From the event


12 Aug. 2008

Press point

by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council on the situation in Georgia

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (NATO Secretary General): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As you all know without any doubt we just finished two meetings. We had a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, an extra meeting, special meeting focused, as you will realize, entirely on the situation in Georgia. And that meeting was followed by a meeting what we call, as you know, 26 plus one, the 26 allies plus Georgia, the Georgian Ambassador Beshidze. You know that any partner can ask for such a meeting according to the rules of the Partnership for Peace. Georgia did and I think quite rightly.

Let me start with the NAC meeting and a number of points having made clear by the ambassadors around the table.
It is crystal clear that the highest priority is an immediate cessation of hostilities. We, and the Ambassadors of course, welcomed the Georgian position on the cease-fire, the signing of the cease-fire, and the North Atlantic Council urged the Russians to do the same. There are early reports coming in from Moscow, but I have no confirmation of this yet.

The cease-fire was clearly not considered enough. It is very important that all parties go back to what is called the status quo ante that is the status quo as it existed on the 6th of August. So it is not only a cease-fire, a cessation of hostilities, the situation of the 6th of August has to be restored and that also means that all forces have to be in the positions they had on that date.

A third important element I would like to mention is that there's an urgent need, and that was also discussed with urgency, for the very serious humanitarian situation. And that goes for both sides, and it is absolutely necessary, and there's a great urgency that there is full access for humanitarian organizations and others to the displaced persons, to the victims, to the wounded, and the NATO Allies having been requested for this are on an individual and bilateral basis. Many NATO Allies have already answered that plea, but it is important because the humanitarian situation is dire, that this full access is being granted.

What also was clear around the table is that there is a strong support on the NATO side for the mediation efforts going on. Strong support for the French European Union presidency, President Sarkozy being in Moscow and later in Tbilisi, the visits by Foreign Minister Kouchner and Alexander Stubb, the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, the Security Council being seized of the matter, full support for that mediation process in which, as you will imagine, there is no direct role for NATO, but strong support for this.

It is also crystal clear that allies reiterated in very strong terms the full respect necessary for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. And that is more than a phrase in a period of time where that territorial integrity is not respected by Russia. It was reiterated territorial integrity, sovereignty of Georgia has everything to do with what I said about the status quo ante going back to the positions on the 6th of August. And by the way Abkhazia and Ossetia, if I mention territorial integrity, are to the best of my knowledge part of Georgia, and a solution will have to be found clearly. But that is what is meant by territorial integrity and sovereignty.

It was also clear that the excessive disproportionate use of force by the Russians was condemned and deplored in this morning's NATO Council. I said that already publicly a few days ago. It was reiterated around this table, and that is one of the reasons that this immediate cessation of hostilities, the cease-fire is of such great importance.

It is clear that the use of force by the Russian side is not in conformity, or is a violation also by the CIS mandate and it should stop as soon as possible. As should, of course, other military activities, certainly also military activities in Georgia proper because you know the Russian military activities are definitely not limited to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It includes naval presence and so forth.

That is what I can tell you about the meeting this morning of the North Atlantic Council and the basic principles underlined there.
Then we had a meeting, as I said, with the Georgian Ambassador, Ambassador Beshidze, where of course the Allies reiterated the points in the presence of the Georgian side, the points I have mentioned, where the Georgian ambassador gave a compte-rendu of the dramatic situation existing in Georgia at the moment, where the Georgian ambassador brought forward a number of specific requests for assistance. To pre-empt your questions, I'm not going into detail here, but they will be studied by the NATO allies on an urgent basis.

It was a meeting where, of course, as you can imagine, solidarity and support was heard around the NATO table. But where also it was reiterated the point of the absolute need of a success in the mediation efforts, the cessation of hostilities.
This is what I can tell you. I'm open to your questions. The discussion will go on in the NATO framework, in the North Atlantic Council, in the Political Committee of NATO. Let us hope that... let us hope, I say again, I have no confirmation yet that information coming from Moscow about the cessation of hostilities and the cease-fire attributed to President Medvedev are true and will be followed up. That is not the whole story, as I said before, and let us hope that President Sarkozy and the OSCE, in preparation for the EU meeting tomorrow here in Brussels, will be successful mediators in the interests of the dramatic humanitarian situation. That is more than necessary.
Let me stop here.

Q: (Inaudible...) for Reuters. Secretary General, has this conflict taken away any chances for Georgia to join NATO? I mean, can NATO risk having one of its members going at war with Russia? And if it hasn't jeopardized Georgia's chances, can this happen anytime soon, Georgia joining NATO now?

