From the event


22 Oct. 2007

Weekly press briefing

by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

JAMES APPATHURAI (Spokesman, NATO): I don't have much to announce to you today, so we'll keep it short, though I'm happy of course to take questions for as long as you would like. Let me announce just three or four things. One is that the Secretary General will visit London tomorrow. He will meet with the Prime Minister, Mr. Gordon Brown, the Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. John Hutton. He will then go to the Lloyd's Building where he will give a keynote speech at the Economist Conference on Energy Security. The media arrangements are being made of course by Lloyd's and by the Economist, so if you're interested you can speak to them, but I think there's relatively limited and already assigned participation by the media. That being said, I know that there are cameras already invited, our own camera will be there, and we will put video of the speech up on the web, as well as the speech itself. Then the questions and answer period will be closed to the media.

He will then go to Washington. That is on Friday, where in the early evening he will meet with President Bush, as well as the senior National Security team. Now, I think all that, but certainly with the Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor and others may well participate as well, including of course Ambassador Volker here. They will discuss the issues you would expect them to discuss, that is of course Afghanistan, the United States is in the midst of a review of its approach in Afghanistan. But by definition the NATO Secretary General and the U.S. President will wish to discuss that. They will also look forward to of course the summit next year. President Bush will no longer be in office at that time, but the preparations are already underway. So they will wish to discuss that as well.

The... just two other points. The Deputy Secretary General will go to Krakow tomorrow. He will meet, he's expected to meet with the Minister of Defence, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and to speak at an international conference. Of course Krakow will next spring host a ministerial-NATO meeting, so this is also in the run-up to that.

Final point, just to update you on the NATO naval task group en route to escort duties off the Somali coast. The Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 has in essence divided itself, and a number of ships are on their way to their duties off the East African coast in response to the U.N.'s request for NATO support, including to escort merchant ships carrying World Food Programme cargo. In a few days operations will begin, and we will announce exactly when that happens, including as I say, to escort World Food Programme chartered ships en route principally to Mogadishu from South Africa and Kenya, principally I understand.  There will also be ships providing a naval presence in the area as a deterrent to piracy. I will give you all the details once this is finally approved. This is all yet to be signed off, but we are on the cusp of all of that being finalized.

The remaining SNMG2 ships will continue on their deployment into the Gulf, as you know, to continue with the previously planned port visits and joint exercises with the countries of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, the four countries in that partnership with us. As I say the operational plan and rules of engagement should be agreed and finalized within the next day or two, and then we will be in a position to announce the final details.

That's really all I have, but I am happy to take your questions on these or any other issues. Please.

UNIDENTIFIED: Yesterday in Helsinki after the talks between the Russian and American high military officials, the Russian General Markorov gave a statement saying that the NATO-Russian relations will be normalized by the end of the year. Can you confirm that?

APPATHURAI: We have had no discussion amongst the NATO ambassadors formally or as far as I'm aware -- informally, about moving from the position they took in the fall... earlier in the fall, and that is no business as usual.

We have no plans as yet scheduled for high level meetings, ambassadorial or above of the NATO-Russia Council, or as far as I am aware of the NRC in... chiefs of defence format, or even military representative format. So for the moment the policy stays the same. I have no information about when it might change. Certainly the decision on the part of NATO would require agreement within NATO.

Yeah, of course.

UNIDENTIFIED: Thank you. Sorry, I came just in time. So James, could you please clarify and to start this discussion about what to do next with NRC. So what's the procedure? Should it be any request from the member state? Should it be any formal request from Ambassador Rogozine or what?

APPATHURAI: I think... there is head up with this. There is no formal system, but also no formal system required to have a discussion amongst ambassadors. When they wish to have that discussion, they will let each other know. The Secretary General of course has the full prerogative to spark and lead such a discussion at a time that he sees fit. But we don't require any kind of formal decision to have a discussion. And I think the Russian position is well-known, but outside of the ambassadorial level-NRC meetings, there are still working level contacts, and certainly no one should think that there is total silence between the Russian delegation and the rest of NATO. There is not. We get on with the work we need to get on with, and Ambassador Rogozine has regular contacts, for example, with the Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs where the Russian Federation's points of view can certainly be well and clearly articulated, I understand, having seen his most recent comments in the press that he does have views on this issue which I'm sure he will also convey through diplomatic channels.

