end, but also beyond Bucharest, it will be the end of preparatory process for Croatia. But if everything goes well and if the invitation will be extended to Croatia, we'll be working on all issues which Secretary General mentioned with more responsibility, more commitment, but even now the commitment and the responsibility is presented.

Q: I'm doing this in English for all of us. What do you think is the most important and most crucial point for you - what you will have to achieve to have a green light in Bucharest at the end of the day?

SANADER: Secretary General already mentioned this is the continuation of the needed reforms. Membership Action Plan six(?) cycle has been successfully terminated and I got appreciation from all member states. We'll continue; we'll also continue to play a very constructive role in the region. We know that the international community has a very active role in our neighbouring region. Croatia is very active. It will be a part of these efforts of the international community.

But also on the internal level we shall continue with the reform of judiciary with all issues related to minority and return and fight against corruption and public awareness because we believe, and I'm very, very happy that the public awareness has been raised and the public support has been raised to 50 percent and even over; it depends on which agency is conducting the research, but up to 52 percent. If you compare it with less than 30 percent some time ago, it's a great, great success, especially a great success in raising public awareness in Croatia of what it's all about.

For me and for my government, for the Croatian state leadership, NATO is about values such as democracy, freedom, rule of law, human rights, minority rights, free market economy. Those values we are communicating to our public. So this is our work in the coming months.

Q: One question for Prime Minister. Do you have a clear position now as a government that there will be no referendum for NATO membership in Croatia? And for Secretary General - did any member states of NATO raise today issues open... issues with the neighbours that Croatia has, some remaining unresolved issues, namely Slovenia or Italy, and can this be obstacle for NATO membership for Croatia?

Thank you.

SANADER: There will be no referendum on NATO. There is no need according to the Croatian constitution. In addition to that, I have to mention the fact that my party, which won the elections in Croatia, has presented its program with a clear priority of NATO membership, NATO and EU membership, with no referendum. For EU yes we need a referendum according to the Croatian constitution; for NATO there is no need. We agreed with the coalition partners and as you have heard in the Croatian (inaudible) also other parties which are in the opposition now are no more asking for the referendum. They will be satisfied with the decision of the Croatian Parliament. But it was always our position the Croatian Parliament should decide on how NATO membership after we got the invitation and the ratification process in the member states.

SCHEFFER: The subject was raised. I'm not going to of course comment on individual interventions in a very friendly way. And as far as countries aspiring NATO membership are concerned, I'm not talking and using the word blockade and nobody did.

Q: Secretary General Paul Ames from the Associated Press. Could I ask you to comment on the interview that Secretary Gates has given to the Los Angeles Times where he appears to criticize NATO Forces in the south of Afghanistan? And could you also comment on the reports there that Mr. Ashdown has accepted to become the international representative in - Lord Ashdown - international representative in Afghanistan?

SCHEFFER: Let me start with the second part of your question. I have no confirmation of that part of your question, but it goes without saying that the NATO Allies would very much appreciate and applaud the nomination of a strong co-ordinator by the Secretary General of the United Nations by they way; this is first and foremost a UN responsibility. I have been discussing this also with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently. I would applaud it, but let me further wait with a formal comment until I have formal confirmation of the news. Let me say about Lord Ashdown, about Paddy Ashdown, that he is somebody with a great experience of course for such a job. But let me leave it to the United Nations Secretary General to formally announce anything he might want to announce.

On the first part of your question you know my opinion. I have the greatest respect, and I underline the greatest respect, for what the Allies and the partners by the way (a coalition of almost 40 nations) are doing in Afghanistan. It's 37 or 38 at the moment as we speak. Also of course, the greatest respect for those nations in the southern part of Afghanistan who do what we used to call the heavy lifting. Counter-insurgency is a very complex thing and not always easy, but let me finish by saying I have great respect for what they are doing and I have specifically great respect for what the nations in the south are doing.

Q: Inga (inaudible) from Reuters for the Prime Minister. If I can ask you about other challenges facing you in other parts of town about your announcement process to the EU, there has been some criticism from the group in commission recently about your fishing disputes with Slovenia and Italy. I was interested to know what you're going to do about it and if you fear this could derail your accession process to the EU.

SANADER: Yes. This is one of the issues which is on the agenda currently and my proposal is to meet on quadrilateral level. I am proposing a meeting between Croatia, Italy and Slovenia and European Commission in order to resolve this issue. What could be the solution of this issue I can't tell you, but the fact is that Croatia, as all other member states in the European Union, proclaimed (inaudible) in back 2003 and it's applied also since January 1st to other member states, to the member states of the European Union as all other countries. So this is based on the convention of the UN from back 1982 and this is what all other countries have done. There is no double standards in the European Union, but having said that on the same level there is a need to discuss this issue and to consult as we are doing until now. We have been doing this with Italy, Slovenia and the commission. So we will continue this. I am optimistic.

Q: Monsieur le Secrétaire Général, Pascal Mallet, Agence France Presse.  Je me permets d'insister sur cette question de l'Afghanistan et de l'interview dans le Los Angeles de M. Gates.  Parce qu'enfin tout ceci donne une impression de division.  Est-ce qu'il y a eu, à votre connaissance, avant l'intervention de M. Gates critiquant l'incapacité des troupes néerlandaises, britanniques et canadiennes de faire de la contre-guérilla?  Est-ce qu'il y a eu des discussions à ce niveau au Conseil de l'Atlantique sur l'incapacité de ces troupes?  Est-ce que c'est un nouveau sujet pour vous?  Ou est-ce que l'OTAN en avait discuté, merci?

SCHEFFER: L'OTAN, bien sûr, discute en permanence de l'Afghanistan chaque mercredi, chaque mardi quand on a le déjeuner des ambassadeurs.  On l'a fait ce matin.  Pas dans le sens spécifique que vous venez d'indiquer.  Pas du tout.  Je redis que j'ai... que j'ai répondu à votre collègue que j'ai le plus grand respect, maintenant en français, le plus grand respect pour ce que les Alliés sont en train de faire en Afghanistan au Nord, à l'Ouest, à l'Est et au Sud et plus spécifiquement peut-être au Sud, "where the going gets tough" pour ne pas le dire en français.  Je crois que tous les pays qui sont au Sud "do an excellent job".  Full stop.

Q: (Inaudible)... Belgrade. For Prime Minister Sanader. Your country is (inaudible) member of Security Council in United Nations. What will be your position about Kosovo in that body of United Nations? And for Secretary General, Serbian government adopted action plan which should be some kind of answer on eventually co-ordinating the (inaudible) of independence of Kosovo. So according to your information, that action plan could undermine the work of KFOR in Kosovo or not?

SANADER: As to me, Croatia will be, as I said, part of the policy of the European Union. We are a negotiating country and the threshold of the membership of the European Union so there will be no (inaudible) policy from the side of Croatia. So we will be consulting the EU members states represented in the Security Council and we'll find a solution along with them.

SCHEFFER: My answer is that KFOR will do its job. You know what KFOR's responsibilities are and KFOR will do that, is prepared to do that, is prepared for all eventualities and KFOR's position, KFOR's role, KFOR's responsibilities will not be influenced by what you just mentioned.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

SANADER: Thank you.