De Hoop Scheffer: I think that's the Bucharest communiqué and Bucharest declaration stance, that is how I'll answer your question, and no ally will do anything away from the Bucharest declaration. That was the situation and that is the situation and that situation has not changed.

Q: (Inaudible), German Television. But Mr. Scheffer, is it smart to bring all the conflicts into NATO? If Georgia will join the Membership Action Plan one day you will have all the conflicts closer to NATO. The first question. And the second one, how will this conflict influence the relations between NATO and Russia?

De Hoop Scheffer: The first part is not a question, but is a statement. The second part of your intervention is a question which I will answer, because I answered basically the question on Georgia and NATO and on the Bucharest communiqué. I'm not going to repeat that.

On the NATO-Russia relationship it is crystal clear that it will influence the discussion in the NATO-Russia Council. There will be a NATO-Russia Council, but it has to be well-prepared, so there wasn't one today. It has to be well-prepared and it will be well-prepared.

It's also a matter of timing, this NATO-Russia Council, because of the mediation efforts going on at the moment. But if you ask me will it influence the discussions in the NRC, yes, it will. By definition, giving the remarks the allies have made and I have made about the use of excessive and disproportionate force, I cannot image that the Allies and Russia will quickly see eye-to-eye on this one.

At the same time, I say that given the dramatic humanitarian situation, a cease-fire, the end of hostilities, and successful mediation, is of the essence. And we have the NATO-Russia Council to discuss also, as I've said many times before, with the Russians, who are our partners, about things we disagree on. Now here we have a point we fundamentally disagree, and we'll discuss it in the NATO-Russia Council, but we do that well-prepared and at a time which will be soon.

Q: (Inaudible...) peacekeepers?

Moderator: (Inaudible...).

De Hoop Scheffer: If you... what... this is a question, is this a statement, what is it?

Q: Was it discussed this morning?

De Hoop Scheffer: You should come again, because the only word I picked up was peacekeepers.

Moderator: I will give you the floor later, please.

De Hoop Scheffer: Let's ask Carmen Romero to moderate the sessions, then...

Moderator: Yes, yes.

Q: Dominic Hughes, BBC. Hi.

De Hoop Scheffer: Yes.

Q: Given all the diplomatic activity in the run-up to August the 6th, NATO was unable to stop hostilities breaking out. Once they did break out NATO was pretty powerless in getting them to stop quickly. Doesn't this really expose NATO's influence as really pretty weak, not just with Russia, but in its own near-neighbourhood?

De Hoop Scheffer: Well, I think that is much too gloomy about the NATO position, but NATO, we should realize, NATO has no military mandate in the region, so if you say NATO can't solve this question militarily, you're right, we can't. And that is not NATO's ambition and it's not NATO's mandate.

So for that part I think NATO's position has been very clear. On the other hand, Georgia is in a situation of Intensified Dialogue with NATO. You know the Bucharest communiqué. Georgia is a Partner, Georgia is a friend, and Georgia has made its voice heard, as I have been over the past days, making NATO's voice heard. But in this... if you discuss political mediation I think the European Union and the French presidency is extremely active. The OSCE and the Security Council are in the forefront here. NATO is not seeking a direct role and NATO is not seeking a military role in this conflict.

Moderator: Now you have the floor.

Q: John Miller with the Wall Street Journal. I apologize for violating protocol earlier.

De Hoop Scheffer: Peacekeepers.

Q: I think you just answered my question. Was the idea of any kind of support troops or peacekeeping troops discussed today in the Council?

De Hoop Scheffer: No, it was not.

Q: The Alliance that Mr. Putin and Medvedev are (inaudible...) in the Caucasus region, do you see any impact around that? I'm thinking about Afghanistan, about Iran, the relationship with region, etc.

De Hoop Scheffer: Well allow me, in this meeting, with you to focus on Georgia. I see no reason, at the moment, to enter into let's say a wider ranging discussion and debate. Let us focus and let me focus on what was discussed this morning around the NATO table between the 26 NATO Allies, plus two, because as you know Albania and Croatia are present in those meetings, as they were this afternoon.

And let us see that we can come to a real cessation of hostilities, a lessening of the dramatic humanitarian situation, the end of the use of force by the Russians, the bombardments, the naval blockade and so on. Let's discuss that sooner rather than later with our Russian partners as well in the NATO-Russia Council and everything at a time.