UNIDENTIFIED: I am sorry my punctuality isn't as military as...

APPATHURAI: As mine? Yeah. Sadly, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED: It's on ISAF in Afghanistan.


UNIDENTIFIED: I was looking at the interview with General Schloesser in Le Monde, saying talks with Taleban can and do happen. A, we don't talk with actual terrorists. B, this is essentially a decision for the Afghan government. And my first question would be is there a NATO position on this? And second, a more general one is I'm slightly confused, sometimes if you said you talked to the Taleban, the answer seems to be no, and then you said but you are talking to them, then the answer is well that's up to the Afghan government. How much influence does NATO have on whether the Taleban are included in these talks or not?

APPATHURAI: To answer the first question, NATO doesn't talk to the Taleban. NATO officials do not talk to the Taleban, and they have no mandate to talk to the Taleban. Certainly not in the context you're discussing. I think they have no mandate at all to talk to the Taleban, but certainly not in the context of reconciliation which is what you are... the framework you're putting it in and quite rightly. So that's the first point: NATO does not do this.

If the Afghan government chooses to engage in dialogue with the Taleban, with elements of the Taleban which they consider to be reconcilable, that is their decision to take. President Karzai has been very clear that he thinks that there are Taleban with whom he can speak, and who may be willing to meet the essential conditions necessary for reconciliation to take place. And those conditions are that anybody, any extremist, or militant in Afghanistan who wishes to reconcile must be willing to A, abandon the use of violence, and B, be willing to live according to the laws and constitution of the country. And those are not my conditions; those are President Karzai's conditions.

Has he or has his government engaged in talks? I don't know, you've all seen the same reports that I have. I do believe that there is a general sense in NATO that there will have to be a political element to the ultimate solution to this overall crisis. We have consistently said that military means alone cannot solve it, that will require -- yes, you've heard this a million times -- more of a construction and development, better, cleaner, less corrupt and more efficient governance. There are many who say that there will have to be an element of political reconciliation, and President Karzai is one of those people. NATO will support the decisions that the elected government takes with regard to this, but we will not engage in it directly.

UNIDENTIFIED: On Somalia, James, just first of all do you have an understanding as to when the NATO ships, force is going to arrive there? Do you have any idea whether the rules of engagement will be ready on time for them to know what they should do? And also referring to the comment that U.S. Admiral Mark Fitzgerald made yesterday to the press; he also said they have a very small window of opportunity when they can actually act, so what difference do you think the NATO mission is actually going to make if you only have 15 minutes to act?

APPATHURAI: Thank you. When do they arrive? They will arrive in the coming days. I understand that they are facing extremely heavy seas, and as a result it slowed down a couple of days longer than we had expected, but this is totally normal. So within the next few days, not even a week.

They will have the rules of engagement that they need. They will have the operational plan that they need. I would not be surprised to see all of this completed within the next one or two days. So that will all be in place and they will know exactly what they need to do and how they should do it.

In terms of their effectiveness, this is obviously a very, very complicated thing that they are trying to do with very complex legal and military mix of tools. No, sorry let me say that again. What they are trying to do is very complicated. Obviously the Somali government has limited capabilities of its own. There are a host of yes, pirates, but they don't identify themselves with eye patches and hook hands, so it isn't immediately obvious that they are pirates always. That being said, there are a number of ships in the region. There will be NATO ships very soon. A Russian ship will also be present. I understand the Indian government is sending a ship, and of course the European Union has already begun its preparations to put ships in place, not counting the Dutch escort which I believe begins tomorrow.

All this to say there will be a number of very competent and very effective military ships coordinating with each other as appropriate to provide presence, to provide deterrence, and where necessary and possible to intervene to prevent acts of piracy and to escort the ships that need escort through this dangerous area. I don't know what the pirates themselves, how they will react to this. I think everyone should hope that the deterrent presence alone of these ships will significantly increase the security of the cargo and other vessels that are going through the region. So let's wait and see what the effect will be, but there will be a very, very effective international presence, not just NATO in the region.

