From the event

  • Weekly press briefing by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai
Palace, Brussels

5 Mar. 2008

Press briefing

by the NATO Spokesman James Appathurai

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Thank you for coming. Let me very, very quickly discuss the visit schedule and then look forward to tomorrow's ministerial and then I'll be happy to take your questions on whatever issue is of interest to you.

First, just to briefly remind you, in case you want to ask anything about it, that the Secretary General was in Washington last Friday, met with the entire national security team (the President, the Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor) where they discussed, you will not be surprised, the upcoming NATO ministerial and summit, as well as, in particular, the operation in Afghanistan.  And as I say, if you want to discuss this meeting, which was a few days ago, I am happy to discuss it with you.

On Monday he was, and I was with him, in Greece, in Athens where we met with-- where he met with Prime Minister Karmanlis, the Foreign Secretary-- Foreign Minister, Defence Minister.  Again, they discussed the agenda of the foreign ministers meeting.  It is not news that the name issue, as it is euphemistically called, was very prominently on the agenda of the discussions where the Greek side made their views very clear.  The Secretary General, of course, does not play a direct role nor does NATO play a direct role in the discussions that are ongoing when it comes to the name issue.  The Secretary General expressed his desire, his hope, that a resolution is found to this issue as quickly as possible.  He did note, and noted in public, that the decisions taken on enlargement must be taken and will be taken by consensus, and that in the context of this discussion there is a difference between those who are in and those who are out of the Alliance.

Today, we have-- the Secretary General has received the Georgian speaker, Mrs. Burjanadze and the Minister of Foreign Affairs from Georgia.  They discussed, in essence, two issues.  One was the state and progress in NATO's cooperation with Georgia, in particular, of course as you know we have an intensified dialogue and an individual partnership action plan with Georgia and they discussed the state of reform.  I think it is safe to say that, in general, the Allies are positive on the efforts and results of Georgia's reform, though the Secretary General did point out that, of course, further work is required in areas such as judicial reform.  He also looked forward to the upcoming parliamentary elections and urged the Georgian officials to ensure that these elections are conducted, of course, in a free and fair manner and with the minimum of technical complications.

And second, it is not news, they discussed, again, Georgia's aspirations to join the Membership Action Plan.  The Speaker and the Minister have made very clear the Georgian position; the Secretary General committed to conveying that message to the ambassadors and noted of course that tomorrow the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of NATO will be here seated around the North Atlantic Council table where, and I will come back to that, they will, I'm quite sure, have a discussion, amongst other issues, of the memberships aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia.

This afternoon, in fact as we speak, there is what we call a North Atlantic Council reinforced.  What does that mean?  It means that experts have come from capitals, because this is a North Atlantic Council meeting on missile defence.  Three U.S. officials have come to present, to brief the Allies.  That is John Rood, the Undersecretary for Arms Control, then Fried whom you all know is, I think, now the acting number three in the State Department filling in for Nicholas Burns who has left the State Department, and Lieutenant ("left-tenant") General-- sorry, that was a Canadian speaking, Lieutenant General Obering, Director of the U.S. Missile Defence Agency.  They will bring Allies up to date on the state of their bilateral discussions with the Czech Republic and Poland.  There will be a discussion of course of the overall threat of missiles and I am quite sure a discussion of the NATO effort as it goes forward in complementarity with the U.S. discussions.

Let me turn now very quickly to the ministerial tomorrow, the schedule, and the issues on the agenda, and then I will be very happy to take your questions, as I say, on these or any other issues.  The NAC meeting, the ministerial will basically take place in one session.  It is NATO only, so there are no meetings with the Ukrainians or Russians or other partners.  It is NATO only and it is one long session from 8:30 to 12:30, then the Secretary General will have his press conference at 12:40.  If possible, I will pop out half way through just to bring you up to date on what's going on.  Actually, well, I'll come-- I should mention one thing before I turn to this agenda, so excuse me for jumping around but we did have today, also, a meeting of the NATO Ukraine Commission.  This was intensified dialogue day at NATO, because not only did we meet with the Georgian Speaker, Secretary General met with the Georgian Speaker, but the entire NATO Ukraine Commission, that is the NATO ambassadors and the Ukrainian ambassador met for the first time with the new Ukrainian ambassador, his name is Ihor.  Apparently it's properly pronounced Sahash--


APPATHURAI: Sagatch.  Well, I was told something different but you're Ukrainian, so-- (laughter).  The German who told me how to pronounce this (laughter) got it wrong and I'm going to have to tell him that.  Sagatch.

