NATO-Russia Council Chairman's Press Conference
News conference by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. The Secretary General will make an opening statement and we'll have time for some questions. Secretary General.
JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary General of NATO): Thank you. Once again good afternoon. Let me start by saying, and this my final chance to thank the Bulgarian authorities and the people of Sofia for having hosted us here. It is not easy if you're stopped on the road or your car is stopped because there's a NATO meeting. It was a warm and very cordial hospitality we have enjoyed here over the past two days, and let me say that once again and give my warm thanks and appreciation for that.
I just chaired the NRC Foreign Ministers Meeting which is developing, as you know, has developed into a forum where we see many forms of practical cooperation. I'll dwell upon those in a moment. But where we also have lively political consultations on a range of important security issues.
I say that lively discussions and candid discussions because there are many items and issues on which we think the same, but there are also issues, and they also were discussed, where we definitely do not see eye to eye. And Belarus is one of the subjects which was discussed where I think the Alliance and Russia are quite far... quite far apart. You have listened to me yesterday. You've seen my statement, but I must say we discussed it, but there is still a lot of light between the two positions.
Belarus having entered a partnership with NATO which is based on values, which has founding documents based on values, and if you then see that opposition leaders are simply jailed because they have a demonstration, and if you see what has happened in Belarus, I cannot combine that with that document.
That goes for the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty as well, Istanbul commitments, where we have open and frank discussions, but do not see eye to eye.
That's not the problem, because that's what the NRC is for. It's not only to say how much we agree with each other. It is also to conclude where we disagree and continue the open and frank discussions. And I say it was at least a good explanation of each other's positions.
And that same openness has guided the review of the NATO priorities and our practical cooperation. And I'm happy to announce that Ministers a moment ago approved a document, a detailed snapshot, I would say, of the work undertaken by the structures of the NATO-Russia Council and a set of specific recommendations on where the 27 partners want to go together. And I mention a few key elements of that paper: Interoperability; of course the fight against terrorism; the projects with regard to Afghan narcotics; airspace management; and last, but certainly not least, the intensification of our political dialogue. It's in fact, a subject I started with.
That is a document which has been agreed. I said a snapshot. It was on the basis, by the way, of a tasking, an instruction the Ministers gave when they met last December in Brussels. So I think good work has been done and further good work will be done.
Let me mention the good work which is in the process of being done. I mentioned it already briefly, the joint initiative on counter-narcotics training, of Afghan and Central Asian personnel. That can now move into the initial implementation phase. All six eligible nations have now responded positively.
We're also reaching the final, what I would call, pre-deployment stage for Russian contribution to the Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean, the naval operation. You know that I visited the flagship of the Russian Black Sea naval fleet, the Moskva, in Italy, in Sicily recently. A Russian ship, not the Moskva, is about to undergo the interoperability tests with NATO ships. And I think that's a very important development indeed.
We have our ambitious military cooperation program. You will see more joint exercises, more military exchanges this year and that's a clear evolution from consultations to joint evaluations to Kosovo joint operations.
Allied Ministers were stressing how important it is that we'll see the ratification of the so-called SOFA agreements by the Russian Duma. It is important that we'll see that ratification. That has, of course, to undergo the parliamentary process in Russia.
Let me finally, on the NRC, mention public diplomacy. Public opinions, both in allied countries and in Russia, should have more opportunities to better understand our joint work in the NATO-Russia Council framework, and from the 11th till the 26th of May there will be what we call a NATO-Russia Rally in Russia; a series of public events from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad and I think this is a good way. NATO officials will be involved, Russian officials will be involved. This is an excellent way to increase awareness about the new reality of partnership and cooperation.
And partnership means practical cooperation. It means intensified political dialogue. It also means that you tell each other candidly and honestly where you disagree.
Now completely, finally, a few remarks on this morning's North Atlantic Council sessions where we discussed, as you know, the political aspects of our operations.
