From the event


4 Feb. 2009

Weekly press briefing

by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

JAMES APPATHURAI (Spokesman, NATO): Colleagues let me address three or four issues and then I'm happy to take your questions on whatever it is you wish to discuss.

First in terms of agenda, in about 30 minutes the Secretary General will meet with two Ministers and one Vice prime minister from Georgia. He is now  meeting with them before the NGC (the NATO Georgia Commission).   

Now the Secretary General is meeting with Vice prime minister  Baramidze, Minister of Foreign Affairs Vashadze and Defence Secretary Sikharulidze - that's as good as I can do - of Georgia. They have come for a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission and they will first with the Secretary General as is happening and then in the NATO-Georgia Commission with the NATO Ambassadors.

There are in essence two main issues I believe to be on the agenda. One is with an eye to the NATO- Georgia Commission meeting at ministerial level in Krakow to discuss the Georgian Annual National Program and that was put in place quite recently the annual program by which Georgia prepares itself to move closer to NATO and through which NATO provides both guidance and support to meet Georgian priorities in meeting NATO standards.

Second, of course they will discuss the regional security situation. I have little doubt that the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia will come up. Nor would I be surprised if there were to be a discussion of the intimations in the press that Russia intends to build bases in these zones naval and/or army bases. In these zones the NATO Ambassadors are watching this situation both carefully and with concern as they seem to be in violation of Georgia's territorial integrity and the Secretary General will raise this issue with Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov when he meets with him at the Munich Security Conference. This will be, as you know, the next step in the gradual re-engagement between NATO and Russia and that will take place at the Wehrkunde meeting. That was the second issue I wanted to raise with you and that is the Munich Security Conference.

The Secretary General will be speaking on Saturday morning. The final agenda has not yet been made public. It is not therefore up to me to make it public, but he will speak on a panel not on Afghanistan, but on in essence Euro-Atlantic security and what it means in the 21st century. So he will provide remarks as will the other panellists I'm sure on a host of issues. But in essence what he will do is lay out his vision for how security should be conceived of in the 21st century and how the structures we have should be adapted to meet the modern security challenges. But as his remarks have not yet being finalized, I am not in a position to go into more detail.

He will meet with I believe President Karzai informally or formally. In terms of the U.S. delegation, he is likely to meet with Vice-President Biden, with National Security advisor Jones, and I believe with Richard Holbrooke whom as you know has been nominated as President Obama's representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He may have other bilateral meetings, but those are the ones which I believe are confirmed.

There are a number of other issues which I'm sure you will wish to discuss from Manas to counter-narcotics to military technical agreements so let me just throw the floor open to any of you for discussion. Please.

Q: Yes. I'm wondering given NATO's soon to be partial dependence at least on Russian transit supply routes into Afghanistan which you're negotiating now, how much leverage the Alliance has on the issue of naval... Russian naval and army bases in South Ossetia and Abkhazia?


APPATHURAI: Thank you. Well I think first we should not conceive this as dependence on Russia. 80 percent of the supplies required for ISAF Forces already go through Pakistan and despite the occasional hiccup those supply lines are intact.

Q: (Inaudible)...

APPATHURAI: Yes well I wouldn't use the word dependence. We are able to supply our forces 100 percent through the existing logistical chains, but you would only expect that we would always look for alternatives, redundancy, increased flexibility. That includes of course what we call the northern route through Russia and its neighbouring countries.

In terms of leverage, that is a separate question. I think it is safe to say that there is broad concern about any move to build Russian bases inside Georgina territory against the will of the Georgian government and this is a view that I believe will be expressed not just by the Secretary General to the Russian government.

Q: James can you please give us details about Krakow agenda and do you have any information about upcoming election of a new Secretary General NATO?

Thank you.

APPATHURAI: We will put out a proper calendar for what will take place in Krakow. I don't know when we will put it out. In the coming days. I think it is generally finalized, but what you will in essence see will be of course a NATO meeting. There will be a meeting of the 26 alone. There will be an ISAF meeting. In other words a meeting of the Defence Ministers in ISAF format and they will discuss of course a whole host of issues, but in the ISAF meeting they will be focused on Afghanistan. They will look at the political military plan that we have and see how the implementation is going. They will hear am quite sure from many Allies, including Secretary Gates, on their thinking on the way forward and this will all be with an eye to the summit coming up. There will be a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission and a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission as well.

