From the event

Palace, Brussels

4 Mar. 2009

Weekly press briefing

by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesperson): All I see is this much... this many journalists means trouble for me.


Sorry I'm late colleagues and friends. I'll just let you set up. Thank you all for coming all of you. It's a pleasure to see you. Let me quickly run through a few agenda items starting with the Ministerial. I'll make a couple of statements on behalf of the Secretary General and then I'll be happy to take your questions. And I must tell you I only have an hour I'm afraid.

First, the Ministerial which will begin tomorrow; tonight there is a transatlantic dinner, as they call it, hosted by the Belgians bringing together NATO and EU Ministers. But that is not a NATO event and I can't speak to it, nor will I be able to speak to it after it takes place I'm afraid.

Tomorrow morning the Secretary General will begin his day with a bilateral meeting with Secretary Clinton, the first time that they have met since she is in her new capacity. The meetings themselves will begin at 9:00 a.m. and there will be two working sessions. A working session in the morning and then a working lunch. The working session in the morning in essence will deal with two main issues. The first is Afghanistan. They will exchange views on the state of play, on progress in implementing NATO's comprehensive political military plan.

Secretary Clinton has already previewed that she will update Allies on the U.S. review; where it is and where it is going. The United States has consulted extensively with NATO Allies, with as you know Afghanistan and Pakistan as well, and as well as with NATO as an organization. But this will be an important opportunity for an exchange in views; as we move closer to the summit, we will of course wish for all Allies to be singing from the same song sheet and this will be an important stage in that process.

There will also be discussion by the Allies of how we can support the upcoming elections in Afghanistan. You may know, I'm sure you do know, that the Afghan Independent Election Commission has just reaffirmed the 20 August date for Afghanistan's 2009 presidential and provincial council elections. The Secretary General and NATO take note of what is an Afghan decision, but we, NATO and the Secretary General, welcome this decision by the Independent Election Commission because this date will provide from a purely technical point of view, the time for the Alliance to prepare properly; to bring in the forces necessary and the capabilities necessary to provide the maximum possible support for the electoral process and in particular the maximum possible security as the third line of security for the electoral process.

So as I say, NATO and the Secretary General welcome this decision by the Independent Election Commission. While it is 100 percent an Afghan decision when the elections take place, from a technical point of view this works for NATO and for ISAF.

Second issue on the agenda for tomorrow morning will be relations with Russia. The Secretary General, as was his tasking at the Bucharest Ministerial, has had political level contacts with the Russian Federation. Of course with Ambassador Rogozin, but also with Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov in Munich. He will report... the Secretary General will report tomorrow morning to the Ministers on his political contacts and they will discuss possible next steps, including the resumption of formal meetings of the NATO-Russia Council at Ambassadorial and Ministerial level.

There are clear areas where NATO and Russia need to engage more fully on Afghanistan, on terrorism and in other areas. I should stress that a decision to re-engage in formal meetings of the NRC would not imply any diminishment of NATO's condemnation of the events that took place in August and of the possible decision by the Russian Federation to build bases on Russian territory. Let me say very clearly the Secretary General hopes that tomorrow will lead to a decision to re-engage in formal meetings of the NATO-Russia Council.

The third issue that will be discussed tomorrow over the lunch is the Declaration on Alliance security. This is again a tasking given to him by Ministers to draft, and he has done that, a declaration to be adopted at the summit in early April. This declaration should in essence underline NATO's determination to perform the full range of its missions including collective defence to projecting stability abroad. It should convey for our publics NATO's raison d'être at the age of 60, a sprightly and flexible 60. And it should also set out the way forward in launching a process which should lead to updating the Strategic Concept, which as you know dates to 1999, in order to set out in detail the Alliance's role in the new security environment of the 21st century.

There will be an initial round of discussions by Ministers. They have seen the Secretary General's draft now. They will exchange views on how it should go forward and then this will come down to of course a set of drafting sessions for adoption at the Ministerial.

Three quick points and then I will stop.

One is to say that early next week on Monday the Secretary General will travel to France and Germany to visit the sites of the summit;  a pre-summit tour to see that everything is... well to see how the preparations are going.

Secondly, on Tuesday the White House has already announced this, Vice-President Biden will come to NATO Headquarters. He will meet with the North Atlantic Council, as well as of course bilaterally with the Secretary General, to exchange views with Allies on the way forward on Afghanistan, update Allies on U.S. thinking and receive their views. Let me stress this; this is the intention of the United States' Vice-President, to hear the views of the Allies as the U.S. thinking is shaped.

