From the event

  • Press briefing by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

30 Apr. 2008

Weekly press briefing

by the NATO Spokesman James Appathurai

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Friends, I see a full house. Thank you for coming. I'll try not to keep you too long. I will be brief in my introduction because I presume that you have a number of questions and I can probably guess the one or two subjects on which you have questions.

Let me first start by paying a one-sentence tribute to Freddie Bonnart, as many of you know, the doyen of the press corps who passed away last week and we will miss him. I just wanted to say that at the outset.

The Council began this morning. Well, it wasn't a council, it was a NATO-Ukraine Commission, with the ambassador who discussed with the 26 NATO ambassadors the way forward from Bucharest, how to implement the intensive engagement that was agreed in Bucharest in what areas we wish, as NATO, and Ukraine, to deepen our political dialogue and practical cooperation. There were a number of areas. Certainly there was unanimous support from the ambassadors to take forward this intensive engagement and some practical ideas put forward, which I think will now be put to discussion.

At the practical level let me simply tell you, as a first step, that the entire North Atlantic Council will be travelling to Ukraine in June, final dates to be nailed down, but that will be, A, a visible demonstration of NATO's intensive engagement with Ukraine. It will also be an opportunity to do two things, have practical discussions with the government on implementing this engagement, but also for the ambassadors and the Secretary General to engage in public diplomacy efforts, not just in the capital, but throughout the country. Clearly public diplomacy with regards to NATO is an area in which the Ukrainian government wishes to intensify its own efforts. You have seen public support for NATO membership, I believe, actually has slipped in the last few weeks in the polls that I have seen.

It is not NATO's business to sell NATO. It is NATO's business to explain NATO. The Ukrainian government has also announced it will invest more heavily in its own public diplomacy campaigns within its own country.

So we will support that effort where we can. We have a public diplomacy office there, but as I say, we don't sell ourselves. We explain ourselves and are happy to do that in the context of Ukraine and our intensive engagement with Ukraine.

Right now, as we speak, the NATO-Russia Council is beginning. I will come back to that because I imagine you have specific questions on that when we go to the Q&A.

We had today a briefing by Ambassador Jochems, who is our acting senior civilian representative in Afghanistan. He was also present at the parade which came under attack sitting near or next to Commander ISAF.

He gave an assessment of that incident, and while obviously I can't go into all the details, I can say a couple of things. One is that in his view the visibility of this attack should be contrasted with a significant number of successful intelligence-driven efforts to prevent other attacks, and there were a number of successful interceptions in the run-up to the event. This one attack was successful. And I think the shared assessment, that this was not a particular success for the Taliban, but a single failure of the security arrangements, which could, and by the way, should have been better in this case.

Georgia... well, we'll come back to Georgia in the Q&A, I'm quite sure. Let me announce... let me say that at the Council today the Council endorsed the proposals from Poland and Slovakia to hold ministerial meetings next year. In the spring of '09 Poland will host a ministerial meeting in Krakow, and Slovakia will host a ministerial meeting in autumn, although I don't know, I have to say, the city yet in which that will be held.

Two last things, and then I'm happy to take your questions. One on Pakistan. NATO is watching, of course, carefully, the discussions that are taking place between the government and what I presume is the leadership of Taliban and other organizations, and groups in the border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Of course, these are internal discussions. But NATO hopes that any agreements will not diminish and may well even strengthen efforts to prevent support for extremist elements going across the border into Pakistan... Sorry, into Afghanistan, excuse me.

In other words, with regards to freedom of movements to safe havens, to the opportunity to rest and refit and infiltrate, in all those areas, of course, NATO would hope that these discussions would not undermine security efforts and would, in fact, bring options to enhance them.

Finally, let me say that the Secretary General is going to Prague on Monday. He will meet with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He will open a session of the conference, Missile Defence After Bucharest: European and American Perspectives, which is taking place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It'll be opened by Prime Minister Topolanek. The SecGen, yes, will then go to... well, actually, he'll have a bilat with the president and meet with members of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, the Committee of Defence, of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament, before leaving.

That schedule is subject to change, but that's how it stands now. I presume that one of the subjects, two of the main subjects, will be... three. Afghanistan, Kosovo, missile defence seem to be the three most likely topics. 

Now I have carefully skipped Russia and Georgia, but I'm happy to take your questions if those were to come up.

Q: And what is the (inaudible)... Afghanistan and Kosovo?

APPATHURAI: It was missile defence.

Q: Okay.

Q: James, could you please specify what will be the main aim of the NAC coming to Ukraine, except of maybe  moral support?

APPATHURAI: Well, it would be much more than moral support, as I said. It will be a manifestation of the intensive engagement, in and of itself. Second, it will be an opportunity for high-level talks on the concrete measures, and I can tell you a number of those were discussed today, where we can intensify precisely that engagement.

