From the event

  • Press briefing by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

28 May 2008

Weekly press briefing

by the NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Okay, friends, let me get moving. I'll be happy to take your questions. This probably won't be very long today, and I understand the Commission is busy as well, so you'll appreciate it.

The Secretary General this morning... sorry, the Deputy Secretary General, as the Secretary General's away and I'll come to that in a moment, met with the foreign... the new foreign and defence ministers of Armenia and the two ministers then met with the North Atlantic Council.

The discussion between the Deputy Secretary General and the ministers and then with the ambassadors, focused of course, very much on NATO-Armenia relations, in particular the Individual Partnership Action Plan. In essence, the assessment from NATO was that relations between NATO and Armenia had developed quite well over the past few years, good political dialogue, enhanced cooperation, the assessment for 2008 is largely positive. There has been progress on defence reform, on interoperability. But of course, much work lies ahead, as with every country, including on their strategic defence review and civilization of the Ministry of Defence as well.

The Deputy Secretary General did convey NATO's view, which is shared with the view of the Council of Europe and the EU, his concern about the events of March 1... 1st of March, 2008. In other words, the violence that took place after the elections and the response to that.

He made it clear to the ministers that NATO agrees, as I said, with the Council of Europe, with the EU recommendations on the need for an investigation, need to guarantee freedom of assembly et cetera.

But in essence,  this was a positive meeting because progress has been positive between NATO and Armenia. Armenia is contributing a platoon to KFOR and intends, I understand, to augment that with a second platoon, so we, NATO allies, certainly welcomed that contribution as well.

The Secretary General was not able to welcome the ministers because he is on his way right now to New York where he will have a meeting with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. They will be discussing, I believe, two subjects, principally: Kosovo and Afghanistan.

On Kosovo, and this will come as no surprise to you, the two Secretaries General will be assessing not only the security situation on the ground, but looking forward to the future roles, responsibilities and relationships of the UN mission in Kosovo, KFOR, and I imagine also the EU mission. The NATO mission in Kosovo, KFOR, has a mandate from the Security Council. Unless that changes our roles and responsibilities and authorities are clear. That being said, for the Kosovar authorities, for UNMIK, which is going through a period, or about to enter a period of restructuring, and for the EU mission, which is in the process of deployment, obviously we are in a period of transition.

And the NATO Secretary General, my Secretary General, will wish to discuss with Secretary Ban in essence who will do what. Our interest as NATO is ensuring that roles and responsibilities are clear and that the necessary resources are in place to ensure that those responsible for peace and security inside Kosovo, and that is not just NATO KFOR, but very much the UN mission in Kosovo now and increasingly EULEX, that they know what they have to do, they know how they relate to each other, and that they have the sufficient authorities and resources to do what they have to do effectively.

June 15th is obviously an important date, when authorities will transfer from EULEX to the Pristina authorities. And that will be, I think, an important milestone, where we need, as an international community, to be sure that we have what we need in place, or will have it in place, as quickly as possible.

On Afghanistan we have had, and I don't want to bore you with this, we have had a good meeting in Bucharest. Kai Eide is now in place working, where appropriate, very closely with ISAF, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. The Paris conference is coming up and I suspect that the two Secretaries General will wish to discuss very much what we wish to see, what they wish to see accomplished in Paris.

My understanding is that the Paris conference will look at a number of issues. One, it will be the official launch of the Afghan National Development Strategy; a document developed by the Afghans which will set out their strategy and how we as an international community can support it.

There will be a pledging element to the conference, where donors will provide funding. There will be political discussion of key issues in Afghanistan, for example, on fighting narcotics, on governance. So there'll be a lot to discuss in Paris and the Secretary General will be giving... my Secretary General, the NATO Secretary General, will be giving a keynote address, obviously on security, but we see security very much as one of the three legs of the stool. Security without development, you've heard us say this many times, cannot be sustained. Development cannot take root without the security that it needs.

So we see very much the development governance of security relationship as being primordial and that's what the Secretary General will stress, I am quite sure, in his speech.

The Deputy Secretary General has just visited Egypt and Jordan. On the 25th he met with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, the director of the General Intelligence Service of Egypt, whom as you know is a very influential man, General Mohammed El-Assar, who is the senior advisor to the Minister of Defence of Egypt. On the 26th in Amman he held bilateral talks with the Foreign Minister of Jordan, Chief of the General Staff, and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The talks focused on, you will not be surprised, the way forward in the political and practical cooperation under Mediterranean Dialogue.