There will be a joint press conference; Secretary General and Vice-President. We don't know exactly the time yet, but we'll certainly let you know when that is to take place. And we're not taking down any of the logistical arrangements we're making for the Ministerial because I expect to see many of you there again as well.

Finally on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, celebrating (and I use that word deliberately) celebrating the 10th anniversary of the entry of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Sorry, I should do that in order. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland into NATO. The Secretary General will travel to all three countries beginning on Wednesday.

He will go to Budapest, meet with the... beginning on Thursday are the working meetings, but he will meet with the Prime Minister. He will attend a conference Ten Years in NATO and speak of course at that. Meet with the President, meet with the Foreign Minister.

Then travel to Prague. Meet with President Klaus. There will be an informal I think EU Ministers of Defence meeting which he will participate in and then give a speech at the Senate of the Parliament. Again, NATO enlargement 10 years on. Meet with Prime Minister Topolánek. Hold a press conference with him. All of these details are to be confirmed, but this is how we think it's going to go.

Then on to Warsaw. Speak with Prime Minister Tusk and the Minister of Defence Klich at a seminar. All to be confirmed. Meet with the President, meet with the Prime Minister and then travel back. Now this is the end of next week so we will confirm all of that, but that's how it looks.

I am done and happy to take your questions. Go ahead.

Q: Maybe you said in the beginning, but you didn't mention Kosovo. Are they going to discuss Kosovo this time?

And second question on future NATO enlargement in a few weeks, what are the chances now with the complications in Slovenia that Albania and Croatia can join before the summit? And is it true that some member states have ratified protocol as a package? So they didn't deposit even for Albania. So if Croatia is not going to get on time, Albania might be left also?

APPATHURAI: I do not know if Kosovo will be brought up because of course any Minister can bring up what they wish. The principal topics were the ones that I mentioned, the ones that are in essence being prepared for. But Kosovo may well come up.

On the subject of Kosovo, let me repeat what the Secretary General has now said on the record and I will say it in his words. Those who are speculating on any possible reductions to KFOR, and I have seen this speculation in the press, including those in uniform, do not speak for NATO on this issue. There is no plan and no decision for any reductions to KFOR. Any changes to KFOR will only be made on the basis of a political decision by all Allies. Such a decision will only be taken if Allies are assured that a possible reduction of KFOR will not jeopardize the safety and security of Kosovo and that time has not come.

So let me get that point out very clearly. So it may well come up, but it is not one of the principal subjects of discussion. As to the ratification, I am not aware. I have not heard, I say very frankly, anyone raise concerns that problems related to Croatia's accession would negatively affect Albania. That does not mean that it's not the case, but I have certainly never heard anyone say it.

Q: James I'm sorry for a very direct question. Should for example COM KFOR Emilio Gay recognize himself in today's Secretary General's statement?

APPATHURAI: Anyone can recognize themselves in anything. I do not want to ascribe this to any individual.

Q: James will there be any talk about the anti-piracy mission and the possible renewal of anti-piracy mission?

APPATHURAI: That is perhaps more a topic for Defence Ministers than Foreign Ministers, but I can say this. There has been continued progress in NATO on this subject. I think you can certainly expect to see another NATO deployment in the coming few months off the coast of Somalia. The final political decisions have not yet been taken, but it is moving in the right direction and I think you will certainly see NATO ships off the coast of Somalia in the coming months in an anti-piracy role.

Q: On the NRC you said the Secretary General hopes that decision will be taken to the effect that the NRC will resume. So we can assume that there's consensus on this. And the second question on Clinton; can you just give us a flavour of what you're expecting from Clinton since it's her first meeting at NATO.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. Well if there was already consensus, it would be more than a hope. He would be announcing a fact. But he hopes that it will take place. The decision will be taken by Ministers and only by Ministers and that discussion will take place tomorrow, but certainly if he hopes for something, that has an effect within our Alliance as well.

I don't know what Secretary Clinton will wish to discuss beyond what I have already said. She will of course bring the U.S. point of view on all of the issues that I raised. Of course, there is great interest in the U.S. view on two issues, the two main issues that I addressed. One is Afghanistan and the future of the U.S. engagement and how of course that influences and is influenced by NATO's engagement. And second on Russia where the United States has a very important bilateral relationship with Russia that goes beyond the prism of NATO and the framework of NATO, but is influenced by and influences the NATO relationship with Russia as well.