I don't want to list them now because they have not yet been discussed and agreed, but I can tell you a number of very concrete proposals with clear timelines were put on the table and got a good reception from the other ambassadors. So they'll be discussed now.

And third, as I said, it'll be an important public diplomacy opportunity simply to explain NATO to those in Ukraine who don't necessarily know the new NATO as well as they might. And this will be an opportunity for ambassadors to fan out through the country and go to specific regions, not just in the regions where NATO is more supported, but also in regions where NATO is less supported, to answer the questions from Ukrainians about what NATO is today and what we are trying to transform it into for tomorrow.

Q: James, how concerned is NATO about the cranking up of rhetoric between Georgia and Russia? What information do you have about troop movements on either side around Abkhazia and what can NATO do to avoid this apparent escalation?

APPATHURAI: NATO is obviously watching very carefully the situation in Georgia and in the region. The Secretary General has spoken now quite regularly with President Saakashvili, with a number of other international leaders. Russia is, and certainly purports to be, a peacekeeper and an arbiter with regards to the situation in Abkhazia and is mandated to be both a peacekeeper and an arbiter. But the steps that have been taken, including the legal... establishing legal relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and rhetoric that has been used concerning the threat of force have increased tensions and have undermined Georgia's territorial integrity.

These issues are being discussed regularly and intensively within NATO, and as you have seen the Secretary General has already asked Russia to reverse the steps that it has taken to establish legal contacts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Russian Federation has said that it is authorized, I have seen in the statements, within the limits set out by its CIS mandate, to raise the level of peacekeeping troops. That is technically the case, but in reality, in the political reality, this is not easing tensions, it is raising tensions. This announcement is not easing tensions, it is raising tensions.

I might add, according to that agreement, and of operations on deployment of the collective shall be approved by the conflicting sides, and the Georgian side has made it very clear that they would not approve what the Russian Federation has announced, and that is a significant increase in the size of Russian troops in Abkhazia.

All this to say NATO is watching with concern, wants to see all parties avoid the kind of rhetoric that we have seen, which is, as I say, escalating tensions, and not take steps, concrete steps, to undermine what is already a fragile situation.

Q: If I can follow that up, James, would NATO expect, with regards to the CFE on a very technical level, and beyond the rhetoric that you be concretely informed of troop movements by either side, or particularly Russia under the CFE?

APPATHURAI: I have not heard of CFE implications to this. My understanding is that, as I say, from a technical standpoint that the peacekeepers, the CIS force has the right, technically, to increase up to about 3,000 troops. So I don't know, and I have not seen that there are any CFE implications to it. Nor do they have an obligation to inform NATO. That is quite clear.

I am not aware of any Georgian troop movements, nor am I aware that Russian troop movements have actually taken place. I have only seen the Foreign Affairs statement. But have no doubt that, of course, everyone is watching very carefully what is happening on the ground.

Brooks, and then we'll go back.

Q: Follow-up to the same subject though. Could you reformulate again, or reiterate for us again, what NATO's argument is against the Russian argument, I mean, however much we may have support... there may be support for Kosovo, when the Russian argument about while the West and various countries unilaterally recognize Kosovo, leaving aside the fact that there was a UN-appointed  official to try and come up with a plan, there's still no official UN movement to recognize Kosovo.

So what's the argument that you use to counter Russian arguments that well, you've recognized Kosovo, we can recognize Abkhazia.

APPATHURAI: Well, I think the first point to make is that Russia has not recognized Abkhazia. Russia has taken a number of well...

Q: (Inaudible)...making perfect sort of sense to (inaudible).... 

APPATHURAI: Well, these are important points, and I'm not going also put words into the mouth of the Kremlin. In fact, I believe that there have been statements from Moscow even today or yesterday saying that they are not recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a full and legal way.

That being said, the steps that have been taken, without recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a full and formal way, do undermine Georgia's territorial integrity. And I want to state very clearly and very firmly that the allies are unanimous in supporting, endorsing, Georgia's territorial integrity and will not recognize or support steps that undermine that sovereignty, be they explicit recognition or other steps which, if not, de jure, de facto undermine that sovereignty.

The allies have also been very clear, and you know this very well, that the Kosovo case is, as we always say sui generis, it stands alone, it has followed a particular UN track launched by the Security Council in response to what was a very, very difficult situation in 1999. And it simply cannot be held as a parallel to or a precedent for anything else in other areas.

Q: Griselda Pastor (Inaudible), excuse-moi, parce que je suis arrivée un peu tard.  J'ai lu aujourd'hui sur la presse espagnole que vous devez avoir un débat sur le Kosovo et sur les normes pour l'opération de l'OTAN, la KFOR.  Est-ce qu'il y a des changements sur les normes actuelles qui être décidées au niveau du conseil?  Et quels sont ces changements, étant donné que...?  Je ne sais pas si tu sais que les Espagnols ont un problème à propos de la 12-44. 

