The NATO-Russia Council Political Advisory Group met in Ljubljana, Slovenia, from 16 to 17 May. The meeting was chaired by NRC Preparatory Committee Chairman, Ambassador Dirk Brengelmann, while the State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Božo Cerar, gave an opening address. This is the second time the NRC Political Advisory Group has convened. The first meeting was held in Rome in June 2010.
Ladies and gentleman, It is my pleasure to welcome you at the Brdo's protocol complex. This venue has a long history, starting in the 16 century when the mansion, where we will meet this evening, was built for Habsburg Dynasty. Before Second World War Prince Paul of Yugoslavia from the Karađorđević dynasty transformed Brdo to summer royal residence, where several prominent individuals, including Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, stayed as guests.
After the war the mansion became a summer retreat of the Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito. In 1991 it was inherited by the Government of the independent Slovenian state. In its traditional role of hosting national and international conferences in June 2001 the first official meeting between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin was hosted at this very location. During Slovenia's EU Presidency in the first half of 2008, it was the venue of a series of top level international meetings. In November 2009 the Second seminar on the NATO new Strategic Concept titled "NATO’s Engagement in an Era of Globalization" was also held at this venue. Therefore Slovenia sees a certain symbolism that the second NATO Russia Council Political Advisory Group is taking place at the same spot.
Almost three years ago the Group met for the first time in Rome. Being a "PermRep" at our Mission to NATO at that time I remember the enthusiasm of my colleagues returning from the meeting, emphasizing that the meeting provided out of the box discussion and fresh ideas. The idea of Slovenia hosting the second NRC PAG meeting arose immediately, with the prime desire to hold the meeting last year when two important anniversaries of the NRC were celebrated – 15 years of NATO Russia Founding Act and 10 years of Rome Declaration. But one cannot have it all. With the adoption of the NRC Working plan for 2013 at the Foreign Ministerial meeting last December in Brussels this event has become reality. I hope we will see the continuation of this type of meeting in the future.
We should not forget that we have been working together for more than 20 years. Russia joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council – today the EAPC – in 1991 and the Partnership for Peace in 1994 and participated in the NATO-led peacekeeping effort in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1996.
We have had ups and downs in our relations. But it is important that we continue to display a strategic vision from the historical Summit in Lisbon, where we embarked on a new stage of cooperation towards building a true and strategic partnership. NATO-Russia relationship remains based upon the goals, principles and commitments of NATO Russia Founding Act and the Rome Declaration. Let me remind you of the most important principle of this relationship - development of a strong, stable, enduring and equal partnership to strengthen security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. With the establishment of the NRC five years later we defined the main areas of our cooperation and declared the Council will operate on the principle of consensus.
Slovenia sees the NRC as a family of 29 – and we all know how relations within the family are like; not always easy – sometimes we have different views on certain issues, but at the end of the day we find a compromise and agreement on how to proceed. This is of special importance in today's changing world, filled with new and emerging threats and challenges. It is clear that today's challenges and threats are not limited by state borders and that no one can face them alone. Our common interest is to build Euro-Atlantic community, where we feel safe, and in which security remains indivisible.
We all know that there are issues where our positions still differ – among them missile defense, which is often said to be a game changer, for better or worse, in our relations. However we are convinced that by open and honest discussion within the NRC on such and other issues we will overcome our differences and somewhere along the road we will be prepared to face even hardest issues. Cooperation between NATO and Russia is not only the right choice; it is the only choice that makes sense.
We have proved in the recent years that we can work together and achieve concrete results. Cooperation on Afghanistan is a good example – scope of cooperation is widening and deepening. This is especially important for the post 2014 period. Just last month our Foreign Ministers launched the second phase of the NATO-Russia Trust Fund for the maintenance of helicopters in Afghanistan, the Project of Counter-narcotics training of Afghan, Central Asian and Pakistani personnel will in this year include also a specialist course for female Afghan police officials. Next month a NRC counter-terrorism project will test for the first time technology jointly developed between Allies and Russia to detect explosives in crowded places. In September, the NATO-Russia joint air traffic system will conduct a live exercise to defend against terrorist threats to civilian aircraft. All this clearly demonstrates our cooperative approach to security.
Slovenia is aware that through practical cooperation we are establishing positive, stable and predictable relationships within the NRC leading to modernized partnership between NATO and Russia. At the same time, it is known the NRC has the potential that is not exploited in its full capacity. There is much more we can achieve in this forum. Therefore we need to do a better job of sharing perspectives and shake off prejudices from the past and - last but not least - invest all of our efforts in a constructive and open dialogue on all issues, thus contributing to a better understanding of each other's views and positions.
I am convinced that today's meeting is another step in that direction. I encourage all the participants, especially panelists, to put forward many bright and sparkling ideas that will help us deepen, strengthen and reenergize our relations within the NRC. Therefore I wish you all an interesting and fruitful discussion.