Two more issues and then I'll stop. Yesterday we issued a press release which you might not have seen, but announcing the convening today of the 2008, and I didn't come up with this name, Synergy Conference for Regional Organizations on the Implementation of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons. That's the official name of this conference. 

It's being co-sponsored by NATO and the OSCE and actually it's quite interesting. It ends tomorrow. No, it went to Friday. You have 30 international and regional organizations, 20 NGOs with global representation, all participating. To give you an idea of the scope it includes the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs, you have UNICEF, the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Organization of the American States, the African Union, the CIS, ECOWAS, the EU Council, the EU Commission and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. You also have Arab and Israeli participants from Mediterranean Dialogue and ICI, from Afghanistan, from other contact countries.

The discussions are how in essence to deepen cooperation, information exchange and promote best practices between regional organizations on implementing the, and here I go again, UN Programme of Action to Prevent Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its aspects. The conference is designed to support the UN biannual meeting of states on the implementation of this Programme of Action. It is the first one at the global level.

In essence this Programme of Action sets out a comprehensive set of measures to be achieved at the national, regional and global level.

These regional initiatives allow regions to address this problem of small arms and light weapons in areas such as improving laws, regulations and export controls, as well as the destruction of large numbers of surplus, small arms and light weapons. And I can go, if you want, into detail of the panel discussions. Let me know if you are interested.

Finally, today, we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the EADRCC, that is the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre. It was set up on the 28th of May 10 years ago. It is a forum for practical cooperation between NATO and partner countries in the field of civil emergency planning, civil protection, responding to natural and manmade disasters. It acts as a focal point for information sharing on disaster assistance among EAPC countries.

Since its launch in 1998 the EADRCC has participated in about 40 operations around the world, ranging from combating forest fires, to the support for the victims of the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, floods in Central Europe et cetera.

That is what I had. I see a Macedonia question in pink.

Q: Hi. I have two questions. First, any chance Ban Ki-moon and Scheffer will talk about Macedonia and the name issue in Europe? And second, has the Secretary General finally read the letter that was sent to him a week ago signed by 20 diplomats and experts asking for a rapid integration of Macedonia in NATO and what does he think about it? Thank you.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. To answer the first question, I can't predict what they will raise. I don't believe it's formally on the agenda. I think the main two issues are Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Has the SecGen read it? Yes, he has read it. Do I know what he thinks about it? No, I don't. We haven't discussed it.

Q: (Inaudible)...

APPATHURAI: I really don't know. I have not had this discussion with anybody, so I will have to check and get back to you.

Q: Will you do... will you do something with it (inaudible)....


APPATHURAI: I don't know if anything will be done with it. And he receives many letters from very important people expressing their views. I imagine, and I have not seen the letter myself, but I know that this is a letter of influential people and he has read it carefully. I don't know if any action is required or if any is planned. I really do have to check.

Q: Yes, James, one question on Kosovo, one on Afghanistan. A number of EU ministers have now gone on the record as saying they expect a delay of up to three or four months on the EULEX mission. Could you just fill us in on what the EU have communicated to NATO formally about the situation in terms of either the delay or other changes in expectations there?

And as far as the Afghan Paris conference is concerned, could you give us an idea as to what sort of focus the SecGen will have when he goes there? Will it be purely what was agreed say at Bucharest and some of those points, or is there one area that he wants to bring out more?

APPATHURAI: Sure. The Secretary General attended on Monday, I think it was, the EU Defence Ministers' meeting. He was present at the lunch and he met immediately thereafter with Italian Minister Frattini who came to NATO Headquarters. And I can tell you Kosovo was an extensive part of these discussions. So he is very well aware of the internal discussions within the European Union.

I can only speak to press reports. I have seen various different comments from various different EU officials as to when and where EULEX will deploy. I have seen former General Mr. de Kermabon's statements which... and I have seen comments by, as you have pointed out, certain Foreign Ministers about delays. So I have to say in may own mind, and I don't think I'm the only one, I'm not a hundred percent clear on the deployment schedule of EULEX.

