19 Aug. 2008

Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
after the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council
at the level of Foreign Ministers

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary General of NATO): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let me start by saying that I offered, on behalf of all Ministers, our sincere condolences to the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and of course, the French government, the French people, because of the tragic death of 10 French soldiers in Afghanistan last night and the 21 soldiers are wounded, a few very seriously. I have to start on this sad note, I'm afraid.

I hope you have all seen the declaration which has come out after, what I think, was a very good meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers. What was the objective? The objective of the meeting was, of course, to give a comprehensive response to the events in Georgia and also address the implications of these events for the NATO-Georgia relationship and for the NATO-Russia relationship.

I think I can say that Ministers have agreed on a number of important issues. Some of them will not come as a surprise to you after the public comments you've heard over the past few days.

First of all, there was strong support for the activities of the European Union presidency, President Sarkozy, Minister Kouchner, and the activities of the OSCE. Finnish Foreign Minister Stubb was briefly in our midst at the beginning of the meeting to give a briefing on the OSCE activities and Minister Kouchner gave a compte-rendu, to say it in French, of activities of the European Union presidency.

It is clear, of course, that Russia, let me start there, has to honour all points in the agreement reached by the European Union, OSCE and signed by President Medvedev and President Sarkozy. All the points of that agreement.

And that means, and we do not, as I speak, see signals of that happening, that Russian troops will have to withdraw now to their pre-crisis positions. That is what I've called before the status quo ante. Pre-crisis positions mean the positions they held on the 6th of August.

Next point, it will come as no surprise to you, that Ministers reconfirmed and reiterated their full support for the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the Republic of Georgia. It is about a sovereign nation, Georgia, we are having these discussions after all. We should not forget that.

Ministers agreed in the framework of the NATO-Georgia relationship on a number of measures of assistance to Georgia in response to a Georgian request which was communicated to us by the Georgian ambassador last week when we met him here in the Council.

And finally, before I go into further detail, we also all agree, as you have seen in the statement, that there can be no business as usual in our relations to and with the Russian Federation. The fact that we have this meeting, this special meeting, this emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Council, I think, is already proof of the fact that there is no... there cannot be business as usual.

Let me now first focus on Georgia and then on Russia.

First on Georgia. Ministers decided today that we will establish, and we will, of course, discuss this with our Georgian friends and partners, a NATO-Georgia Commission, as you have seen in this statement, which can be seen as the same kind of consultation mechanism we have with our other partner Ukraine.

What will this NATO-Georgia Commission do? It will, as one of the more important things, of course, follow up the decisions taken by the NATO Heads of State and Government in Bucharest and oversee the NATO-Georgia relationship.

I say again, this is a decision by NATO Ministers. We'll of course discuss it with our Georgian friends and partners.

To that end, in the coming days, I'll send my Special Representative Bob Simmons to Tbilisi to consult with the Georgian government and keep allies informed.

I can add, when I say that I'll dispatch Bob Simmons to Georgia, that mid-September the North Atlantic Council, all the ambassadors of the North Atlantic Council under my chairmanship, will also pay an already-planned visit to Georgia in the framework of the follow-up of the decisions taken by Heads of State and Government in Bucharest.

So Bob Simmons will go. NATO will also dispatch, in the coming hours, a team of 15 experts on civil emergency planning to help the Georgian government in assessing the damage to critical civil infrastructure. Critical civil infrastructure. Transport, food and water infrastructure, energy infrastructure, civil communications, public health and so on and so forth.

You know that many NATO allies are on a bilateral basis giving humanitarian assistance to Georgia. More than a 150,000 IDPs and refugees are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, and Ministers addressed, of course, very much also this problem this morning. And NATO functions as a clearing house, as usual in these... under these circumstances.

We will also establish contact with Georgia to assess the state of the Georgian Ministry of Defence and the Georgian armed forces. We do that, of course, in the framework of our relationship with a Partnership for Peace partner and an Intensified Dialogue partner.