Did you have a follow-up?

UNIDENTIFIED: Will the NATO force be allowed to shoot pirates?

APPATHURAI: They will have the rules of engagement they need to carry out the mission that they are assigned. They will have obviously a full right to self-defence, but they will also have very specific rules of engagement which will allow for and also direct and constrain where appropriate the use of force in carrying out the mission. I'm not going to go into any more detail. Please.

UNIDENTIFIED: Who's formulating the rules of engagement?

APPATHURAI: The rules of--


APPATHURAI: Exactly. The rules of engagement have been proposed by the operational commander, SACEUR, and agreed, will be agreed by all 26 nations.

UNIDENTIFIED: (Inaudible). How many NATO ships will be going on the mission? And secondly, the SG's visit to London, what topics will be discussed there?

APPATHURAI: Thank you.


APPATHURAI: As to how many ships... until it is absolutely finalized, I can't say. But within the next couple of days we'll tell you.

The subjects for the Secretary General's visit, I think first and foremost, will again be Afghanistan. The United Kingdom has a very significant presence in Helmand, and Helmand is a country... is a province of great significance to Afghanistan’s security, to the fight against narcotics. So I think that will be probably the first subject on the agenda. I would not be surprised if Russia was also significantly on the agenda in terms of the way forward, both of course for NATO, and I think it would be of some interest for the European Union in terms of relations between the West, if we can use that expression, and Russia.



UNIDENTIFIED: Today there is this Donor Conference. It is the peaceful, the non-military side of recovery. In later days we do not hear too much about the military assistance there or NATO experts in Georgia. How much the country needs after the war. Do you have an assessment now, figures, timetable?

APPATHURAI: That's a good question. Yes, there is an assessment. No, I have to be very honest, I haven't seen it. And third, even just as honest, I don't think I could tell you even if I had. But I really haven't seen it. What I can say is that, and it would be confidential anyway, our expert teams have been there two times as far as I'm aware since the end of the hostilities, working with the Georgian authorities to define their requirements. That was not the first two trips they have made. I think you know very well the context. We have a long partnership with them and we have been doing this with them for quite some time. It's just that the context has changed, and they have very specific requirements now because much of their military equipment was in one way or another rendered inoperable. And so now we're into a new design phase. But this is being done according to the priorities of the Georgian authorities. We're just helping them to assess their requirements. As I've said more than once, NATO will not be providing military equipment of any kind to them. So this is simply assessment, but I don't know what that assessment says, to be very frank.

UNIDENTIFIED: It's going back on Somalia? In Bucharest (sic) we said that it was seven ships that were integrating the second, so that's still the number that integrates the permanent?

APPATHURAI: The total, the total (TAPE CUT) group? Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED: The total... and it's still not clear whether the seven will actually do escort...

APPATHURAI: I can guarantee you the seven will not do escort.

UNIDENTIFIED: Because the seven do have a mandate by the Somali government...


UNIDENTIFIED: For to attack ships.

APPATHURAI: The Somali government has been very clear that they welcome the... just check that I didn't... Okay, thank you. Thanks, Robert. Robert’s standing in for Carmen by correcting me by SMS, but he's absolutely right. The SNMG, the Standing NATO Maritime Group now has in essence two jobs. One is to continue the mission that they had before, a mission which we consider to be very important, and that is the port visits and joint exercise with our partners in the Gulf. This has both operational and political importance to NATO, and we certainly do not want not to do that. So a number, a certain number of ships from the SNMG will continue to do that, a certain number will and have been diverted, separated from the rest of the group to do the other job which is escort and deterrence of piracy. But the exact numbers, while they seem clear, need to be confirmed in the next couple of days... of who does what, and we will certainly let you know immediately.

Here and then there.

UNIDENTIFIED: On Somalia also. You mentioned cooperation with Istanbul ... cooperation groups--


UNIDENTIFIED: and partners. What does it mean? Could you elaborate that, and where's Yemen, have something to do?