APPATHURAI: J'ai lu... I'll speak in English so everybody understand. C'est bon? Tu comprends en anglais? We don't bring interpreters here. I saw the front page of El Pais. It is true that today in the council the 26 NATO nations—that includes, of course, Spain—approved the... what we call the initiating directive for the revision of the operational plan. In other words, they have given the political guidelines and the direction to the military authorities to begin a revision in the coming weeks of the operational plan, to take into account potential new tasks. These are, of course, well-known to you and involve recognizing the evolution of the situation on the ground in Kosovo.

Everything that NATO does will remain, of course, under UN mandate, and nothing that NATO does will be done without the full consent of all the 26 countries. I can tell you that each and every one of the nations, that doesn't just include Spain, have paid much attention to ensure that NATO and KFOR maintain their impartiality throughout this process, and they will continue to maintain their impartiality and carry out their UN mandate.

Q: (Inaudible)...

APPATHURAI: No. (Laughs).

Q: (Inaudible)....

APPATHURAI: No, I can't. I'm sorry. That's...

Q: (Inaudible)...

APPATHURAI: You see the word confidential/close hold on the front of this, so... (Laughs).

Q: (Inaudible)... that there will be like dismantling as well the balance of the (inaudible)...?

APPATHURAI: Do we hear that? (Laughs).

Q: (Inaudible)...

APPATHURAI: That's all I'll say on the record.

Q: Regarding Mr. Scheffer's visit to Skopje, yes, did he get some promises that main issue will be solved until 9th of July?


Q: From the Macedonian authorities?

APPATHURAI: Indeed. The Secretary General's visit to Skopje, as you can imagine, was dominated by this issue, the name issue, without, by the way, diminishing from the Secretary General's very positive words to the government on the moderating role that they're playing in the region, the contribution that the country has made to NATO-led peacekeeping operations, including as a supply... as offering supply support for KFOR.

But yes, you're right, of course this issue dominated... I wouldn't leave just yet. Oh okay. (Laughs).

And of course the Secretary General made it very clear that there are timelines, that the process has begun for the other two countries that the both Albania and Croatia have sent teams to begin the accession talks already and that at the beginning of July, when these accession talks move forward we will be in a position to start signing the protocols. So it will be very important for Skopje to take into account these timelines.

Of course NATO does not control this process, doesn't want to be in control of this process, and I know that Mr. Nimitz has made new proposals again. All this to say, everyone's aware of the timelines, but NATO is not in control of them.

Q: How did they respond? Are they willing to solve the issue?

APPATHURAI: I think it was quite clear that everyone wants to find a solution to this as quickly as possible, and that they're working very hard to do it. I think the same is true in Athens.

Now that is really the most that NATO can say, but certainly there was an open mind on the part of the government in Skopje to try to solve this problem as quickly as possible, with full recognition of the timelines involved.

Q: I would like to know simply if you will ask for more troops for Macedonia?

APPATHURAI: Well, I think NATO's always welcomes more troop contributions from any country, from any partner. They are useful, but I think I should also say that we have seen the contribution of the forces from your country in Afghanistan. I have seen it myself. They play a very, very important role, so no one is in any way offering any criticism, but more is always welcome.

Let me... well, there's a couple more. Go ahead.

Q: Yeah, just a change of subject. Can I ask just a very boring reform of NATO question. The SecGen launched this, you know, a new effort in 2006 to try and reduce the number of committees and give lead responsibility to different committees within NATO. At the same time SHAPE has been trying and failing to reduce the huge number of committees, et cetera. Where's this going? Or is it going anywhere? And for instance, is the IMS and NATO Headquarters going to be co-located in the new Headquarters and not...

APPATHURAI: We'll bore everybody to death with co-location.

Q: No, you don't have to give a long answer, just yes, no, yes, no.

APPATHURAI: Short version is yes, it's moving. For example, co-location of military and civilian staff has begun. Second, the number of committees has been slashed, I think, by about a third.

Q: Military or...

APPATHURAI: Political. I'm frankly not aware of the military. I really don't know. And third, the principle of establishing a lead committee and giving it full authority-slash-leadership over an issue which didn't used to be the case, has been established.

Q: And on the military side is just  (inaudible)... down or (inaudible)....

APPATHURAI: I really don't know. I would answer, but I really don't know.

Q: Okay, fair enough.

APPATHURAI: Well, actually I think we had people up here. But (inaudible)....

Q: Yes, James, does NATO have any role to play for the Serbian elections in the north of Mitrovica? We know the situation there is stable and the UN and the Kosovar government is saying that this elections are not legitimate, so is NATO going to cover the situation during the elections or not?