We will support Georgia in the reestablishment of the air traffic system, and we'll help the Georgian government understand the nature of the cyber defence attack.

So this is a number of concrete things, based on a Georgian request, Ministers have endorsed just a moment ago. Of which I think the NATO-Georgia Commission is a very important one.

On Russia, you have seen the statement. I'm not going to read it. You've seen the text in paragraph six. As I just said, and is also the gist of paragraph six, I think there can be no business as usual with Russia under present circumstances. And the future of our relations will depend on the concrete actions Russia will take to honour the words of President Medvedev, to abide by the six-point peace plan, which is not happening at the moment, which is not happening as we speak, he signed together with the President of Georgia, and which was brokered by the European Union Presidency, France.

In other words, if you would ask me what about the NATO-Russia Council, we're not abandoning the NATO-Russia Council, but as long as Russian forces are basically occupying a large part of Georgia I cannot see a NATO-Russia Council convene at whatever level. But I should add that we do certainly not have the intention to close all doors in our communication with Russia.

But I say again, the future will depend on concrete actions from the Russian side.

Finally, one remark, not unrelated to, but indirectly related to what I just told you about NATO-Georgia and NATO-Russia, and that is that probably early next week there will be a meeting at ambassadorial level of the NATO-Ukraine Commission on the basis of a letter sent to me by the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Ohryzko, in the presence of the Deputy Minister, Ukrainian Deputy Minister who was responsible for the Ukrainian-Georgian relationship. So there the situation will be, again, on the agenda. That will be a meeting at the level of ambassadors.

This is what I have to tell you. I can refer to the declaration you have all seen. I'm open for your questions and comments.

Q: Yes, Secretary General, Paul Ames from the Associated Press. The statement says no business as usual, but in concrete terms, the NATO-Russia Council lays out a series of cooperation projects of a military level, are those projects still going to go ahead as planned, or can you tell us which projects are going to be stopped, suspended? How is that going to work?

And if I can also ask you about the new NATO-Georgia Commission, how does that tie into the timetable for the MAP? There's supposed to be a decision in December on the MAP? How is that affected by the events of the past few weeks and the decision today?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Starting with the second part of your question, it does tie in, as I said, I think, before, on the follow-up of the Bucharest decision. There was no specific discussion on MAP today. You know that Foreign Ministers will come to Brussels in their meeting early December to make a first assessment on MAP, but I do see the NATO-Georgia Commission as a mechanism, a  structure, and we did not have that structure up till now, to oversee the NATO-Georgia relationship. And one of the elements, of course, will be to continue the Intensified Dialogue and the intensive political engagement we have with Georgia in the coming months, but not necessarily limited to the coming months.

It has, in other words, no direct relationship with the MAP discussion, and I say again, this is a decision taken by NATO Ministers. This has not yet been... I'm doing that right now, but it has not yet been communicated with our Georgian friends and it will have to be discussed. After all it's a NATO-Georgia Commission and not a NATO Commission only.

As far as the first part of your question is concerned, as I said, and as you see in the statement, the Alliance is considering seriously the implications of Russia's actions for the NATO-Russia relationship. Take those implications in the widest sense.  To answer your questions on the specifics of the NATO-Russia Council I say at the same time that no decisions, specific decisions on projects or programmes have been taken. But I think one can assume that in that review on the basis of this statement, that that question will need to be provided with an answer soon.

Q: (Inaudible), Polish Press Agency. Secretary General, after reaching an agreement between United States and Poland on American anti-missile shield, Russia warned Poland that it opens itself to strike, a nuclear strike. What's your comments on that?

And secondly, I would like to ask if taking into account new Russian policy, NATO generals... NATO military is preparing new defence.  NATO plans beyond (inaudible...) Polish border? Thank you.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: On the second part of your question, the answer is no. We think we have in place what we should have, or what we should have in place.

