From the event

  • Weekly press briefing by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

27 Feb. 2008

Weekly press briefing

by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Colleagues, thank you for waiting for me this time. As you can see there was no car available so I was forced to resort to less dignified methods of arriving and a little bit late as well, so please excuse me for that.

I don't have too much to start off with, so I'll try to be brief.

First, a little snapshot of the trip that the Secretary General and the North Atlantic Council took to Afghanistan last week. In short form I would say they came back encouraged by what they heard, and you won't be surprised to hear me say that on the record,  but I would even say it off the record. They were encouraged by what they heard.

Particularly on the security front. As you know this year, for example, ISAF... sorry the Afghan National Army will be, for the first time, larger than the ISAF force, so the production line of Afghan National Army battalions is bearing fruit.

They have seen very profound integration of Afghan National Army units into the operations in Afghanistan. My understanding is that 100 percent of the operations that take place, the military operations that take place, in the eastern region, 100 percent include Afghan forces and are often led by... or are led at times by Afghan forces. Ninety percent of the operations that take place in the south, again, include Afghan forces are on occasion led by them and them not on the most insignificant operations. You have seen, for example, the Musa Qala operation was Afghan-led.

The Secretary General went with the Supreme Allied Commander to Musa Qala and has seen for himself last week where things stand. In essence, that the security situation is obviously dramatically improved because the Taliban is no longer in the city itself and reconstruction is beginning, and development is beginning to flow in. But certainly a substantial improvement for the people who live there compared to the situation when the Taliban was in charge.

So that's the area... as I said in the security area they were modestly encouraged by the progress that they have seen. Where do we need to make progress? You have heard me say it before, so I won't dwell on it, but in particular the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams where there is a shortfall of around 20. That shortfall will only increase unless the contributions from NATO nations increases commensurate with the production of Afghan battalions.

So that is certainly one area where they will be focusing their effort in the coming days.

Second issue. Kosovo, just to bring you up to date, and let me state from the beginning, much as I would like to be, I'm not Jamie Shea and I will not be, as he did during the air campaign, providing... being an operational briefing I will not be given operational briefings. That is what, of course, they can do in Pristina now because there is a ground operation. That's not my job.

But I can tell you that from our perspective, from the perspective of the NATO military authorities, the situation is obviously tense and volatile, but remains relatively calm. We have the necessary forces in place and forces have been moved into the north of Kosovo to deal with what is obviously a particularly sensitive situation in that area.

The necessary reserves are also available, have been put on the appropriate notice to move, if called upon. So from the perspective of the Commander of KFOR, he has what he needs to do the job.

To be clear, KFOR is in the third line when it comes to security in Kosovo. First is the Kosovo Police Service, second is the UN Mission in Kosovo Police and then if necessary KFOR is called in. That has happened, as you know on more than one occasion in the past period. But it has been done in the appropriate way, in the appropriate sequence, and is working to... is working satisfactorily. I will of course answer any questions you have on Kosovo when you do come... let me just... quickly update you on two other things.

One is that the Secretary General will leave tomorrow for Washington, where on Friday he will meet with the National Security Advisor Steve Hadley, President Bush at 11:05. There will be a press pool at 11:50. He will have lunch with the president. He will then go to Brookings and from 1:30 to 3:00 he will give an address on Afghanistan and NATO that will be open, I believe, to those who wish to attend. So if you have colleagues in Washington who want to go along and ask questions I'm sure that will be quite possible.

Then on Monday he will fly and sadly I will have to also be on the plane at 6:30 a.m. to Greece to meet with Prime Minister Karamanlis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mrs. Bakoyianni and the Minister of Defence.

You will not be surprised that on the agendas of both sets of meetings you will have a number of issues, all of which fall, I think, into two broad categories, as we look to the Foreign Ministers' meeting next week and then to Bucharest.

One is... well, maybe two is a bit limited. One is the enlargement discussion. Foreign Ministers will have a first discussion on the 6th of March of enlargement. And I say first discussion in the context of the completion of the Membership Action Plan cycles. Those have now been completed. The heads of government of all three aspirant countries have been to NATO, have met with the North Atlantic Council and the assessments are in. There is internal work still continuing on those MAP cycles, but certainly Foreign Ministers will have really a first opportunity to have a substantive discussion on how they wish to see the enlargement process go forward and I'm quite sure Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer will raise this with his interlocutors in the United States, but also with his interlocutors in Greece.

Outreach to the other countries in the Balkan region, the Western Balkans will, I'm quite sure, be on the agenda in particular in Greece. How do we wish to engage more deeply as an Alliance, with Montenegro, with Bosnia-Herzegovina, how do we maintain a positive relationship with Belgrade and continue to keep the hand of partnership open with Belgrade.