APPATHURAI: We have no contacts with Yemen of which I am aware. No formal or as far as I know informal contacts with Yemen. But the four ICI partners, you know them, Gulf countries, have been in the ICI for some time. These port visits and joint exercises are the element of cooperation with them, so the SNMG ships that go to continue the previously assigned mission will pay port visits, will conduct joint exercises which I understand have already been announced publicly in the region. They should come as no surprise to anybody. And as I say that's a very important element of our partnership with these countries. The other ships, however many it is, will peel off or have peeled off to do the other job.

UNIDENTIFIED: There's some controversy in Afghanistan about the use of tribal militias, arming tribal militias to essentially replicate the same job that the Sons of Iraq have done in Anbar province, and augment Afghan and foreign forces in Afghanistan. Can you comment on this? Has this gotten...?

APPATHURAI: Well I can't comment on it too much. There's been no, certainly no NATO decision on that, but I can say that within I think many governments there is a discussion about this. I think of course first and foremost it has to be Afghanistan and the Afghan government that takes the lead on all security issues within its own borders. But you're quite right; there is an open discussion I think on the extent to which support should be provided at the regional and sub-regional level for capacity development, and how best that that should be done under always Afghan leadership. But there certainly has been no decision or even any substantial discussion within NATO on this as of yet.

UNIDENTIFIED: James, Canada was supposed to escort the WFP convoy. Is NATO... will NATO be in time to relay to take some tasks under its responsibility, or will there be any delay because of heavy seas or any other obscure reasons? And second part of my questions is about this visit by the Chief of Staff of the United States in Riga, the day after he met with the Russian Chief of Staff in Helsinki. Is it pure coincidence? Maybe you don't know about that, but can you tell me at least within NATO the discussions about where to reinforce Baltic states, that they would be protected against any tension or aggression from anywhere? Is it... already done, the work? And might it be that it was discussed in Helsinki?

APPATHURAI: First, to answer the first question: my understanding, and I hope I have this right, is that it would be a Dutch frigate that takes the releve from the Canadians, and that that should happen tomorrow. So I don't think there will be any problem with handover.

UNIDENTIFIED: (Inaudible.)

APPATHURAI: I think it's from tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED: (Inaudible) NATO or purely bilateral?

APPATHURAI: Purely bilateral. NATO can then and would then, in fact will then, complement this very welcome Dutch initiative and of course when... and complement the Dutch initiative as well as the European Union's very welcome initiative.

In terms of Admiral Mullen, I can tell you he doesn't consult with me on his travel schedule as to where he goes and why. And I don't know what took place in the discussions that he had in Helsinki. What can I say is, and you have heard this before so excuse me for repeating it, NATO has the capability to do the necessary planning for any scenario. We have always done the necessary planning for collective defence of our members. We will continue to do it, and that will manifest itself through plans, through exercises, and other means. I will not go and cannot go into any detail about those are.

UNIDENTIFIED: Yes, if I may about Afghanistan. What happened today, the eight or nine Afghan soldiers that were killed on the friend fires. So that it seems that there is a very big problem about coordination. There will be an inquiry about that? There will be... what do you think about that?

APPATHURAI: That was as far as I'm aware a coalition, U.S.-led coalition air strike and not a NATO air strike, so I'm afraid I can't go beyond that. You would have to ask the coalition about this.

UNIDENTIFIED: I apologize, I came late.

UNIDENTIFIED: (Inaudible.)

APPATHURAI: Well, as I say it's an issue between the coalition, or question to address to the coalition.

UNIDENTIFIED: I apologize, I came late. Can I ask you again if you can tell us a little bit more about the ICA, the initiative... Istanbul Initiative, cooperation initiative with the Gulf countries, can you remind us which country has already... is already engaged with you? As far as I know, not all of them?


UNIDENTIFIED: Second, can you tell us a little bit more about where... I mean with which country are you doing exercise? I mean the maritime exercise in the Gulf? You spoke about ports and exercises with the Gulf countries. About the dialogue between the Kabul government and the Taleban via soldier (inaudible), one can you mention that Hamid Karzai cannot or would not or cannot... I mean... do that without consulting with you? Did Mr. Karzai consult you or did you tell him, did you advise him to go ahead with the dialogue with Taleban, and what do you think about this initiative they can... I mean dialogue initiative which is being conducted by Saudi Arabia?