Those are the building blocks. We'll give you more details otherwise. in the coming days.

On the NATO Secretary General you won't be surprised to know that I cannot discuss it. Furthermore, the NATO international staff has no role in this process, so to be honest I'm not even I think fully aware of what is going on. All I can tell you is the mandate of the current NATO Secretary General expires on the 31st of July. Before then the Allies will make a decision, but I have no information beyond that.

Q: Will NATO be expressing concern to the Russians over the threat to close or the announcement of plans to close the base in Kyrgyzstan which appears to have come after a certain amount of Russian influence or pressure.

APPATHURAI: Let me say two things on this subject. First this is not a NATO base in Manas. It is a Kyrgyze facility which the United States uses and I believe on occasion other Allies,  a very small number of Allies have occasionally used it as well. This is not a NATO facility. It does not provide NATO logistical support for the operation inside Afghanistan.

That being said it has a valuable role for those Allies, but beyond that I can't comment on that specifically. If it were to be the case that a Kyrgyze decision to withdraw U.S. access to Manas was as a result of Russian engagement that would be of concern. It would also seem to be incongruous with Russia's repeated statements that they support international efforts in Afghanistan, including as a member of the UN Security Council that approved the mandate for the mission inside Afghanistan. And also incongruous with their continued engagement with NATO, both in terms of training Afghan and other central-Asian counter-narcotics officials, but also in the context of providing logistical support through the northern route for the operation.

Q: Follow-up?

APPATHURAI: Yes James. So just on that, how does NATO see the two billion Euros that was paid in economic aid to the government there? And if I could ask you a quick one on the drug operations: how is the inquiry into the leak moving on?


APPATHURAI: Thanks. I have absolutely no comment on bilateral financial relations between the two countries. You won't be surprised.

On the counter-narcotics issue let me say two things. First, the discussion within the chain of command has now been completed. The advice provided by Brunssum and by ISAF to our headquarters in Mons has been adopted and agreed by the Supreme Allied Commander. So they are in full agreement on how to take forward, how to implement, the direction given by Ministers in Budapest for a greater role in counter-narcotics for ISAF Forces.

As to the investigation, I am obviously in no position to give details on the investigation except to say two things. One is it has begun. I'll say three things. It has begun. It has both a military and a civilian element to it. And the Secretary General I can tell you is absolutely determined to leave no stone unturned in this investigation. He considers it to be absolutely unacceptable that documents of this importance, but at a stage before which final decisions had been taken, had been leaked to the press which had the potential to cause great difficulty for our decision making process exposing draft decisions to those who should not see them. So you can be sure that this investigation will be pursued vigorously and to the end.

Go ahead. We'll come up, but he had a follow-up. Okay lots of follow-ups.

Q: Sorry, it was just to follow on that because obviously you've launched an inquiry and that gives a certain importance to the leak. We're inclined to believe that what was in there was quite reasonable and now you have a new set of orders. You've come to the end of that arrangement. Where do we stand? Does the guidance match the orders that were given? Has there been a toning down this sort of shoot to kill idea which was never explicitly stated, but implicit? Is that still out there?

APPATHURAI: The guidance provided up the chain from General Ramms and General McKiernan was accepted by General Craddock to be more explicit that ISAF Forces will be able to engage against narcotics facilities and facilitators where they provide material support to the insurgency. All the Commanders are in agreement.

Let me make one further point if I may. I think General McKiernan reflecting a common will in NATO has been explicit and clear including in publishing the tactical directive which you can find on our website, that he has issued to all NATO Forces; that ISAF is fully aware of the importance of taking every step possible to diminish civilian casualties, to take into account the very real and legitimate sensitivities, including cultural sensitivities, of the Afghan people. Everything that will be done by ISAF will be done of course fully in compliance with international law, including the laws of armed conflict and relevant national laws. But also, the absolute importance of minimizing to the maximum extent possible civilian casualties and taking into account the culture and cultural sensitivities of the country.

Q: So still on the same topic. Just to be very clear, as I understand it the guidance gets consulted, turns into an order, then the order is given. Where are we now today in that chronology? I think there's an order. I don't think it's been given. Is that right?