That's one track. The second track is, of course, our operations and missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo. It is no secret that there is work within NATO on a political, military plan, strategy. That work is ongoing and will be discussed by Foreign Ministers, in essence to take forward the operation in Afghanistan with a vision towards the future, the upcoming years, and (inaudible)... as well.

I think that's all I wanted to say. I'm happy to take questions I think. My friend Pascal is first.

Q: I just wanted confirmation that the EUFOR in Bosnia is considered as a reserve force for KFOR? That  was written in Le Monde interview of Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, so I was slightly surprised, but if it is true that let it be.

APPATHURAI: I believe that is the case. I'm sure that Carmen is listening to me right now and will check it, but I do believe that it is the case. That they can reinforce each other, if necessary. So we'll check on it, but I believe so.

Q: In fact, I have two questions. The first of which is a little bit hypothetical, but anyway I would like to ask you. You said that NATO troops in Kosovo had been moved to the north. In case Serbs in Kosovo proclaim independence in the northern part of Kosovo. Would NATO allow that? This is my first question.

And the second question is, how does it stand with the name of Macedonia? Would Greece impede invitation to Macedonia during the Bucharest Summit? Thank you.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. I have been instructed by my boss to never... or to avoid answering questions that begin with if. This case is also a variation on it. That has not happened. I don't want to speculate on what...  I can't speculate on what would happen in that context. Please excuse me.

In terms of Macedonia this is clearly an issue to address to the Greek government. I have seen comments, I believe, over the weekend by Prime Minister Karamanlis on this issue, but I have also seen that there has been a positive exchange through Mr. Nimitz between Skopje and Athens on the issue of the name. Proposals are now being discussed. I understand, from what I have seen, that there will be a meeting in the coming days between the parties before, if I understand correctly, before the Foreign Ministers meeting—that seems to be the intent—to discuss the various options.

There seems to be an open-minded spirit on both sides, or on all sides, to come to a resolution on this issue, so let us hope, and I'm confident that NATO as an organization certainly hopes that a mutually satisfactorily resolution to the name issue can be arrived at as soon as possible.

Paul, did you have one?

Q: Yeah. I have two, in fact.


Q: Both on the same two issues raised. First on northern Kosovo. The Russians earlier this week were making some, basically warning NATO not to use force if the Serbs want to cross the border and not to impede the border crossings. What are KFOR's instructions with regard to the border between Kosovo and Southern Serbia, and how are you going to handle the prospect of Serbs moving across the border freely?

And on the name issue, the Secretary General's going to Athens. Does he have a message for the Greeks on the name issue? Is he encouraging them to come to a solution on one of these options that Nimitz has put forward?

APPATHURAI: Thank you.  My understanding, and I will be corrected if I'm wrong, but my understanding that the issue of the border and the control of the border, if that's the right word for it, relates principally to UNMIK and that responsibility falls with the United Nations.

NATO's mandate under 1244 is to, as you know very well, to provide a safe and secure environment throughout Kosovo and to support, of course, the United Nations mission and that is what has been done until now, and it is what will be done.

The Secretary General's message for Athens, obviously I won't discuss in public, but as I have said, certainly NATO will want to see as a group of nations, as an Alliance, a mutually satisfactory solution as soon as possible. And he will, I'm sure, make that case, which is well-known to Athens already, when he arrives.

Shall we go here, and then we'll come back.

Q: On the SG's visits to Washington, will the issues of the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, Palestine be on the list in talks with President Bush?

APPATHURAI: I would be surprised if Iraq was not raised. It usually is, and not least because NATO has a training mission in Iraq, so we have every reason to be discussing Iraq from that point of view. But of course the United States has a very heavy presence there and President Bush often raises the general security environment in the Middle East with the Secretary General when they go, even if that does not imply a NATO role beyond what we already have.

Yeah, I think that's the best I can say.

Q: Yes, follow-up James to the partition question. Given that NATO's mandate is to reach the safe and secure environment and to maintain it, does that mean that it's effectively neutral when it comes to partition? In other words, that it has no instructions on how it would intervene to... if there were moves towards any kinds of partition?

APPATHURAI: First, NATO's basic principle is to be as impartial and neutral as a basic principle. And it's mandate is not to pick any kind of sides, but to protect the safety and security of all the residents of Kosovo. That is the basic principle and mandate which we have been given by the United Nations.

Partition is obviously a very complex issue, and certainly NATO's remit does not extend to the political, it does not extend beyond the military and security sphere.

So in that context, and I want to be very careful with my words, in that context we have to be careful not to assign or ascribe to NATO responsibilities or to KFOR responsibilities which it does not have. And if there are issues related to partition, which are, from what I have seen, not necessarily military, those questions need to be addressed to the UN first and foremost; UNMIK in particular.

Q: So (inaudible)... if NATO falls they will move (inaudible)... look to be heading towards partition, as long as that did not affect a safe and secure environment it wouldn't intervene?

