Informal meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at the level of Defence Ministers
Press conference by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer following the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council
NATO Spokesman: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Secretary General will make a brief opening statement. We will have time for a few questions.
de Hoop Scheffer: Good morning, bonjour. This was, as you know, an informal session of the NATO-Russia Council. So no communiqué or decisions to take. However, I think we had a good discussion during which some, I think, important issues have been addressed focussing of course on the defence cooperation side of the NRC in 2006.
If I look at our achievements up till now in the framework of the NRC, I think they showed a potential. For example, in the fight against terrorism, we are exchanging intelligent information and analysis. We are assessing threats in the regions of interest, both to Russia and to NATO. We are taking operational steps together, including... involving the Russian Navy in our Active Endeavour Operation in the Mediterranean.
Let's not underestimate the importance of this step. I'm going to visit this afternoon the guided missile cruiser Moskva in Messina Harbour, showing the moment that this Russian warship is here... doing training and that's... that's... We're very near... very important moment, I think, in our relationship of the Russian Navy joining our Operation Active Endeavour. We have... and we're working... and we're working on the joint initiative to monitor airspace and also ensure transparency here.
I think if I look back at the meeting today, it's confirmed that there is the political will to explore fresh avenues, to improve interoperability between our armed forces and to increase the intensity of military contacts. You know that the important State of Forces Agreement in the framework of the Partnership for Peace will, we hope, soon be ratified by the Duma. That is important, of course, because I think an essential and important foundation to furthering and fostering our military cooperation.
It goes without saying that ministers look at the different NATO operations that enjoy Russian support that is relevant, by the way, let me point it out, for all NATO's missions and operations since the launching of the NATO-Russia Council have been receiving either active or passive support from the Russian Federation.
Of course, Afghanistan was discussed. Many Allied nations, as you know, fly their ISAF troops or equipment using Russian planes, enjoying transit agreements. And jointly, we are in the implementation phase of an important NATO-Russia program focussed on counter-narcotic training for personnel in Afghanistan and Central Asia. We agree, Russia and NATO, that the narcotics problem in Afghanistan is one of the most pressing ones which need a solution under the responsibility, of course, first of all, of the Afghan government.
As I said, I'm visiting the Russian missile cruiser Moskva this afternoon. And they have been embarking on, I should add, training over the past weeks. Well, of course, today's discussion would have been incomplete without a tour d'horizon of current international security issues. Darfur was raised. And I have, as you know, been and still am an ardent supporter of using the NATO-Russia Cooperation Framework, be it in the session of Defence Ministers, be it in the session of Foreign Ministers as a political platform and as a political forum while we discuss issues relevant to NATO and to the Russians, not necessarily over issues on which one might agree. We agree on many things. We have a difference of opinion. It goes without saying. But it was a good meeting and here I can stop.
Questions and answers
Q: (INAUDIBLE) NTV. Regarding yesterday statement by Russian President that he intends an invitation to Hamas to Moscow. Have you discussed it at all? And any way, what's your attitude, your orientation?
de Hoop Scheffer: No, we did not discuss this. It is clear... let me repeat what I said in Munich that it looks impossible to me that NATO as an Alliance would enter into any form of contacts with Hamas unless Hamas... and you know the conditions. But it's an absolute impossibility NATO have any dealing with Hamas by NATO.
Q: Molter (?) of Reuters. And on the other issue of political significance as Russia is concerned, it's the possible involvement in the Iranian dispute. Did this come up? Is this something that NATO wants to hear from Russia on, has a view on?
de Hoop Scheffer: This issue was not raised in this meeting, this morning. It is clear as I said before that Iran is, of course, a very, very relevant subject for NATO, that Iran can be discussed in NATO. But NATO, at the moment, as I said in Munich, follows the EU3, the Russians, the IAEA and has no intention of playing the first violin or playing any direct and active role in this dispute.
Q: Jim Mannion, Agence France Presse. Did you discuss with Russia the recent situation with Ukrainian gas supplies as a matter of energy security? And did you get any assurances from them that it would be handled in the future, those situations, any differently.
de Hoop Scheffer: The issue of energy security was indeed raised. It was briefly discussed. And Minister Ivanov explained the Russian position. Energy security is of course a relevant theme for NATO. It's a relevant theme to discuss in the NATO-Russia Framework. But it was not specifically focussed the discussion on the agreement between Russia and Ukraine.
Q: Peter Spiegel with the Financial Times. My question is related to the previous question. You mentioned issue was raised. Can you give us any more details about energy security as it was discussed? I mean, Ukraine is not the only country that's concerned about Russia using energy as a tool for international strong-arming.
de Hoop Scheffer: Well we did not have... Let's say we did not have an in-depth discussion of energy security. Sergei Ivanov is the Defence Minister so I mean the main focus is on defence cooperation. We have other frameworks in the NRC, for instance, with the Foreign Minister. But what is relevant, I think, to this morning's discussion is that energy security is considered a relevant subject in this framework. That was stated by some ministers. And Minister Ivanov reacted by explaining the Russia position. We know that position... but you ought to ask him on why Russia is asking market prices and why there is a difference in the Russian opinion between Ukraine and for Belarus. The important thing is that in our discussion we do consider energy security a relevant theme, which it of course is, also for NATO.
NATO Spokesman: Another question here.
Q: (INAUDIBLE) MoscowPravda. Mister Secretary General, did you discussed any possible involvement of NATO in future in peacekeeping operations in post-Soviet territories, regarding first of all Caucasus and Moldavia region?
de Hoop Scheffer: No we did not. And that is not something or a development is see in front of NATO. NATO is involved in many operations and many missions and many regions. I do not see this as being in the cards.
NATO Spokesman: Last question, here.
Q: Alexander Mir (?) for Russian Press. Did you discuss the issue if Russia will deploy four defence units in Western Belarus next month? And can it be a part over a common air defence system of Russia and NATO? Or you can comment it otherwise.
de Hoop Scheffer: We did not... we did not discuss the first part of your question, Russian defence using Belarus. I think that was not discussed. Secondly, as I said in my introductory word, what is important, what's considered important and that was a point made Minister Ivanov, you're asking yourself, is the importance of what we call the Cooperative Airspace Iniative, having transparency in the air picture. But I do not see, quite honestly, a relation between the first part and the second part of your question. But that can be my problem.
NATO Spokesman: Thank you, we'll meet you later.