 And the second point if I may about the framework of the investigation. I'm sure that the people who leaked these things to the press have broken an internal NATO regulation maybe. Under what authority is this investigation being carried out? I mean are there sanctions... what rules have they broken? Is it going to be civil, legal? What are the possible outcomes there?

APPATHURAI: Thank you.

The chronology as far as I understand it is this: General Craddock sent down guidance which of course is open to comment before final orders. In essence, proposed revisions to his guidance were sent back up the chain. Those had been consolidated between ISAF and Brunssum. So between the operational level and ISAF, the Operational Command and ISAF itself. That guidance on the 30th of January was accepted. So these amendments to the guidance were accepted by General Craddock.

Now the precise question whether or not a subsequent order has now been issued - I couldn't get a good answer.  General Craddock is in Afghanistan. This is why. So I don't know exactly when the next step is to be taken or if it has been taken because he is in Afghanistan. But the basic point is this:  the amendments to the guidance have been accepted. That will be the form of the order if it has not yet been issued.

Oh sorry, I am no position to talk about this issue except to say that of course everybody who works within the NATO chain and everybody who works within national chains agree to sign up to obeying the classifications and the guidance thereby... that is the provisions of handling of those documents and we all sign those forms when we take up public office. Those bring with them sanction if you break them.

Q: Georgian journalist. Up to the war in August the relations between Russian Federation and the NATO is almost stopped and two weeks ago the Russian Federation officially declared that it's going to locate the military bases in the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. How do you think it possible after such decision to restore the relations between NATO and Russian Federation?

APPATHURAI: The principle which I believe is shared amongst the 27 members of the NATO-Russia Council, but certainly amongst the 26 NATO Allies, is that we cannot shy away from discussions on issues on which we fundamentally disagree... of course on issues which we agree on. This issue of the possibility of building Russian bases inside Georgian territory is one of real concern to the NATO Allies because it does seem to be or would be in violation of Georgia's territorial integrity. As I said, the Secretary General will raise this with Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov. I'm told that he has mentioned this to the Georgian Ministers. He will raise it with Ivanov and it may well be on the agenda of the next NATO-Russia Council but I'm just speculating now.

What I can say is that the political decision has been taken for a gradual re-engagement, but that gradual re-engagement between NATO and Russia, including through the NATO-Russia Council, principally through the NATO-Russia Council, does not mean that we're going to shy away from having very frank discussions where we disagree and where the Russian Federation can and should hear where they do things which are at the very least of profound concern to the NATO Allies including this.

Q: My question is the same practically, but I'm interested what NATO do about this unlegal military base in Abkhazia and South Ossetia because we know they are building some bases, five bases practically, in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

APPATHURAI: I think I have answered the question. The first stage will be the Secretary General raises the concern of the Allies with Minister Ivanov and I can tell you this is an issue that is discussed amongst the 26 NATO Allies as well.

Q: It's already a reaction of the Secretary General to the Merkel-Sarkozy paper today published in Le Monde and Suddeutsche Zeitung.

APPATHURAI: He has read it. I know this because I gave it to him this morning and of course it has a number of very interesting issues in it. He has not asked me to make any public comment on it. What I can say is I'm quite sure that he shares a number of the ideas that are in this paper, one of which was extracted in the wires which I can tell you he believes in very fundamentally, is the need for stronger co-operation between NATO and the European Union.

This is an area where I think it is safe to say he has experienced some frustration over the last five years. He believes very fundamentally that deeper co-operation between the two organizations is essential if we are going to have a true comprehensive approach to the challenges that we face and Afghanistan is a clear example of that where we need not just a military surge, but a civilian surge as he repeatedly says, and that has to include and happily does include the European Union.

I understand that the EU intends to put quite substantially more funding into Afghanistan to beef up its police presence as well as its policy training effort. That's all very positive. It's an illustration of the growing number of areas in which the two organizations are working side by side - piracy being another one - or at least in sequence in the case of piracy, but also in Kosovo.

So all this to say that's one area amongst many where I think he sees eye to eye with the two heads of government.

Q: Change of subject. At the request of the Allies, SHAPE has drawn up a fairly substantial plan to develop reach-back communications capability from Afghanistan into capitals and NATO which will require quite a substantial budget. And as I understand it, SHAPE is hoping that NAC, and I know this is a SHAPE question, but it's a NAC decision so therefore I'm hoping you will know whether this is going to be discussed in Krakow by the MOD's and then whether, as they hope, the NAC will take a decision on this in February or not.