APPATHURAI: I don't want to go that far. This is a tough question to answer, because I don't know concretely what that would look like. I think I would have to wait and see, or we as an Alliance would have to wait and see what that actually meant.

Sorry, I'm not trying to dodge it, but it's hard to nail it down.

Look at this. (Laughs). It's too easy.

Q: Okay, it's, as usual, a minor question. Now it's Ukrainian leader of opposition Mr. Yanukovych is in the European Parliament and he has said that the Ukrainian opposition has sent a letter to the Secretary General clarifying that the half of the Ukrainian nation is against the joining of Ukraine to the Alliance.

So I want to ask you, had NATO received this letter, and is there any planned meeting between Mr. Yanukovych and Secretary General or some of his deputies. Thank you.

APPATHURAI: First, I can't confirm that the letter has been received. I am not aware of any planned meeting between Mr. Yanukovych and the Secretary General. Indeed, I don't think there is one. The Secretary General is very, very busy today.

Q: Just to follow-up. Sorry.

APPATHURAI: It's okay, go ahead. We'll come back.

Q: The new Russian ambassador also had some fairly strong words last week about Kosovo, Mr. Rogozin, saying, if I remember correctly, that Russia may have to use force to make its voice heard in Kosovo, or something like this. I just wondered whether the Secretary General has had any talks to Mr. Rogozin on that issue since then and what the outcome of that would have been?

APPATHURAI: I think Mr. Rogozin is having talks with the Secretary General and all the ambassadors right now, because there's a NATO-Russia Council taking place. That being said, and I will take the unusual role of being Mr. Rogozin's spokesman for a second—not that he needs one—and he, not least in direct contacts with Agence France-Presse has been ready vocal in saying that he was taken very profoundly out of context; that he never suggested that Russia was going to use force in Kosovo. That... and so the Secretary General has accepted, of course, as have all the ambassadors that his statement, that he was taken out of context, and certainly never intended to indicate that.

He stressed at length that Russia intended to use only political and diplomatic means to make its case when it comes to Kosovo.

Please. Sorry, did you have a question?

Q: This is on Afghanistan. The Secretary Gates of the United States, I think he has been talking about creative way of dealing with the troop shortfall over the last few months.


Q: Have you seen any progress on that?  And what... could you give us some examples of those creative ways?

APPATHURAI: Well, we have a challenge in Afghanistan, and that is matching up the forces to the requirement. That means at times, for example, doing something we have not done in the past, and that is to outsource, to contract out civilian helicopters for transport of material, to free up military helicopters for military purposes, and that we have done.

In my experience at NATO that's the first time something like that has happened, certainly in this kind of context.

There are other discussions under way, again, when it comes to helicopters, to find more creative ways to match up funding with capability. In other words, can one country pay for the transport of another country's helicopters into Afghanistan? Can one country that has money, but no helicopters pay for the operational use of another country's helicopters?

These are the sorts of things that we're looking at that we never really looked at in the past. I know one example where that has happened already, where I think it was Iceland that paid for Turkey's helicopters to go into Afghanistan. But we're going to have to look and we are looking in a much more systematic way at that kind of... as Secretary Gates says, more creative way of finding the resources necessary to do this kind of operation.

I wouldn't say these ideas have reached the point where they are in place, but they are being discussed.

Why don't we come here because he's been waiting quite patiently.

Q: Can you already give us an agenda of next week's ministerial?

APPATHURAI: Yes. Next week's ministerial will be relatively short: 8:30 to 12:30 and then a lunch, which will not have a formal agenda. In essence there will be two major blocks of discussion. One will be on enlargement in the Western Balkans. The second will be on operations.

So I was already hinting at that when I discussed it earlier. The Ministers will have their first discussion at ministerial level, as I said, on enlargement, and then how they think it should go forward now that the MAP cycles have been completed and I think that will take up a substantial amount of time, but they will also wish to look at the broader situation. And then Afghanistan, the political military approach that we wish to take forward, and I am quite sure, Kosovo will be very firmly on the agenda.

Q: You said the first opportunity (inaudible)...

APPATHURAI: Well, the first opportunity since the MAP cycles have been completed.  

Q: (Inaudible)...

APPATHURAI: At the Foreign Ministers' level, the first and last for Foreign Ministers, yeah. In that context, yes.

Q: Just one thing, in Kosovo there was a bit of speculation about increasing operational reserve battalions and can you confirm if the readiness of two operational reserve battalions was increased, and to which degree and which battalions they were?

And secondly, I think the Italian operational reserve battalion was prolonged until the 18th of March. Can you confirm that it is being replaced by an Austrian-German battalion on the 14th?

APPATHURAI: You're briefed quite extensively on these subjects.

Q: (Inaudible)...