On the first part of your question, I think that rhetoric is rather pathetic, or becoming rather pathetic because it's not the first time, and I do think that targeting NATO allies, in this case Poland, it's not for the first time, by the way, if I use the phrase unhelpful rhetoric I would react much too mildly. It is pathetic rhetoric. And we should refrain, I think, we, NATO and Russia, we should refrain from this type of rhetoric. It is unhelpful. It is unhelpful and it leads us nowhere.

But I as the Secretary General of NATO, feel I have to come out for Poland in this case because after all Poland is a staunch NATO ally.

Q: M. Secrétaire Général, Pierre (inaudible) du Radio France. Vous avez eu une réunion du Conseil avec M. Kouchner, le ministre français des Affaires étrangères ce matin. Est-ce que vous avez eu l'occasion de parler des événements en Afghanistan? Dix soldats français sont morts. Avez-vous évoqué cette question avec votre... avec M. Kouchner?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: On n'a pas bien sûr discuté cette question.  Mais comme j'ai commencé cette conférence de presse, on a présenté les condoléances. Mais l'Afghanistan telle quelle n'était pas sur le calendrier. On va certainement continuer à discuter l'Afghanistan et bien sûr la situation dramatique avec les dix morts français au Conseil Atlantique Nord mercredi.

Q: Est-ce que ça peut avoir la moindre influence sur le mandat de la Force internationale d'assistance en Afghanistan pour l'OTAN?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER:  Non, je ne crois pas pour le moment. C'est une situation dramatique. Mais je ne vois pas, je ne crois pas que ça va avoir des conséquences directes pour la stratégie. Mais comme vous le savez, chaque mercredi au Conseil Atlantique Nord on a bien sûr la stratégie "under review". On discute, mais pas des conséquences directes après ces événements dramatiques pour l'OTAN et pour la France spécifiquement.

Q: Mr. Secretary General, you talk about it being pathetic that Russia is targeting NATO allies, but it has already threatened Poland, as you know, and many of your allies in the former Eastern... in the Eastern European former Soviet blocs are very nervous. Yet with NATO members stretched very thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, it calls into question the capability of the Alliance to defend its membership and defend the treaty of NATO. Can you talk about what NATO membership, in terms of defending allies, is worth right now, given the fact that these forces are stretched so thin?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: It is worth what it has been worth since 1949. That's my short answer.

Q: Secretary General, Ian Traynor of the Guardian over here.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Where are you, where are you? Yeah.

Q: My question is about the detail of the agreement that's just been reached. In Vienna, apparently, under the auspices of the OSCE, if you're aware of the fine print, it would appear that there will be 20 cease-fire monitors going to Tbilisi today, with the possibility of a hundred going. They're going, it seems, to the so-called security zone, not to South Ossetia itself. Can you tell us how extensive the Russians say that security zone is, in figures, in kilometres, and whether it includes the town of Gori? Thank you.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I'm afraid I can't and I would also say that I would be outside my mandate as NATO Secretary General. This is more a question for Alexander Stubb, the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE and not for me. And I'm not aware, quite honestly, of the fine print of an agreement reached this morning in Vienna while I was presiding the Council.

Q: (Inaudible...). Mr. Secretary General, I would like to repeat my last question about evaluation of NATO of the action of partners and France in Georgia against South Ossetia and if there is no answer for this question could you please tell us, have you at least discussed it?

Thank you very much.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: My answer to you, as you know, is I'm ready to discus anything and everything, but not under circumstances where Russian forces are occupying the greater part of Georgia. Not under circumstances where Russian forces are not withdrawing as the Russian President promised. What is a promise worth made on paper and made in different contacts with allied leaders when that promise is not fulfilled?

In other words, I'm ready to discuss anything, as I'm doing with the one and the other on a constant basis. But I do really think, and that's why I ended my remarks as I ended them, it is not in the hands of Russia to take action. It's not in the hands of NATO. Russia should take action. And Russia should adhere to the six-point plan and Russian forces should go back to their positions on the 6th of August. And then I'm open to anything.