So it was a very-- (laughter) it was a very positive meeting.  The fact that this meeting has been held after a relatively extended period of time when there has been no NATO Ukraine Commission meetings reflects the fact that the new government and NATO are stepping up with their cooperation again and it's something that all the ambassadors welcome.  They had a very open political dialogue, and yes, no surprise again, Ukraine's membership aspirations were also discussed and, again, the ambassadors look forward to tomorrow's discussions.

Back to tomorrow's discussions, the meeting will in, essence, be divided up into two parts.  One will be operations and missions, and the other one will be enlargement, partnership, and outreach.  Let me discuss, first, the enlargement, partnership, and outreach issue.  This will be the first and, indeed, last ministerial opportunity for ministers to exchange views on the aspirations of the three Membership Action Plan countries to join NATO before the Bucharest summit. 

The annual cycles of review have now been completed, they have the information that they need, the ministers, to have this discussion now and they will have a first exchange of views where I hope, and presume, that we will get a flavour of the way in which ministers look at the membership process in the run up to Bucharest which is only something like 20 working days from now.  So this will be a very important discussion.  I do not expect this to be a decision-making meeting.  Indeed, it is not expected to be, it's an informal meeting, but I hope that we will get a flavour of the way the wind is blowing within NATO on enlargement.  The Secretary General will of course update you at his press conference on that discussion.

Allies will look, of course, at the western Balkans not just in the context of the three Membership Action Plan countries but in the context of the region as a whole, and they will wish, I believe, to discuss how we can strengthen our relationships as NATO with other countries in the western Balkans, in particular, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro.  Will there be-- there may well be a discussion of whether to step up our cooperation with them, for example, in the context of intensified dialogue.  Again, no decisions are expected but that is a possibility, certainly, for discussion.

I anticipate that you will-- there will be a strong sense around the table that Allies wish to have an open hand with regard to Serbia, and would wish to see our relations, NATO relations with Serbia deepen.  Of course, Serbia has to also wish to see those relations deepen and take the steps necessary to allow for that to happen, but certainly you will see a very open mind, I think you will see an open mind amongst the Allies when it comes to deepening relations with Serbia, if possible.

Finally, as I mentioned, the membership aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine are certain to be discussed by ambassadors.  Ukraine has made it very clear in a public letter, as you all know, and subsequent public statements that they would hope to get Membership Action Plan invitation at Bucharest.  Georgia has also indicated its strong interest in getting an invitation to join the Membership Action Plan.  This will be, again, a first opportunity at ministerial level for an exchange of views on how ministers see this and how they wish to respond.

Turning to operations, Kosovo is clearly of great political interest to the 26 NATO member states.  NATO is not in the recognition business but NATO is in Kosovo in the security business. We have a mandate, NATO has a mandate from the UN Security Council to provide for security and stability throughout Kosovo and that mission is being carried out in a relatively complex and fast-moving political environment.  But our mission is very clear from a security point of view.  I believe-- or let's put it another way, it is very likely that ministers will wish to discuss the larger political context of Kosovo, not just events within Kosovo but also what is happening in Belgrade, what is coming out of Belgrade, and the implications for the wider region.

They will also, I think, spend some time discussing Afghanistan, why-- because we are preparing, and this is no secret to you, or the Allies are preparing a comprehensive political military plan, I believe is the word, which will take forward our operation in Afghanistan.  That plan should be ready by the time of Bucharest for the approval of our heads of state and government.  There will be, in essence, two parts to it; one more detailed confidential document which will set out very clearly where the Allies believe we, that means NATO as part of the international community, and relating to the rest of the international community, should be going in the coming years, and a public vision statement, if you will, which will, of course, be fully coherent with the confidential document but will also be a strong message to our publics from all the Allies on their vision of this mission and where it should go.

Foreign ministers will have a first discussion of these documents tomorrow, in particular, the public document.  They will have an initial discussion of that tomorrow, but it will not be made public, they will only have an initial round of discussions on their first viewing of it.  And since we only sent it to them-- well, I'll stop there.

I think that's, in essence, the main issues of-- on the ministerial agenda, and I think I will stop and I will happily take your questions on any issue that you may have.  Well, let's start and then go back, it's the easiest way for me to remember.

Q: Well you mentioned that the MAP cycle is closed now and what I would like to ask is hypothetical, is there any case of strict conditional invitations for some of the MAP countries, let's say if-- with the condition of a timely solution to outstanding regional issues, let's say, for (inaudible)?  And the second one, is there going to be any kind of recommendation for-- that will come out of the-- tomorrow's ministerial?