But informally we have good contacts with the European Union. There is no doubt that we are fully informed about the internal EU discussions. These are internal EU discussions and we have to, and do, allow the EU, of course, it's full... we have no say in it. These are internal EU discussions. But we have an interest, and that interest I've already made very clear to you, and that is to ensure that roles and responsibilities are clear, sufficient resources are in place. To put it very simply we don't want KFOR to be in the position of first responder. KFOR is not a police force. It should not be put in the position of being a police force. It is not mandated to play that role. Our soldiers are not equipped or trained to play that role, and we should not ask them to do that. Which means we can ask, and do ask other international organizations to be able to play that role. And that is very much the topic of discussion between the two Secretaries General today.

When he goes to Paris, the Secretary General certainly has no intention of looking back. We have had a good summit in Bucharest where we agreed a political military plan, of which you are well aware, which sets out clear targets for our activities. We also agreed a comprehensive approach and I think there we come closer to the spirit of the Paris meeting.

The comprehensive approach in its essence says NATO as an organization cannot, in many circumstances, and Afghanistan is one of them, achieve its aims on our own. We need greater progress on the economic front, on the reconstruction and development effort, improvements in governance, in fighting narcotics and I think the Secretary General will be stressing, when he's in Paris, not the security aspect of this, but the extent to which the security aspect depends on access in other areas, and how we want to link more closely with the other actors on the ground.

Q: Yes, just on Georgia and on the UN report that Russia was behind the shooting down the drone, how has this changed the Secretary General's view of Russia's intentions vis-à-vis Georgia and has he brought it up with Mr. (inaudible) or does he intend to?

APPATHURAI: To answer the second question first, there's an NRC meeting starting... well, it just started 20 minutes ago. I don't know if... Carmen is away today, but I think she may still be sending me SMS's to correct.


No, happily she wasn't. Oh no no, maybe she is. No.

There's an NRC meeting today. I don't know... it's not formally on the agenda, but I would not be surprised if it will raise... we'll see later on. Obviously the Secretary General will not be there, but there are a number of nations who might be in a position to raise the Georgia issue.

The Secretary General has yesterday been on the record on this issue saying only that he calls on all parties to take steps to de-escalate tensions. And I will not go beyond what he has said.

Q: If I could look at another aspect of Georgia. It's been a week now since the elections there, and they were obviously seen as a litmus test of democracy for Georgia and the whole MAP process, so how does NATO assess the conduct of those elections?

APPATHURAI: Thank you for the question. It is not for NATO as an organization to assess the conduct of the elections. The observer teams have provided their assessment and it is for NATO allies to then take those assessments and make their own... draw their own conclusions.

Certainly we take note of the assessment by the OSCE that there have been improvements since the election. We have also taken note that observers, the observers have noted areas where there were shortcomings and where those shortcomings should be addressed for future elections.

As I said, NATO allies will now be in a position to make their own judgements based on what they have seen from the observer teams.

Q: James, just a couple of points. On the meeting with Secretary General Ban, when exactly is that meeting? You first said the Secretary General's on the way, then you said he's holding the talks today so...

APPATHURAI: Yes, he's on the way. He left this morning. The talks will be around two o'clock, I think New York time, 2:30 New York time. And then he's heading back tonight. That's the way he travels.

Q: Okay. And on... we got a Defence Ministers' Meeting end of next week, I think...

APPATHURAI: Yes, on the 12th and 13th.

Q: Yes. Can you give us a flavour of what they're going to be looking at mainly?

APPATHURAI: The Defence Ministers' meeting and I think this will all become a little bit more clear in the coming days. Why don't we save this for a few days. Let's... I want to let things gel a little bit, and then I'll brief you again on it next week.

Q: Yes, I'm wondering if there is some other country that will follow Italy after the announcement of Italy to have more (inaudible) on the cabinet on Afghanistan. Thank you?

APPATHURAI: Let's put it this way, first, Minister Frattini repeated to the Secretary General that Italy is looking to relax the restrictions on the use of its forces, for reasons of solidarity and for reasons of the effectiveness of the overall mission.

We understand that this is still an internal Italian discussion and do not intend to interfere in it beyond saying what we have always said, and that is we would like to see, as NATO, the minimum number of restrictions on the use of national forces for precisely the reasons of the effectiveness of the overall mission.