APPATHURAI: Thank you. To answer the second question first, I'm quite confident that President Karzai could indeed do this without consulting with us. He has certainly not consulted, I can tell you, with the Secretary General if he has engaged in this kind of discussions. I don't know that he has engaged in them, but he has not asked NATO's permission to go forward. It is his country, it's a sovereign country. If he chooses to do it, then NATO will support that decision, but they don't need our permission, and as far as I'm aware they haven't asked for it.

UNIDENTIFIED: (Inaudible.) Your common enemy is with Mr. Karzai is Taleban. So if he negotiate with your enemy, I mean, that's something he's not logic. So he has to consult with you, no?

APPATHURAI: It's not a question of enemies for us. We have a mission from the United Nations to establish the conditions, to establish the peace and security necessary for reconstruction and development to go forward, and for the democratic government to find its feet. We are there to carry out that mission. There are extremists of various colours, Taleban and others, who are trying to obstruct that mission, and we, NATO, ISAF, are taking the necessary means to carry out the mission against whomsoever tries to stop it.

If the Afghan government feels that an element of the political solution means engagement with some of those extremist groups in such a way that they can abandon violence and embrace a peaceful future for the country, then that's their decision to take. But it's not a question for us of enemies or not enemies. It's a question of carrying out the mission effectively. And if there is an element of a political solution led by the government, all the better if that's their decision and if that works.

In terms of the ICI, there are four countries: Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE and Qatar. This is done on a bilateral basis; it's not like -- you know very well -- not like the Mediterranean Dialogue where they all sit together, though at a certain stage I think that that might be quite possible. They certainly have no problems with each other, but we've just not done it that way. And it proceeds bilaterally with each country along the tracks that you know with an agreed list of potential cooperative activities in which we both engage on a bilateral basis.

Each one of those four countries, as far as I'm aware, will receive... will receive, no. We will make port visits in each one of those four countries. There will also be, what we call, pass X's, passing exercises, where there will ships passing alongside each other, sharing communications, et cetera. And I believe there will be in one of the countries, though I will wait to confirm this, a more let's say visible live fire exercise, naval live fire joint exercise. But I will wait to confirm whether or not I can say that one country's name. So if you call Nicola in an hour, he'll tell you whether he's allowed, whether we're allowed to say that. But there will be one live fire exercise with one of the Gulf states which has looked forward to it, and I know welcomes it as much as we do.

UNIDENTIFIED: I would like... I'd like to know your comments after yesterday meeting in Helsinki, Russian-American meeting, if you already answered the question, I'm sorry, I was late. What are your comments after the head of Russian army's statement? He said that a decision for restart cooperation in the NRC council could be taken by the end of this year.

APPATHURAI: Well, it is obviously up to the 26 NATO nations to decide for themselves, at least their view on when the NRC at ambassadorial or political level can resume. I have seen different comments from Ambassador Rogozine this morning about what the Russian position is, so I'm sure through diplomatic channels rather than through the press, the Russian Federation could make its position, unified position, clear to NATO. The ambassadors will at a certain stage have the discussion that they need to have or at the ministerial level. But what I do know is that there will not tomorrow be an NRC meeting at ambassadorial level. No decision has been taken to move away from the position of no business as usual.

UNIDENTIFIED: Okay, jumping back to Somali. James, so you said there will be a host of international military ships from different countries. So can you tell us what will they cooperate with each other? Will they... I mean coordinate their efforts, so is there any mechanism for coordinating their actions or it will be just... how can I say? Kiss-by-kiss, that they will contact each other, any idea?

APPATHURAI: They all know they're going to be there, and there will be the necessary ad hoc contacts between the captains, between the ships to ensure that they understand where each other is and are, I think as effective as they can be. I don't know that there is any talk of nor any frankly any necessity for an overarching coordination mechanism. They all understand what they're there to do, and as I say on an ad hoc basis, they'll be in touch with each other to make sure that they coordinate as necessary.

Thank you.