On Afghanistan, briefly, a strong commitment, of course, to continue the expansion of ISAF as we see now in the south of Afghanistan. The clear conclusions that the forces have robust rules of engagement, and if necessary they should use them. In other words they should use them if necessary also in a robust way.
As far as Kosovo is concerned, support for the Ahtisaari... Martti Ahtisaari-led process, an underlining of the importance to maintain KFOR force levels. I've said that many times before.
On Darfur, NATO ready to continue support, under, of course, the principle of African ownership, if the African Union would ask. You know that the Secretary General of the United Nations phoned me now two and a half, three weeks ago and that NATO has taken some decisions, but it is, of course, a matter first and foremost for the African Union.
And finally, Iraq: the clear ambition to continue and enlarge the training efforts NATO has embarked upon there.
Let me stop here.
Q: (inaudible)... Daily in the Netherlands. There's a report that Dr. Rice, yesterday evening during the dinner, has excluded military action against Iran. Could you confirm that?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I cannot confirm or deny because about that dinner I'll not give any public messages. It is an informal dinner. Ministers only. So I cannot... certainly not speak for Dr. Rice, what she said or what she didn't say.
What I can say is that the importance of the diplomatic process and the diplomatic procedure was underlined. But I can't comment, of course, on individual statements of ministers.
Q: Dan Dombey, Financial Times. Secretary General, when you were chairing the NATO-Russia Council did you bring up what you've described as the legitimate desire of NATO aspirants to get a positive signal from NATO at the Riga Summit later this year?
And given Ukraine's interest in Membership Action Plan and Georgia's interest in Intensified Dialogue, do you believe that Russia has any legitimate desire for assurances on those?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: We did not discuss in the NATO-Russian Council the NATO enlargement. There were reference to it. I did discuss it briefly with Minister Lavrov in the short bilateral meeting I had with him preceding the NATO-Russian Council because I told him, as usual, what has been discussed between the NATO Ministers.
It is clear that a decision, if any, on NATO enlargement, or of the phases leading to NATO enlargement, be it Membership Action Plan, be it Intensified Dialogue, will be taken by the 26 allies. Full stop. On the other hand, it is clear, it is clear that when we discuss NATO enlargement that process is relevant for our Russian partners. That's also crystal clear. But it was not, and that was your question, in the NRC meeting, it was not discussed.
Q: Mr. Secretary General, do you envisage any role, any kind of role for NATO in case of escalation in Iran nuclear issue?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I... as I answered to one of your colleagues, it is the diplomatic track which is being followed, so I'll not speculate on anything. And certainly not on a NATO role.
APPATHURAI: Last question.
Q: Bulgaria National Radio. On the summit in Istanbul it was agreed, the so-called solidarity mechanism for countries that do not have financial capabilities to participate in operations with other means. Did this mechanism work well, and what are the results? Thank you.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I must admit that I do not exactly get your question. If you refer to the discussion about common funding in NATO that is an ongoing discussion, where is the distinction between the principle of the costs lie where they fall, the nation who participates pays, and the common funding by NATO. Is this what you're referring to?
Q: Not exactly. It's similar to that, but it's common funding, but some countries are poorer, like the newcomers and they cannot participate with money, so they can participate with forces or things like that.
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: In principle it is also, of course for the NATO allies, but also for the NATO partners, it is the principle of the costs like where they fall. In this respect our Swedish and Finnish and Austrian partners participate in NATO's operations. Our mission, for instance, in Afghanistan.
But that's all I can tell you about this.
APPATHURAI: I'm afraid that's all we have time for.
News conference by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer - Questions and answers
JAMES APPATHURAI (Spokesman, NATO): Questions
Q: Jim Nuger(?) from Bloomberg. You spoke of the need for a shared vision over how to use the Response Force. Could you lay out for us what your vision is, how many countries share it and what discussion was there today over possibly using it in Afghanistan.
JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (Secretary General of NATO): I will not enter into details, because that would harm a process of an informal and confidential discussion Ministers had. The fact that there was a discussion on the NRF means that subjects like these are on the table. But this is not a meeting where you leave the room with consensus or no consensus, because this is an ongoing process in Brussels. It's discussed in the Military Committee. It will continue to be discussed in the Military Committee.
There were, by the way, introductions by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Craddock. The Dutch Defence Minister Kamp had produced a food-for- thought-paper on the future of the NRF, and I think it was very useful because Ministers are for giving us guidance, giving me guidance, giving the people who work in NATO Headquarters guidance on the NRF.
So many elements were discussed. I mentioned a few-the way we generate our forces, the way we can better assure that we have a good force generation process, the relationship between the NRF and our reserve forces has been discussed. You know about the discussion, which is not new, about answering the question, when and under what circumstances do we use the NRF? But again, I'm not going into details, because I'm not going to, of course, communicate to you the positions the nations took. They are mature enough to tell it to you themselves. And I think they'll not do that because the discussion is going on in Brussels, but you can give it a try.
APPATHURAI: Next question.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you said you'd touch briefly on the Iranian issue with...
APPATHURAI: Could you identify yourself?
Q: Arik Bahran(?), Maariv Daily, Israel. You've discussed briefly the Iranian issue with the Russian Minister. What is your sense of the Russian approach. Everybody assumes that Russia would not like to have an Iranian... nuclear Iran on its border. So do they know anything none of us knows?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, about the Russian approach I think you should question my friend Sergey Ivanov and not me. But it was clear, because the Russian Minister spoke on the subject, that there is a widely shared belief that this is not only a complicated, but also a potentially dangerous situation. But that's all I'm going to say, because if you want to hear the position Minister Ivanov took he'll, I think, brief you in a few moments. So let me leave that to him.
That's... NATO allies, I said, I think we discussed that yesterday, although NATO does not have the intention to play a direct role. There is, of course, anxiety about the developments in Iran and on the Iranian threats, that's crystal clear.
Q: Yes, Gerard Gaudin, Belgium News Agency. But coming back to the use of the NRF, there was already an agreement in the past, how to use it, when to use it, and would it open the debate again?
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: No, there's not a debate on the agreement. There is on the different missions of the NRF. As you know, full operational capability means that the NRF can have all its missions and there are quite a few of them, but there is a feeling that we need a wider discussion to assure A) a secure longer-term force generation for the NRF, and you also have the situation where the medium-sized and smaller nations every time have to make a choice-are we going to commit in an NRF rotation, are we going to participate in an operation, am I, Defence Minister of Country X or Y going to use my scarce funds to invest in my own defence, in equipment or what have you.
So there are a number of elements which are relevant. I mentioned one of them, the relationship between what we have in the NRF and the reserve forces NATO has, is a topic and is an important issue we should discuss.
But I add immediately, that does not mean, of course, that in a morning's discussion, informal discussion in Sevilla, there's immediately a consensus on all these themes. But I think, and I consider it my responsibility as Secretary General, to raise these issues, because it is our most important tool. It is for many nations expensive. I want a guarantee and I want to be secure that in all those NRF rotations we have generated the right forces, and if I talk, and if we talk about longer-term force generations nations come up with questions.
So that is the debate, but don't conclude from my remarks and from our discussion this morning that there are doubts about the concept as such, or that there are doubts about the NRF not being able to fulfil its missions. It can, but we need, I think, to keep the NRF under permanent review.
APPATHURAI: Next question's here. Please.
Q: Martinez de Rituerto with El País. A question in relation with Kosovo. Minister Ivanov, before entering the meeting spoke about the opening of the Pandora box if the proposal...
DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Sounds familiar.
Q:Yeah. And today we've heard that the President of Slovakia has said more or less the same, and it's probably the first time that someone in his rank and position in our side, the western side, speaks against the Ahtisaari's plan. What would you reply to Ivanov's ideas if he is playing the same misgivings in the meeting? Thank you.