From the event


15 Oct. 2007

Weekly press briefing

by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

Friends, I'm told that we're under severe time restrictions unless we want to live here for the next two days, so I will be very brief.  Four issues, five issues I want to mention. 

One, very briefly, visit this morning in a bilateral meeting between the Secretary General and the Minister of Defence of Kazakhstan, Mr. Akhmetov.  They discussed the cooperation between NATO and Kazakhstan.  They discussed the security situation in Afghanistan.  The Secretary General welcomed what is relatively profound cooperation between the two, between NATO and Kazakhstan and the contribution that Kazakhstan has made to NATO's efforts in Afghanistan. 

At 11:30, Secretary General met with Prime Minister Gruevski.  And they discussed extensively...well the issues relating to our partnership.  They discussed, of course, first and foremost, the name issue.  The prime minister gave the latest state of play on the proposals made by Mr. Nimetz.  The discussions that have taken place until now between Greece... between Athens and Skopje and his vision of the political situation inside his own country.

The Secretary General, of course, stressed that NATO does not play a leading role in this issue but has every interest in seeing a mutual acceptable solution, that a solution will arrive between Athens and Skopje as quickly as possible because the decision taken in Bucharest was very clear.  Once this issue is resolved, we can move quickly to welcoming a third and not just two countries into NATO. 

The Prime Minister and the Secretary General also discussed the partnership more generally.  The Secretary General welcomed the fact that we see soldiers from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in Afghanistan, playing a very important role there and that we should continue to implement the reform... the support for reforms that guide the partnership that we have.

Right now, the Foreign minister of Herzegovina...  sorry, not right now, in one hour, will also be meeting with the Secretary General.  This will be, I think, a discussion of some interest as some events in the country are being watched, I think, quite closely by the entire international community.  There is quite a...  Well, there is a growing tension within Bosnia-Herzegovina:  nationalist, ethnic tensions which are of some concern to the European Union I know, but also, I believe, to NATO Allies.  It would be interest to hear the Foreign Minister's assessment of what is going on inside Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

The Secretary General and the North Atlantic Council if not all...  I don't have an attendance list will then be going this afternoon to Copenhagen to attend the SACT  Seminar.  That's the NATO Transformation Command...  We have one command for operations, one for transformation.  And the SACT Seminar which takes place once a year will be very graciously hosted by Denmark.  In essence, this will be closed door private opportunity for reflection by the NATO ambassadors, led by General Mattis, SACT, and the Secretary General on the future threats and challenges that the Alliance faces.

So this is an opportunity to step back in the day-to-day requirements of focusing on operations and to look longer term at the major trends in security, how they will affect the Alliance and how therefore NATO should prepare to meet them.  As I say, there is no public access to this meeting, precisely so that there can be very honest and open reflection on these issues.
Final point I wanted to mention, the seven ships from six NATO navies that are in the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 are transiting the Suez Canal today on their way to conduct both anti-piracy police and to visit NATO partner nations in the Gulf Region. 

As you know, last week, in response to the UN request, NATO Defence ministers authorized the Alliance to provide naval vessels to help deter acts of piracy in the region and to help protect World Food Program ships carrying urgently needed supplies to Somalia.  SNMG2 (Standing Nato Maritime Group 2)  who was already scheduled to do a series of port visits in the Gulf, conducted joint exercises and will take on the anti-piracy... or take on an anti-piracy role off the coast of Somalia. 

Details of how the group will conduct these missions, which ships, how many ships, but also to carry out the port visits which are politically very important are still being finalized.  I can tell you which ships are in SNMG 2, or at least from which countries.  They're commanded by Rear Admiral Giovanni... excuse me if I mispronounce this...'s G-U-M-I-E-R-O of the Italian Navy.  There are seven ships, as I mentioned, one Italian, two German, one Greek, one Turkish, one UK and one US. 