APPATHURAI: (Laughs). Yeah, it's good information, but no I'm not going to confirm it and not because it is or not all accurate, but because it's not my mandate to do that. Sorry.

Q: Again on the Kosovo, is there already any discussion concerning the future additional tasks that KFOR could have like they have for the formation of Kosovar army?

APPATHURAI: There has been no discussion since the declaration of independence of future roles for NATO and certainly no decisions of any kind. The forces are very focused and NATO is very focused on safe and secure environment, the mandate that we have is quite relevant right now.

Here, here and then did you have one?

Q: You probably have read the report by the Boston Globe on a new intelligence-sharing agreement between Afghanistan, Pakistan and U.S.  


Q: Does it mean that tripartite in this case isn't working or is not working properly, I mean, in terms of intelligence-sharing?

APPATHURAI: Well, the Tripartite Commission is working very well. The U.S. is setting up in its area of operations, which are, of course, along the border these facilities which A, have a specific function where they are, and B, of course, the intelligence gathered will be fed into the larger NATO system into the larger discussion between NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

So you should see this all as part of a very integrated effort.

I think there was one right at the... okay, we'll (inaudible)....

Q: C'est sur l'élargissement, so enlargement. First question again, on Greece. I presume that it's not truly by chance that the Secretary General right now is going to Athens, or is it just because it's routine tour of the allies. Does he want to pressure Greece or use any other word you want, in order for them to admit that the only obstacle now to admission of or invitation to Macedonia is this question of name?

And on enlargement as well, you mentioned Western Balkans, but about the MAP that Ukraine and Georgia are asking for, is there any chance of a discussion amongst Ministers next week, or is it for ultérieur period.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. Certainly his job is not to pressure anybody on enlargement, there's no doubt. I have no doubt that the name issue will come up when he visits Greece. He has not been to Greece for some time and I think you should see this in the context of regular or a series of visits that the Secretary General is conducting in the run-up to Bucharest, not necessarily in the run-up to the Foreign Ministers meeting, but in the run-up to Bucharest, and he has visited an enormous amount of countries and will continue to do so right up until the last minute.

Ukraine and Georgia, I cannot exclude that it will come up at the Foreign Ministers meeting. I would frankly be surprised if it didn't, but it formally is not on the agenda as far as I'm aware.

That being said, any Minister is free to raise any issue they wish and I  would be surprised if it were not raised.

Q: (Inaudible)...?

APPATHURAI: Well formally these are the countries which are aspiring to membership and of course, it is absolutely important that they should be... that this issue should be addressed by Ministers. If Ministers also wish to raise the aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine, as I say I'd be surprised if it didn't come up in one context or another. They're certainly able to do so.

Q: (Inaudible)... basically the procedure for issuing the invitations to the (inaudible) or... will the decision effectively be taken next week...


Q: ...on (inaudible) by the Foreign Ministers, or will it be pushed off until...

APPATHURAI: I don't know until what... or how to put this? There will be no decision taken next week. Not least because this is an informal meeting, and it's not the format to take formal decisions, but this will be a first round at ministerial level to have that discussion.

Q: First and last.

APPATHURAI: First and last, indeed. But then we have the North Atlantic Council and they are a decision-making body. They can take that decision anytime they want.

Q: (Inaudible)...


Q: Could we expect to have a clearer idea publicly next week as to whether all or some of the three will get the invitation?

APPATHURAI: Let me put it this way... (Laughs).


APPATHURAI: If there is clarity we will make it public.

Q: (Inaudible)...

APPATHURAI: No, that's not true, but if I... let's put it this way... if there's clarity and I'm allowed to make it public I will. How's that? But I wouldn't expect formal decisions and frankly I wouldn't even expect informal decisions coming out of that meeting. I think it's a little bit too early. My experience at NATO is this generally goes down much closer to the wire.

Q: (Inaudible)...?

APPATHURAI: Each country is assessed on its own merits.

Q: (Inaudible)... clarity on Croatia, for instance?


Q: On Albania as well. 



Q: Could you just give us some more details on the additional forces that they moved into northern Kosovo, either as Jamie Shea or James Appathurai?

APPATHURAI: (Laughs). Well, I really can't. That's the problem. I really can't. But you might want to consult with some of your colleagues who seem to be very well briefed. I know what those details are, but I'm not at liberty to give operational details in that way. KFOR may well be, and you should address them to do that.

Q: (Inaudible)...


Q: (Inaudible)... next week? Can we get a clearer idea of troop movements next week then, do you think?

APPATHURAI: I'll see if I can get a little bit more leash to speak to that issue. I'll see what I can do. Leash.

Q: What's the question?

APPATHURAI: Troop contri... or troop movements in Kosovo. I'll see what I can do to get a bit more information. Or at least be allowed to say it.

Are we okay? Thanks.