We understand that this is still an internal Italian discussion and do not intend to interfere in it beyond saying what we have always said, that that is we would like to see, as NATO, the minimum number of restrictions on the use of national forces for precisely the reasons I mentioned for solidarity and for effectiveness. We would welcome any steps by Italy or any other country to diminish or eliminate the restrictions, the caveats on their use. And I think, and I think NATO believes, it would set a good, a positive and powerful example if Italy were to take this decision.

Q: James, you spoke about clear responsibility and responsibilities in Kosovo.


Q: Do you have an idea, I mean, do you... does NATO has an idea what these clear responsibilities should be looking like? There are several forces there. There are also the government of Pristina. How do you see these clear responsibilities?

APPATHURAI: This is obviously a highly complex, highly political discussion, so you will understand that I will give only the most general answer. The... how to put this? There are intensive discussions under way between the UN and the EU and of course, with Pristina as well, on the evolution, the restructuring of UNMIK, particularly as we get to and beyond June 15th on the roles, responsibilities of EULEX and its deployment schedule. Those are discussions to be had within and between those two organizations and with Pristina.

Our views are well-known within both organizations and they will be clarified further today between the two Secretaries General, but I would not comment on how... what the sort of finalité of this should be. That should be left to the two, the two organizations.

Sorry to be so careful. (Laughs). For reasons you understand.

Q: Another one on Kosovo. On the operation plan that is being discussed in SHAPE and prepared, what is the calendar? When is you should be back at the table of the NAC and what are the general directions of this operation or plan and how does it square with the Ahtisaari plan? I mean, there are differences. They were requested to please follow as close to what Ahtisaari was thinking, please forget about Ahtisaari, don't touch anything that comes (inaudible)...


There is no formal timetable, no hard deadline, but of course they have been asked, the military authorities have been asked to produce their advice as quickly as possible. They are doing that. There have been discussions even yesterday, again, within our headquarters on the parameters and shape of the work going on in the... well, going on in the Military Committee. When that advice comes up and as I say, it will come up as soon as possible, it will be discussed by the North Atlantic Council.

Everybody is aware of the June 15th timeframe, but discussions within NATO take as long as they take. And this is a relatively complex issue.

The military authorities have clear guidelines from the North Atlantic Council and they are following those guidelines. Obviously I won't go into discussion with Ahtisaari or...

I've bored you to death, which was my strategy today. (Laughs).

Q: Okay, James, I have two questions which have nothing to do with Kosovo or Afghanistan or Georgia.


Q: My first question is, food crisis. Do you see any role for NATO to play in this field? And my second question is, I don't know if you remember...

APPATHURAI: I'm sorry, food crisis where?

Q: Food crisis everywhere.

APPATHURAI: In general.

Q: Globally, yes.


Q: And the climate change. I remember European Union's High Representative Solana presented some report about a month or two ago...


Q: ...on the implication of climate change, security implication of the climate change. Does NATO see any role in this too?

APPATHURAI: Yes, thank you. To start, I can tell you there's been no discussion that I have seen about any possible NATO role in addressing the food crisis in a sort of generic sense. I believe that NATO has provided some logistically support for the transport of food supplies within Afghanistan. The ISAF has done this. But beyond that I have difficulty seeing how that discussion would be framed, let alone what we might do.

In terms of climate change, there has been some intellectual work within NATO and I might commend to you a speech that the Secretary General gave, it's on the website, here in Brussels, at Foreign Minister Frattini's think tank, which is called the Hera Foundation, H-E-R-A, like the goddess, maybe that's not the origin of it, but that's the spelling anyway. And I don't say this because I wrote it, because I didn't, but it's a good speech, there's a lot of thinking in there, and I think that will give you a snapshot of where exactly NATO's thinking is on environmental security, or security as a result of climate change.

This is something that there's a lot of thinking about. I think Mr. Solana's report was a very good one, and we could start very quickly ticking off the security implications of climate change. I think most of them are, if not all of them, are included in the report from... well, I could go on and on and on, but you know all the implications. There is thinking going on in every one of our capitals about how we need to adjust our security doctrines, our security perspectives, our procurement, to deal with these things, and defence departments and NATO look very far down field precisely, or I think principally because of procurement calendars. It takes so long to change the look and shape of a defence machine that we have people looking at this precisely because of how long it takes to adjust to it.

Read the speech. I think that will give you the best snapshot of where we are. And I'm happy to have a long conversation about this over a beer, but we don't have time for that now.