As the details are formalised, let me stress again, NATO will continue to coordinate its role of course with the World Food Program (WFP)  as and when necessary, but also with the European Union which, as you know, has set up already a very welcomed and is developing a very welcomed initiative of its own; and the US operation Enduring Freedom which has a task force... task force 150 also in the region.  That is I'm about to say on any issues.  And I'm happy to take questions for the next 10 minutes.  Let's start at the back and work our way up.

Q:  It's a very brief one, technical one.  This anti-piracy mission by SNMG...

Appathurai:  Yes.

Q:  SNMG 2, is there any... any duration already fixed... for how long will it last?  Will they come back at (INAUDIBLE)?

Appathurai:  Duration is not yet clear.  There was an original duration for the... let's say the original mission... some of which still stands which was the port visit.  But it not clear now whether with these new responsibilities there might requirement to leave some ships for a longer period or not.   Please. 

Q:  Thank you, James, concerning the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Secretary General.  I would like to know, did the Prime Minister mention the incidents that took place in Greece yesterday between the Greek army and the local population in the North of Greece?  And if yes, what was... what NATO thinks about that?  And my second question would be about the political situation in Macedonia.  Do you think that the political stability is there?  Thank you.

Appathurai:  Thank you.  Hum, yes, the Prime Minister did mention the incident in the North of Greece.  NATO has no view and would have no right to have a view on these... on these issues.  The Secretary General certainly listened closely to what the Prime Minister had to say.  I also have no comment on the political situation inside a country which is not for me to comment on.  Go ahead, Bob.

Q:  James, a couple of questions about Somalia.  First of all, these vessels, do they have any aircraft also working with them either observer planes or any helicopter, or anything like this?  And secondly do they have any series of rules of engagement for this about how they behave when they come across pirates what they can and cannot do?

Appathurai:  To answer the first question, I don't know if they do have any aircraft of them.  Excuse me for that.  I'll get more details.  In terms of rules of engagement, yes, they will have rules of engagement agreed by the nations.  These are under consideration now by the nations.  But they will have the rules of engagement they need  to engage in the operations that they have been assigned.  When it comes to capturing pirates, each nation has its own laws.  And those will apply.

Q:  James, again on that.

Appathurai:  Yes.

Q:  I don't know if you've said this already.  But when do they actually start their mission, anti-piracy mission?  And are they all frigates, do you know?

Appathurai:  They are not all frigates.  There are also destroyers and a  supply ships.  So it's a balance of frigates and destroyers with of course the supply ships as well.


Appathurai:  Yes, sure, hang on... One... two destroyers, four frigates and auxiliary ship.  As to exact date, I don't think that has yet been determined.  But I expect it to be within the next couple of weeks.   Back there and then here.

Q:  James, first a clarification.  I didn't get it.  This seven ships going to the Gulf they are already going through the straits? 

Appathurai: Yes.

Q:  And the second one, right now, in Brussels, there are high executives from Georgia and Ukraine is there any part in NATO on the agenda?

Appathurai:  Ah, there certainly is no meeting between high executives from Georgia.  Only Ukraine with the Secretary General which is the only scheduled, to be honest, I know.  I don't know of any meetings in NATO in that regard.

I do want to make it clear on the seven ships.  Not all seven ships will be conducting anti-piracy operations.  There are a number of things to do.  I have mentioned them.  That includes the port visits.  So it will be up to Supreme Allied Commander to determine which ships, how many, what do what.  But we need to be very clear that it will not all the seven be doing escort.  Not all seven will be doing anti-piracy.  They will be doing all the various things they are already doing or already intend to do as well as the new operations.    Please.

Q:  Yes, thank you, how was the nationality of the ships chosen?  Because I'm a little surprised that there are Spanish or French help. 

Appathurai:  The Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 is  of course a standing capability but into which ships rotate in and out on a regular basis.  And this has been the case for decades within NATO.  This SNMG 2 was already going to the region to do port visits.  This new task has been assign to them after the defence ministers' meeting.  So it should be, I hope, clear that this was not a coalition put together, a formation put together for this particular mission.  There was, let's say, no great... there is no... there are no politics attached to the nationalities of the ships involved.  This is purely because they were already together to do something.  They have been sent there, also are now to do this.