So I think there's quite a lot for us or for the Ministers anyway to hear from Secretary Clinton and to discuss with her.

Q: Just a quick question. The Secretary General hopes to see a resumption of the NRC on Ambassadors and Ministerial level which would sort of rule out anything happening at the summit, but does that rule out an invitation potentially to the Russian President?

APPATHURAI: It's obviously not for me to rule anything out or rule anything in, but what I can say is based on what I know now. I think it's extremely unlikely, extremely unlikely that we would see a summit level meeting at the same date and in the same location as our NATO summit in... sorry, an NRC meeting at summit level on the same date as the NATO summit. I just don't see it happening.

Q: The American officials have been saying that NATO is considering asking China for supply transit to Afghanistan. Will the Ministers discuss this issue tomorrow and what kind of transit are you talking about?

Thank you.

APPATHURAI: I have absolutely no information that NATO is in anyway engaged in any talks, nor has any intention of engaging in any talks, in the immediate future with China on transit. I know that a senior U.S. official has been quoted as indicating that either NATO or the U.S. might be interested in that. If it were to come up I do not know, but certainly there is neither any activity within NATO nor any intention of which I am aware to engage in talks with China on transit. Not, might I add, that we have any difficult relations with China. We have very good relations with China, but that has simply never come up.

Q: Yes hi James. I was wondering if you can confirm that NATO plans to organize a NATO-ISAF meeting before the summit of Strasbourg/Kehl and if at this meeting eventually there will be invited also other countries like Russia or central Asiatic countries.

Thank you very much.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. There is no decision taken on a pre-summit meeting on Afghanistan, either that it should take place, what format it might have and what participation it might have. I can't exclude that there will be such a decision, but for the moment no decision has been taken.

Q: Will be discussed Georgia's issue tomorrow in the context of with meeting with Russia?

APPATHURAI: Well there will be no meeting with Russia as you know.

Q: In the context of Council of Russia and NATO's relationship. In this context will be discussed Georgia's issue as well?

APPATHURAI: Well I think the Georgian issue will come up in the way that I mentioned it and that is if a decision is taken by Ministers to go forward with re-establishing formal meetings of the NATO-Russia Council it will be very much in the context that they have not diminished in any way or abandoned their condemnation of the two things that I mentioned - the disproportionate use of force in August and the recognition of the two republics and the subsequent possible I think... subsequent possible decision by the Russian Federation to build and enhance its presence and its bases inside Georgian territory, inside these two republics.

So that I think would be the context of a discussion on Georgia in the context, as you put it, of the NATO-Russia Council.

I think there was one right behind you and then up here.

Q: Thanks. James can you... just going back to the first question that you got from Augustine, can you say whether now it's extremely unlikely that Croatia will be ready to join by Strasbourg as a lot of people have been saying because of the technical issues?

And also is it true that there is also... there are also NATO-Russia and NATO-Georgia Commissions meeting tomorrow?


APPATHURAI: Thank you. On Croatia, I certainly would not say that it's extremely unlikely that Croatia could join at Strasbourg and Kehl. I am aware, as are you, of the complications regarding a possible referendum inside Slovenia which would affect accession, but I do not know how that process will go. I obviously cannot comment on it, but we are certainly working towards the assumption and with the very strong hope and desire to see Croatia and Albania sit down together in their alphabetical seats in order around the council table in Strasbourg and Kehl.

I would not exclude, on the second subject, a NATO-Ukraine Commission and NATO-Georgia Commission meeting tomorrow.

Q: If Croatia does not make it, when is the next time they can join? Do they have to wait any big meeting or can they do it any time?

APPATHURAI: A, we are not working - let me make this point - we are not working towards the assumption that there is any alternative, but the NATO experience I don't think requires a summit meeting for accession to take place.

Should we go back there and then we'll come up here? Is that okay? All the way to the back there.

Q: Would be any discussion about Macedonia? Is it going to be mentioned in the conclusions and is there any discussion in NATO about the policy of vetoes?

APPATHURAI: There will no written conclusions at the end of this meeting. There's no communiqué. I am not expecting a discussion of enlargement, let us put it that way, amongst Foreign Ministers. It's not on the agenda. But of course I can't exclude what any Minister of course might mention, but there will be no written statement at the end.

Go ahead.

Q: Can you confirm that there is a trip of Secretary General planned at the end of this month to Moscow?