APPATHURAI: In terms of-- to answer your second question first, they are not expected to come to consensus decisions tomorrow, including recommendations on how to go forth.  This will be an exchange of views, but these exchanges of views, of course, are very important.  In essence, Allies will begin showing their cards when it comes to the enlargement process and the flavour of that meeting will, of course-- sorry, and the discussion in that meeting will then be taken forward, so the discussion from that meeting will be taken forward in the North Atlantic Council in permanent session, in other words by the ambassadors, to arrive, eventually, at concrete decisions in Bucharest.

I have heard no discussion, as yet, to answer your first question, of attaching conditions to invitations to join the Alliance.  That does not mean that I can predict what will happen in the next four weeks, but until now I have not heard any discussion of that.  Well, let's-- please.

Q: Yes, Brook Tigner, Defence News, two questions if I may James.  You mentioned earlier that, regarding Georgia, the Allies are pleased with reform and yet I've heard from several senior diplomats, ambassadors, that the events of December are still heavily colouring their views, so there seems to be a contradiction there, if you could clarify that.  And secondly, this comprehensive military plan-- what is this going to-- how is this going to change NATO's behaviour or activities-- what's it going to do differently that it's not doing now?

APPATHURAI: Thank you.  To answer the first one, the first question on Georgia; yes, the Allies believe that a substantial and positive reform has been carried out.  Yes, there was a lot of concern amongst Allies and the Secretary General released a statement in that regard, I believe, about the events of last December.  They were disappointing to many friends of Georgia, and many friends of Georgia expressed their disappointment about what they saw on their television screens in December. That being said, what happened in December doesn't undermine the concrete improvements that Georgia has made and those are recognized by the Allies.

The political military plan is designed to take stock of where we are and lay out a path, a vision for where we are going, and that means to set out very clearly where NATO as an organization believes that improvements need to be made both within our operation but also where we can stimulate and support activity by other parties, including the Afghan government first and foremost, including the other members of the international community.  It is only normal to take stock of where you are a few years into an operation in the face of a changing security environment and political environment-- political and security environment which has not least been changed by the positive affects of our operation. So this will, as I say, lay out a road map for where NATO wishes to go but also where we wish to support and encourage others to go as well.

We'll take the two in the front.  I'll come back.

Q: Do you have this comprehensive military document, you were saying this has been discussed with the Afghan government, and I mean the confidential document you said, and will this be adopted in the Bucharest summit?

APPATHURAI: The idea is for this comprehensive political military plan to be adopted by the-- at the Bucharest summit, and of course the intention is that it should be fully endorsed by the Afghan government after proper consultation with them.  There is no doubt, and there should be no doubt in anyone's mind and there is no doubt in NATO that what happens in Afghanistan has to be under Afghan lead, and that is a spirit which you will see, or which you could see if you had access to that document (laughter), which flows throughout the document.

Q: According to declarations by our current sources in NATO, it seems that for Georgia and Ukraine they can wait quite a long time before inviting to MAP.  In fact, the question is, and I can see that when you are thinking very much of what you are going to say, that is that we have to give some encouragement to those countries but we won't offend Russia once more, especially when we have this president, or former president of Russia coming.  So, to summarize, is there a kind of swap or exchange, Putin coming, Georgia and Ukraine being put at arms length for a while, because the long term prospect is yes, you are welcome, but rather now, practically, please do not insist.  Is that wrong?

APPATHURAI: I think it's an interesting postulation, but we have not had-- or the Allies have had no formal discussion yet of the membership aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine since the formal letters written by, well, the Ukrainian leadership and President Saakashvili arrived in our headquarters.  So I would not make that assumption at all.  I do not think that this discussion-- I know this discussion is not finished, it has not even begun at a formal level.  I would say-- that's the first thing I would say.  The second thing I would say is we have-- the Secretary General has always made it very clear that when it comes to membership, decisions are taken exclusively by the 26.  That no third party has a droit de regard, or veto, on those decisions and they will be made exclusively on the basis of A, their readiness of the country to move closer to the Alliance, and B, the consensus view amongst the NATO members that it is the right thing to do.  Yes.

Q: James, you didn't mention Russia, but do you expect any discussions to take place on Russia tomorrow, and is there any concern that extending the MAP programme to Georgia and Ukraine would offend Russia, and for Bucharest, do you expect-- rather, what do you plan to accomplish in Bucharest in terms of Russia?

APPATHURAI: With regards to Russia.

Q: Yes.