Q:  In relation with the coalition with EU...

Appathurai:  Hum, hum.

Q:  ... are they in touch with these "cellula"... "cellules" and will be... when they arrive on the area, this thing is going to work?

Appathurai:  This is a good question.  I don't know the answer.  I do know and have been assured just this morning that the necessary coordinator is in play.  But as to who is talking to the EU coordination cell, I do not know.

Q:  Sorry, if you went... I was a couple of minutes late if you said this, apologies.  Can you confirm or not that...?  I understand that...  Something completely different, deployability of nations' troops.  That target for deployability is up 40 to 50 we had last week.

Appathurai:  Yes.

Q:  I heard that the target for sustainability which wasn't fixed last week has now gone up from 8 to 10, can you confirm that?

Appathurai:  The deployability target has been agreed at 50 %.  The sustainability target they are discussing 10%... for 10%.  My understanding is that it has not been formalised at 10%.  But you're right that's the number, but they have not yet as far as I know agreed that should be a benchmark.  Please.
Q:  Yes, two questions.  One on the rising tension in Bosnia.  This has been the case for three or four years now.  We all know this.  So why is this now grabbing... why are you making a notice now for the options there for NATO because the troops are not very numerous there?  And secondly, has there been thinking... advanced thinking on sending the NRF to Afghanistan, using it there?

Appathurai: To answer the second question first.  I think you're probably referring to sending the NRF in the context of the elections.  That's the context in which it is taking place.  COMISAF has not yet formalised this request for forces... more forces for elections security.  If and when he does, it will, as you know very well, go through a chain of command SHAPE, military committee and then a recommendation made to the Alliance, only to the political level.  Only then, when we have that discussed of:  a) what's needed; b) how it might be generated.  So we're, I think, quite far away from having this discussion yet.  And we should put it on ice for a little while.  Because, I'm happy to discuss every week, but I don't think it's actually going through for quite a while. 

You're quite right that tensions have been real in Bosnia and Herzegovina for some time.  My sense is that there is concern that it is growing worse or certainly there is not movement towards making it better.  So yes, this is the context in which these discussions take place.

Q:  Options?

Appathurai:  Oh, options, sorry, as you quite rightly point out, NATO does not have a significant military present nor do I think anybody anywhere is talking about using the military to try to reconcile these things.  But NATO is also a political military organization.  I have little doubt that the Foreign Minister will hear concerns from the ambassadors who represent their nations about the difficult situation in the country.

Q:  James, just going back to Somalia issue again, given that there is Turkish ship in this  force how are you going to overcome the traditional problems of coordinating with the European Union which happened in other missions?

Appathurai:  We have not heard any concerns about NATO-EU relations in context of this mission; nor, and may I say, more specifically I did not hear information say that this would be...  there should be a blockage to this mission; nor to block information sharing between the two organizations.  In this regard, and indeed all of the Allies, without exception, have welcomed in fact that the European Union also taken the initiative.  And they took the initiative before NATO to... to provide support.  So to my knowledge, until now, this has not been an issue.  That will the last one.

Q:  James, what's the difference between this SNMG 2 and SNMG 1 because SNMG 1 was in the Black Sea area?  I mean, the functions, are they the same in parallel?  Or they are complimentary in some way?

Appathurai:  Well, they are, as far as I understand, they are simply two Groups if you want, two formed  naval units which can do the same  jobs that are assigned to them and go to different places and do it differently.  So, I mean, they're different ships; they stand different groupings;  they stand... they do whatever they're to do in different places.  What I think is important to know is what... not what's different about them but what's the same about them. 

And that is that you have in NATO unique military assets you have at the disposal of the Euro-Atlantic Community when you need it, significant, very effective assets, air, land and sea that have trained together, that are together, that have the (INAUDIBLE)  commanding control arrangements and that can be deployed very quickly when necessary.  And that is something unique and something that this illustrates once again.  Even for the kinds of missions which NATO has not normally taken on in the past, like this. 
Colleagues, sorry.


Appathurai:  Two... Two... Sorry to be so brief, but I want to go home.