APPATHURAI: No, I couldn't confirm that because I am not aware that any meeting -

Q: (Inaudible)... word on the street that he will go to Moscow before the celebration.

APPATHURAI: Well the street hasn't made its way into NATO Headquarters -


APPATHURAI: ... because Boulevard Leopold III it's often jam-packed and the traffic is not moving into NATO Headquarters in this regard. No, I couldn't confirm that and it is not confirmed to put it another way.

Q: James you just mentioned that you cannot exclude the Georgian and Ukrainian Commission could be held, but you know both events are not something that could happen unexpectedly so that... should be planned in advance. My question is are there any reasons for urgent call of such meetings and if yes, who you expect will represent Ukraine?

APPATHURAI: Good question. I would not ascribe any urgency to this. We can do things quickly at NATO and as I say, I would not exclude that the meetings will be held tomorrow. I don't know who will attend on the part of the Ukrainian government. The Secretary General has spoken to Mr. Ohryzko just last night, but of course it is up to the Ukrainian government to decide who will attend the meeting, if there is a meeting.

Q: James how soon could you have a formal meeting of the NATO-Russia Council either at Ambassadorial level or Ministerial level?

APPATHURAI: Of course at Ambassadorial level any meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, if and when it were to be decided to take place, could happen the next minute if that were decided, but very, very quickly. There's no obstacle to that at all. Ministerial meetings depend on Ministerial schedules, but I think the sense around the NATO table anyway, and this would depend very much on the Russian Federation, is that they would wish to hold if they decide to move forward in this way, a Ministerial level meeting sooner rather than later with no date attached as yet to that.

Q: Are they going to talk tomorrow about elections in Afghanistan and what NATO position is about Karzai's intention to organize the election earlier in April?

APPATHURAI: The sound doesn't go... ? Yes.  Je répète...  Je répète en français.

Q:  Oui bien sur.

APPATHURAI:  Excuse me.  I will do it in French.  Ils vont discuter des élections en Afghanistan et le soutien que l'OTAN va apporter à ces élections.  Le secrétaire général...  Je ne sais pas comment dire en français... welcomes...

Q:  ... donne la bienvenue.

APPATHURAI:  ... donne la bienvenue... donne la bienvenue...  I don't think so.

NON IDENTIFIÉ:  ... salue.

APPATHURAI:  The Secretary General welcomes...

NON IDENTIFIÉ:  ... salue.

Q:  C'est mieux.  C'est mieux.

APPATHURAI:  ... salue la décision... la décision du (sic) Commission indépendante électorale afghan, une décision à 100% afghane, que les élections devraient avoir lieu le 20 août.  Il le salue parce que... pour des raisons purement techniques, l'OTAN sera en beaucoup meilleure position d'apporter le soutien logistique et sécuritaire en troisième ligne pour les élections.  Ils vont discuter demain, je pense, les préparations qui auront lieu.  Je sais que le commandant ISAF a avec grande précision déjà dessiné tout le soutien nécessaire avec les forces nécessaires, le déploiement nécessaire, les dates nécessaires.  J'ai vu ses préparations.  Ils sont extrêmement détaillés et que avec les élections qui auront lieu en août, et je pense que maintenant c'est la décision afghane, l'OTAN sera en position pour les soutenir.

Q:  what about if Karzai, si Karzai continue son intention

APPATHURAI: We can base ourselves on, I think, until now the decision of the Electoral Commission. We'll wait to see what happens after that.

Q: Just a follow-up to my previous question.


Q: Could you envisage some kind of unexpected meetings of the commission in Strasbourg and Kehl. I mean Georgian and Ukraine Commissions.

APPATHURAI: I of course have said that NATO can do things quickly, but very honestly I don't foresee that.

Q: Within the context of this reengagement with Russia, do you expect that there will be talk about getting the Russians to provide more assistance to the war effort in Afghanistan with spare parts and weaponry for the Afghan Army and airlift for ISAF troops?

APPATHURAI: Good question. The Afghan government and the Russian government are already in discussion as far as I'm aware about the possible provision of equipment for Afghan National Security Forces, but I don't speak for either of those governments. So I don't want to go any further than that and I don't know the details.

We have, as you know, a very well developed train and equip programme for the Afghan National Security Forces. I am convinced that as we come closer to the summit, increasing that training and equipping will be a very important part of our discussion. I think everybody wants to move even more quickly to a position in which the Afghan National Security Forces are able to provide for their own security and wherever that support might come from, if it is done in a co-ordinated way and to meet Afghan priorities, I think will be very welcome.