APPATHURAI: Of course, everybody is well aware of the regional context of membership-- as the membership aspirations of Russia and Ukraine-- sorry, of Georgia and Ukraine.  But, as I said, the Allies will make their decision based on the factors that I outlined and no outside party will have an influence on that process.  With regard-- but let us-- by saying that I don't mean to diminish the importance for NATO of the relationship between NATO and Russia.  The fact that President Putin-- and he will still be president, not former but still be president, I believe, formally at the time of the Bucharest summit-- the fact that he has accepted to come and the huge number of hotel rooms that have been reserved in Bucharest by the Russian delegation indicates to us that he will indeed be coming, we're quite pleased by that-- is something to which the Allies are looking forward. 

There are a number of areas in which practical cooperation can be deepened.  I don’t want to list them now because they are under discussion between NATO and the Russian Federation, but there are areas in which we believe, and the Russian Federation believes, that we can move forward between now and Bucharest, and have a substantial list of, what we call, deliverables to upgrade our practical cooperation.  It will obviously be a good opportunity for President Putin to share his views and the other 26 members of the NATO Russia Council to share their views because this will be an NRC meeting, not a NATO and Russia meeting, on the areas where we don't agree.  And so we do certainly look forward to it.

Q: (Inaudible)… television.  James, regarding Ukraine's aspirations, are you sure or actually, do you have any doubts about the strength and firmness of the Ukrainian aspirations having-- bearing in mind the various opinions, the public opinion, the divisions-- political divisions in the country, so, despite you've got a letter, yes, but do you have any doubts or would you like more strong showcase of their aspirations that they really want that, it's not just one part of them wants this?

APPATHURAI: It is obviously not for me, as spokesman, to characterize how much they want it, but I think I can say two things, A-- three things.  A, this will be, I'm quite sure, part of the context of the discussion amongst ministers and it is for them, of course, to bring their assessment of how relevant these factors are, and they are relevant to the membership aspirations of these countries.  I think, in a general sense, we have always said about Ukraine that it is for Ukraine, like any other aspirant, to choose its own path and if it wishes, as a democratic nation, to wish to move closer to EuroAtlantic structures, it is their democratic right to do that.  The third thing I would say is, you have seen, for example in the context of Croatia, Allies urge Croatia to work very hard on a public information campaign, to explain, not to sell NATO, as the Secretary General says, NATO is not a washing powder, but to explain what NATO is.  They have done that, you have seen public support go up dramatically in Croatia the closer they come to an invitation.  So yes, public support is very important and B, if you properly explain NATO, it's a good sell.

Q: Yes, James, just to know if during this meeting today with Ukraine you discuss about the problem of gas supply with Russia and if this issue will be discussed also tomorrow.

APPATHURAI: It was not discussed today.  I don't know if it will be discussed tomorrow.

Q: The name issue between Macedonia and Greece, how much has it progressed?  What impression did you get when you were in Greece?  Will there be something like a common solution, like upper Macedonia or New Macedonia, what do you think?

APPATHURAI: I understand that Mr. Nimetz is in Skopje today to take forward the discussions.  I have seen from press reports he may or may not go to Athens, I don't know.  I could not characterize where these discussions are going because A, it is not for me to characterize, and B, they're taking place completely in another forum.  What was very clear was that the Greek side, I believe, very much like Skopje, is going into this, or is part of these discussions with an open mind and with a desire to see a solution, that's the first point.  And second, that, certainly, Athens made it very clear that they wish to see the enlargement process include all three countries, that is their desire, and that is a desire they have had, I think, from the beginning.  So, hopefully, this spirit, on both sides, will be sufficient with Mr. Nimetz's help to arrive at a solution in time for the process to go forward.


Q: One follow-up question.  Did the Greek side indicate that they could live with a name like New Macedonia or Upper Macedonia?

Q: James, except for the name issue, is there other major outstanding issue that you could see to an enlargement with all three Balkan countries?

APPATHURAI: I think it's a good question.  The-- I think we'll get a proper flavour for this tomorrow, and I'm not trying to dodge the question, but until foreign ministers have had a chance to exchange views, as I say, this is where they'll begin to show their cards.  Now that they have the reports on the Membership Action Plan annual cycles in front of them, the assessments have been made now by the appropriate officials both in the international staff and in capitals.  So, this will be, really, a first-- the first and critical exchange of views where they will have--  they have the information they need.  So, I really think you should, and I would happily give you the floor, ask the Secretary General that question tomorrow.

Q: James, you just partly answered my question which is, just looking at the technical and procedural aspects of how the MAP works for these three countries--


Q: As I understand it there will be presented to the ministers tomorrow these technical assessments for how the three countries stand.  Do the ministers have to approve or sign off on those technical assessments and if they do so, does it then become clear that, technically, these countries have met the criteria so it's a political issue one way or another whether they get the invitation or not?  And just one other question, do you expect any discussion on Thursday on France's possible reintegration into the military structures of NATO?