APPATHURAI: NATO is not obviously an election organizer. And KFOR is not... does not have the responsibilities that UNMIC has. UNMIC has lead responsibility to deal with the elections and when they're held, where they're held and the legality of them.

So the NATO mission is very clear, the KFOR mission is very clear, and that is to provide a safe and secure environment under any circumstances and that is what we will do. I don't think there's anything to say beyond that.

I think we have two questions up here.

Q: It's another subject. On Monday the Secretary General spoke about environmental issues and security. I just wonder if you can explain a little how far is the debate reached within NATO of the concrete link between environment and security? And is NATO thinking of making climate change part of its policies, given the security implications? It seems to be a very important subject to be discussed. Thank you.

APPATHURAI: It is an important subject. I wouldn't say the debate has gone very far in NATO. We have a few experts who have done the staff work inside NATO and who know a heck of a lot about it.

The Secretary General believes, precisely as you do, that this is an important issue, because it has profound security implications in all the areas which he outlined in his speech. I might commend the speech to you. I had nothing to do with writing it, but I really like reading it. It was really good, really substantive and laid out all of the issues that are relevant here.

So he is trying to lead from the front, rather than reflecting what is an agreed NATO position. He is putting this issue on the agenda with this speech to try to point out that environmental security...

Q: Do you think there will be a follow-up?

APPATHURAI: Yeah, I do think so, but I don't think, because of the way NATO is very busy with its actual concrete operations, that this is going to be the number one issue on the agenda. But it will, I think, get traction, because everybody has to recognize that when it comes to resource changes, and weather changes, and resource changes and effects, when it comes to disasters, when it comes to migration, when it comes even to disease and the effects on society, everybody has to look at... and demographics, everyone has to look at the security implications of climate change.

Thanks. Go ahead.

Q: James, on Pakistan, is NATO in touch with the Pakistani government on this move to talk with Taliban and is NATO approve this move or is against it?

APPATHURAI: The military-to-military contacts between ISAF, NATO ISAF, the Afghans and the Pakistanis have in no way diminished through this period of transition with the government. At the political level, no, I am not aware that there has been contact with the new government.

NATO is neither for nor against it. It is not our business to be for or against them. Where we have a view is on the effects within Afghanistan. And we will be supportive of any arrangements which diminish cross-border support for extremism. We will not be supportive of efforts that undermine those... any success in stemming that support.

Q: I know you can't really say much about the NRC because it's going on right now, but what is NATO expecting from that meeting and what sort of neckwear will the Secretary General be wearing in the meeting?

APPATHURAI: Thank you. I expect from this meeting a discussion of the situation surrounding Abkhazia. There will also be a review, by the way, I mention this, of one year of NATO-Russia counternarcotics cooperation with regards to Afghanistan.

I might add that the review that I have seen this morning is very, very positive, and this was a confident report. Hundreds of counternarcotics officials have been trained in Russia, in Afghanistan, in Turkey, both in fixed training facilities but also through mobile training teams.

These are counternarcotics officials in Afghanistan and neighbouring Central Asian countries. Hundreds and hundreds of tons of heroin have been caught by people trained by these teams. And a culture of cooperation and a network of cooperation has been established through this program. So I am quite sure that A, they will support it and B, they're going to step it up coming out of this meeting.

That being said, of course, Georgia-Russia relations, the situation in Abkhazia, will be on the agenda and I have seen Ambassador Rogozin's comments that he is willing to discuss the issue of the MiG-29 shooting down the Georgian drone.

Paul asked about the Secretary General's tie. This is because, as you may have seen, Ambassador Rogozin left a meeting... a private meeting with the Secretary General and briefed the press, the Secretary General had said he'd eat his tie if it wasn't proved that a Russian MiG had shot down this plane. This drone.

Let me say three things. One is there is no danger of the Secretary General getting indigestion in the near future not least based on what we have seen even today.

Second, it is not... more seriously, it is not diplomatic practice to brief on private discussions right after you leave those private discussions and I can tell you the Secretary General is telling Ambassador Rogozin, now, that he advises him not to repeat that.

Third, since Ambassador Rogozin broke the lock on that discussion, let me point out that what was actually said in the meeting was that Ambassador Rogozin had pointed out that NATO countries also fly MiG-29s and implied that a NATO plane had shot down the drone. The Secretary General had said he'd eat his tie if it turned out that a NATO MiG-29 had magically appeared in Abkhazia and shot down a Georgian drone.

So we have seen a number of versions now. First, that there was no shooting down of a drone. Second, that it was an Abkhaz ground-to-air system and now apparently that it was a NATO MiG that shot down the drone. So I guess I'm looking forward to opening my paper every day to see the latest version of this story.

Anyone else? Right on time. Look at that, 30 minutes!

  1. Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.