Q: Hi, (inaudible...) ITAR-TASS News Agency, Russia. Mr. Secretary General, I would like to ask, again, the answer why the NATO-Russia Council about which we are speaking right now is postponed today. You said that any country partner of the NATO could ask for such a meeting.

And my second question is, there is a lot of discussion about the excessive use of Russian forces in Georgia. What about the fact that it was Georgia who launched the massive military attack against the South Ossetia? Could you evaluate this situation, please and have you discussed it during the NAC? Thank you very much.

De Hoop Scheffer: I’m not going into, at the moment, into who did what when. But I do not think, quite honestly, that the bombardments we have seen, the naval blockade we have seen, the massive use of force by the Russians we have seen, is in conformity with the CIS peacekeeping mandate. I do not think that has much to do with peacekeeping, quite honestly. Is a naval blockade, is that in the CIS peacekeeping mandate? How does that relate to the UN Charter? Questions I would like to put to our Russian friends and partners.

The NRC has not been postponed, because there was no decision to have an NRC today, so there's no matter of postponement. I said a moment ago that I would like to see a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council sooner rather than later, and I added, I think, that it would have been well prepared and it would have to be calibrated with international mediation efforts.

But there will be an NRC meeting sooner rather than later, I can assure you.

Q: Russian NTV channel, my name is Andrei (inaudible). So what is official NATO reaction to Medvedev's announcement today that the military action has been halted?

De Hoop Scheffer: I must admit I have not seen confirmation of this yet. I read initial press reports. It would be good news if this would be followed up, it would be good news, because it would mean that there would be result in me and other people urging the Russian side, as the Georgians have already done, for a cease-fire. So it would be good news if  we would see on the ground a confirmation of President Medvedev's remark, as he has allegedly made them in the media.

I add that this is, of course, not enough. It's an important step, but it's not enough and I refer to my remarks about the status quo ante.

Q: Secretary General, News Agency... I'm here.

De Hoop Scheffer: Where are you, where are you? Go ahead.

Q: Yes, thank you. News Agency (inaudible...). Can this situation with Georgia have some impact, influence to the Ukrainian aspiration on MAP, because as we see always, Ukraine and Georgia together. What do you think about this?

De Hoop Scheffer: As you know I'm telling you nothing new. If I tell you that's for me in the whole MAP discussion Ukraine and Georgia are not a package. That would do injustice to Ukraine and injustice to Georgia. I mean, they're two sovereign nations. And they will be assessed individualLY and separately and not together.

My brief answer to your question would environment, as to your colleague, I think of Reuters a moment ago, that we have a Bucharest declaration, and we have a first assessment of the MAP question when the Foreign Ministers of NATO will meet in this building in early September.

Moderator: December.

De Hoop Scheffer: Sorry, December. And the Bucharest Declaration stands. December 4th.

Q: Secretary General, Osaki from Japan Yomiuri. Would you characterize this conflict as NATO's problem? Why does it matter to NATO?

De Hoop Scheffer: It does matter to NATO, first of all, because Georgia is a highly respected Partner of NATO, is a friend of NATO, has Intensified Dialogue with NATO.

George has applied for the Membership Action Plan. That decision has not been taken, but the Allies in Bucharest have said that one day Georgia will join NATO. In that regard, such a massive conflict with another nation coming into territory of Georgia proper, not only the disputed areas of Abkhazia and Ossetia, but also coming into Georgia proper, and using excessive force, is of direct relevance to NATO.

We owe that to our PfP partners. If it would happen in another PfP partner you would see the same situation.

So it is highly relevant for NATO, as was proven by this special session of the North Atlantic Council this morning and by the 26 plus one meeting following that NAC meeting.

Moderator: Last question.

De Hoop Scheffer: Last question.

Q: It's Bouke Bergsma from ANP. You said you had not seen any confirmation of the announcement of President Medvedev on the cessation of hostilities and you want to see proof on the ground. President Medvedev called High Representative Solana this morning. Have you tried to be in contact with the President, or do you think he should give you a call?

De Hoop Scheffer: I have not called him and he has not called me. But on the substance of your question, I hope that it will materialize, but the proof will be given on the ground in Georgia, because until this morning bombardments were still taking place.
But I think, again, I answered to your Russian colleague, it would, of course, be good news if Russia would honour a cessation of hostilities and a cease-fire. It would not be enough, but it would be good news.

Thank you very much.

Moderator: Thank you very much.

De Hoop Scheffer: Thank you.