APPATHURAI: To answer the second question, it is not on the agenda, the issue of France and the integrated military structure.  If someone wishes to raise it, in other words, if the French minister wishes to raise it that is something I can not predict.

No, I don't believe that ministers are expected to sign off on, I could be wrong and if I am, Carmen will SMS me, but I don't believe ministers are expected to sign off on the completed MAP cycles.  I think that process has been closed and they have the information that they need to have an informed discussion.

Please, and then I'll come back.

Q: One question to Afghanistan, do you think the American Foreign Minister Rice will inspire the European Allies to send more troops to the south of Afghanistan?

APPATHURAI: Well, this is certainly not, you've heard me say this before, but certainly, in the context of an informal foreign ministers meeting, this will certainly not be a force generation conference, and please let us not hope that more forces will be offered to the table, that's absolutely not the idea at this meeting.  Secretary Rice and the entire U.S. administration have made no secret of the fact that they would like to see the statement of requirements, as we call it, fully met.  I can tell you NATO headquarters also would like to see the statement of requirements fully met, as would commander of ISAF.  So if there is a discussion amongst ministers about how best to fully meet the requirements our military commanders have set out, it will only be welcomed by the Secretary General.

I think there was someone-- there's two back there.

Q: Yes, maybe I'm not 100 percent up to date, but according with the press, there is-- Turkey is block--  the decision of transferring the NATO assets to the EU mission in Kosovo-- is something I'm wrong, or--

APPATHURAI: NATO's mission in Kosovo is actually very clear and it has not changed.  Nor am I aware of any discussion of transferring NATO assets to the European Union, so in that context, no I'm not aware of any discussion that has ever cropped up in that regard.  NATO's mission is to provide for safety and security in Kosovo, throughout Kosovo.  The mission, the mandate, has not changed as a result of the declaration of independence, and there is, at present, no discussion that I'm aware of of transferring NATO assets to the European Union.

Q: Will ministers talk about Kosovo security force, creation of Kosovo security force, and Minister of Defence in Kosovo?  And, the second question, do you have impression that Russia using Serbia in the game against enlargement of NATO?  Thank you.

APPATHURAI: Kosovo is using Serbia in the game against enlargement?  Sorry, repeat the question?  Russia's using Serbia--

Q: Is Russia using Serbia in the game against NATO enlargement?

APPATHURAI: I do not know if ministers will discuss any potential new rules for NATO within Kosovo.  We have not had, certainly, any formal discussion or decision on the Alliance taking on new roles since the declaration of independence at the ambassadorial level, of course I can't predict what they might raise at the table.  Russia using Serbia to slow down the enlargement process, I have no information that that is happening, first.  Second, I'm not quite sure how what's happening in Kosovo would affect enlargement to the three Membership Action Plan countries anyway.  But, third, I think the Membership Action Plan track has been-- or they have been on the MAP track for so long and have invested so much in it that, certainly, they will be judged on their own merits and not on any extraneous factor.

Q: How much of a feeling is there that this Balkans enlargement is very important because of Kosovo's-- the whole uncertainty because of Kosovo's independence declaration.  And secondly, on Afghanistan, have you got any indication from France that they may be able to come up with an offer of more troops or trainers, either at this meeting or, more likely, at the summit?

APPATHURAI: The Secretary General believes, and I think it's a view shared by all the NATO Allies, that the only recipe for lasting security and stability in the western Balkans is EuroAtlantic integration independent of the Kosovo issue, but, certainly, that is part of the context.  So, taking in the three MAP countries at a certain stage, deepening and intensifying our relations with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, hopefully bringing Serbia closer to us, closer to the European Union, is all part of a larger project to bring stability and lasting security and increasing prosperity to the western Balkans.  And hopefully, sooner rather than later, the insecurity, let's put it that way, related to the lack of a resolution, clear resolution, to the Kosovo issue will be resolved as soon as possible as part of, as I say, a larger project of EuroAtlantic integration for the entire western Balkan region.  I do not know if Foreign Minister Kouchner will discuss any decisions by France.  What I have seen in the press, and you have seen it too, is that President Sarkozy wishes to make whatever announcement he intends to make at the Bucharest summit.  So, my personal expectation is it will be that.

One last one.

Q: You said taking the three countries is part of stability, so what is the sense of the veto, then?  There is no sense.

APPATHURAI: This is a bilateral issue, of course. I am not the one making that case, that's a bilateral issue, of course, between Skopje and Athens.

Q: And what is the condition for NATO membership?

APPATHURAI: As I say, Athens has been very clear that they, too, wish to see all three countries join NATO. (Laughter) Did I dodge that well?