APPATHURAI: I have no idea. I know that's not a good professional spokesman answer, but we'll look into it. Next one is over there. Sorry, I really don't know. There and then there and then did you...

Q: In a follow-up to Brook's first question... the disruption of the bridge at the Khyber Pass yesterday - what's your assessment on that? What's your assessment of the damage and the impact and in the short term what can you do. You said 80 percent of the transport to Afghanistan comes through Pakistan, but in the longer term do you want that figure to go down? What's the desirable number?

Thank you.

APPATHURAI: My understanding is that there was a temporary pause to logistic supplies through Pakistan. The latest information I had was that those have resumed. In essence they have built a patch and gone around the bridge and they will attempt to lift it again. The larger point to remember is that there is an enormous volume every single day of ground transport that goes through Pakistan, through Khyber, not just through Khyber but through Khyber into Afghanistan. When you hear about these temporary stoppages they are inconvenient, but they are in essence statistically insignificant compared to the very many days where you don't hear about anything, where there is a large amount of tonnage that is going to Afghanistan.

On top of that there are very substantial stockpiles inside the country and those are kept at full levels. On top of that there are other NATO routes into Afghanistan. And beyond that there are bilateral supply lines into Afghanistan which we never discuss but which are very significant and we mentioned one of them which is the Kyrgyze link that at least until now that the U.S. and other Allies have been able to use. It is certainly not the only one.

All this to say: inconvenient, irritating, but not strategically significant. We expect Pakistan to continue to be an important logistical supply line. The Pakistani authorities are investing very heavily in keeping those supply lines open and we're very grateful to them for that. We hope and believe that that will continue. I think that answers the question. 80 percent - I have never heard anybody talk about changing that percentage. If we can open a northern line at a certain stage, a northern route, that will add to the flexibility and options that we have.

Q: Just to follow-up on that question about La Monde. The article so referred to I think the United States getting approval from France to take up two posts in the military command. Is it your understanding that there is some near agreement there? And I think the article also referred to a threat by Turkey to obstruct the process unless France stopped obstructing its route towards the European Union. Does there need to be agreement of all the Allies for France to re-enter the military structure? Does Turkey have effectively any sort ability to block if it chose to?

APPATHURAI: I am not aware that it requires a NAC decision for France to take its full place again in the integrated military structure. That being said the mechanics of what that means I frankly don't know. So I will have to go and have a look at the specifics. I just don't know what all the necessary other subordinate decisions are. I am also not aware of any final agreement on what we call flags to post - who gets what position - but I will check.

Q: James is NATO concerned about the level of the dispute between Slovenia and Croatia has reached and can it endanger the agenda of the upcoming summit in terms of having either 26 or 28 members?

APPATHURAI: Our aim is to welcome Albania and Croatia fully into the NATO family by the time of the summit and the Secretary General has impressed upon all of the countries that have not yet ratified the accession protocols and deposited the instruments of ratification with the United States, which as the holder of the Washington Treaty is the depository state, he has impressed upon all of them that they need to take let us say relatively quick steps to complete the process for this to happen on time.

He made that same point of course to the Slovenian Defence Minister when she was here last week. She expressed her government's determination to complete the process as quickly as possible. Of course, there is a bilateral issue between the two countries with regard to I think some demarcation of naval... sea waters related to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.  But he has been assured by the Slovenian government that they will make every effort to meet that deadline. I understand that there are other processes for mediating between the two countries on this particular issue. NATO is not involved in those, but we hope and are confident that Slovenia will indeed ratify in time, along with I can say the quite a few other countries that have not yet completed the process.

Q: But what if Bucharest rerun happens? What if Slovenia blocks the entry of Croatia and then Albania might deal with the consequences. Greece did it. Slovenia did it with EU with Croatia in December. Where is the ground of optimism that this won't happen again?

APPATHURAI: We don't expect that that will happen. I will not... I will follow the guidance of the Secretary General: don't answer iffy questions. And I won't do that here, but we don't expect that that will happen; we do expect that all the 26 countries will ratify in time including Slovenia.

That's it?