I'm repeating, we are not slamming doors and close all doors for talking to Russia. Although, let me repeat, in the present circumstances, with the Russian forces in Georgia as they are, I do not see a possibility of a NATO-Russia Council meeting, but we are not going to cut all contacts, but let us start where we should start, and that is with Russian withdrawal and adherence to the six-point plan.

Q: (Inaudible...) Turkish News Agency.  Mr. Scheffer, how similar do you find this situation of Kosovo and South Ossetia? Do you find any similarity at all?

My second question is, is there any probability in the future that Russian military forces will join the military trainings of NATO in the Black Sea or somewhere else? Thank you.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well you're going rather far in your second question under present circumstances, but let me start with the first.

No, I do not really see any ground to compare Kosovo with South Ossetia. I do not do that. You know, I'm not going into detail. I've had this discussion with our Russian partners many times before. There was a special UN trajectory for Kosovo.

Anyway my answer to the first part of your question is no. My answer to the second part of your question is that under present circumstances I don't' see that happening.

Q: Hello, Georgian Public Broadcasting. And despite the cease-fires and despite your statement Russian troops are deep inside in Georgia. They are moving on. They are killing peoples, they are raped and the terrible situation and what else NATO or the new Commission, NATO-Georgia Commission will do for us, really for people, what they will do?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, I started as I started, because as we speak I have not any signals, unless they should have come in the past hour, of any Russian movements in the sense of moving out of Georgia and retaking their positions on the basis of the status quo ante. That is the 6th of August as it is in the plan signed by Russian President Medvedev.

The NATO-Georgia Commission is of course a political structure. I think I tried to explain what that is going to do. You see in paragraph six, I think, the language Ministers agreed upon and you see earlier in the text the paragraph on j.

I think this text shows solidarity with our Georgian friends and partners and that is, I think, what this meeting was all about. I repeat, Georgia is a sovereign country with a democratically elected government and Georgia is a sovereign nation. And at the moment that principle is not accepted by some.

Q: Secretary General, Jonathan Marcus, BBC. Over here, sir.

Two good questions. Firstly, you say no business as usual until Russian troops leave Georgian soil. Does that include Russian forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia going back to pre-conflict levels? And secondly, for all the talk about Georgia becoming a member of NATO and its aspirations and the trajectory and the new Commission, is there, in your mind, any way that Georgia can become a member of the Alliance if these two territorial disputes with Russia remain unresolved?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Georgia can become a member of the Alliance. And in my opinion will one day become a member of the Alliance. I stick... and it was reiterated... I mentioned it in the meeting in my introductory remarks. The Bucharest decision stands. Full stop.

Secondly, on the first part of your question, I think it is clear that Ministers and Minister Kouchner started the interventions as European Union chair... presidency, I should say, that it is the six-point plan which is the beacon. I mean, you do not sign the plan, put your signature under it, make public comments about it, make private comments about it and then suddenly say this plan isn't worth anything.

So the six-point plan should be adhered to and that is my answer to the first part of your question. And I think that is a fairly simple thing to do.

MODERATOR: Last question.

Q: Mark Evans from The Times. What makes you think that the Russians will pay any attention to what the NATO Foreign Ministers have said today, and if they continue to remain in some substance in Georgia, what steps can NATO then take?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well your second part is an iffy one and I usually don't answer iffy questions, as you might know of me over the past four and a half years. But I'll answer it for 50 percent. If you read the text in paragraph six you can find, I think, more than part of the answer there.

As far as the first part of your question is concerned, what was it again?

Q: Do you think that Russia will take any notice (inaudible...)...

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Yeah, well, listen, there is, I assume, a Russian interest in the relationship with an organization like NATO, in the relationship with an organization like the European Union, as a member of the OSCE.

But let me limit myself to NATO. And I do think that also the Russians will come to realize, and try to answer the question, what do they have to gain by doing what they are doing? What do they have to gain?

We both have invested in this relationship, and you see in paragraph six the language Ministers agreed, not business as usual. Quite rightly so, I think, under the present circumstances. They're occupying a sovereign nation, parts of a sovereign nation.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you very much.