In terms of air support, air transport within Afghanistan, that I have not heard any discussion of. We have been, as you know, been making extensive use of a contract that NATO has with Ukrainian and Russian transport companies to provide logistical support primarily using Antonov 124s, very big transport aircraft which sometimes you can see here at Melsbroek. I saw one there for about a year and a half so I think it had some mechanical problems. But in general they work very well and we're very happy to have them working in support of the operation.

Q: Do you know already an approximate number of extra troops we need for the elections in Afghanistan? We had heard of four battalions, but then the differences of member states are very big no, of how many are actually in the battalions. So can we just have a rough figure?

APPATHURAI: Not yet, but I take the question. I would need a proper... I mean I could do the same ballpark figure all of you could do, but let me go and get a proper military assessment and then I'll give it to you as soon as possible. If possible, tomorrow.

Q: Just two questions. The first one is to know if these mission for the elections will be totally free? In the movement... in the movement in Afghanistan... or if there are some caveat? And the second question is Madame Tzipi Livni is these days in Brussels, so I was wondering if she plans to visit NATO Headquarters tomorrow and if she plans also a bilateral meeting with Secretary General and Madame Clinton?

APPATHURAI: Thank you. On the first question, again, I don't know the answer. So I have to check it and I will certainly answer it tomorrow. Our expectation for the moment is indeed that Foreign Minister Livni will come to NATO Headquarters and meet with the Secretary General bilaterally, not with the North Atlantic Council, but have a bilateral meeting with the Secretary General tomorrow evening.

Q: One last one.

Q: James just a little bit to clarify about the NRC renewal possible. So far Secretary General has... have been having a mandate for himself personally to decide whether to start to renew or not and at which extent. Now you say that he cannot do this because Ministers must give their consent. So that's one point to clarify. What precisely is Secretary General going to do tomorrow?

And secondly you say if the NRC is renewing their activity and still at the same time trying to keep the face not recognizing the August events, so how can you be just a little bit pregnant so to say?


APPATHURAI: I'm not a little bit pregnant.


APPATHURAI: Short answer to the first one. The Secretary General had a mandate not to decide himself whether or not formal meetings of the NATO-Russia Council at Ambassadorial or Ministerial level should be restarted, but to have his own political contacts on an informal basis with the Russian Federation and then to report back to Ministers so that they could make the decision on the NRC and that is what is happening.

In terms of being a little bit pregnant, let me put it another way. If you want to be in this particular circus, you have to be able to ride two horses at the same time. We can I think, or NATO can, at the same time have valuable political discussions and important practical co-operation with the Russian Federation on areas of common interest without sacrificing our ability to express as an Alliance where NATO and NATO Allies fundamentally disagree with the Russian Federation.

I think Russia feels exactly the same way about its relations with NATO. So as I say, I think we can... I won't use any more analogies. We can do two things at the same time.

Q: Can we expect any talk on missile defence since there have been... well Medvedev yesterday announced that he would want a common shield. Barack Obama has also said that it's not quite precise that United States is relating their system to Iran and the co-operation there. So how... I can imagine that Allies are all... especially Czech Republic as well and Poland... will want to talk about this. So...

APPATHURAI: I can't exclude that it might come up. As I said, the main topics are the ones that I set out, but I certainly can't exclude for the reasons that you mentioned that Ministers may wish to discuss it.

Colleagues... oh, oh, oh. Two jumps up at the back!

Q: Do you expect President Karzai come to Strasbourg NATO summit or maybe he is too busy for preparing the election?

APPATHURAI: I have no information that there are plans in place for President Karzai to come to the summit.

Q: So James a follow-up on the NRC.


Q: Ambassador Rogozin has said that Russia is very interested to clarify the situation around the Georgia events and he proposed the special NRC meeting with the participation of the high level representative from Russian General staff. So is there any information? Did he submit such proposal to the NATO Secretariat and if such a meeting could have place?

APPATHURAI: He has more than once suggested such a meeting. Until now it has not taken place. I believe that the agenda of the NRC is set in a mutual fashion by all 27 participating member states through what's called the Preparatory Committee and it is up to them to determine the agenda of what is to be discussed. I would not exclude of course because Ambassador Rogozin clearly wants this discussion to take place that it might take place at a certain stage once these meetings are formally restarted. But he has certainly communicated his intention to try to put this on the agenda and it has been heard by Allies.

Thanks friends.