Transcript - Press Conference

Statements by
The Right Honourable Lord George Robertson - NATO; and
Lieutenant General John B Sylvester - COMSFOR

at French DetAir, Sarajevo Airport
on 19 April 2002, at 1530 hours

Mr. Yves Brodeur - NATO spokesperson

Welcome to this press conference with the Secretary General of NATO, Lord George Robertson and Commander SFOR, General John Sylvester. We will start with very short statements and then we will take questions Sir…

Lord George Robertson - NATO

I am very conscious I did not allow any time for questions yesterday so I am only going to say a few words as a statement.

The North Atlantic Council, the NATO Council, came here to Bosnia and Herzegovina to re-emphasise the commitment of NATO to the safe and secure environment. We came to assure people that NATO is not going away and we will remain in sufficient numbers and with sufficient strength to do the job we set out to do.

The NATO Council and the senior staff of NATO have spread out across the country today to see those elements of Bosnia and Herzegovina outside of the capital city. So everybody has seen real and genuine progress that has taken place in this country but they have also seen people who are living in conditions that are simply intolerable in the 21st century in the middle Europe.

So, NATO troops have done a great job but there is still a lot more that needs to be done. But the major responsibility for doing that lies in the hands of the people in this country and the people they elect to run it. General Sylvester and all of the forces of SFOR are doing a superb job and the NATO Council is very proud of them. But the next stage is in the hands of the people of this country and they must take ownership of their own land.

Questions please.

He follows me around the continent of Europe.

That is true.

Gregory Piatt - Stars and Stripes
I have two questions, one for you, Lord Robertson, and one for you, General Sylvester. Lord Robertson, in the proposals for the draw down in the Balkans, it is about 10,000 troops with the latest proposals that are coming out. Now as we see NATO troops drawing down and now out of New York, Kofi Annan is asking for a multi-national force for Palestine, is NATO considering or will NATO consider putting a peacekeeping force into Palestine?
NATO
Nobody has asked me or asked NATO to do any planning in relation to Middle East peace support operations. I see speculation in newspapers but I can assure you nothing has crossed my desk in relation to peace keeping operations in that part of the world.

Gregory Piatt - Stars and Stripes
General Sylvester, not so long a question. As you see coming out of your six month review, do you see more partner countries taking a role here in Bosnia and Herzegovina as Secretary General Robertson said yesterday that there will be some troop withdrawals, do we see the Partnership for Peace (PfP) taking more?
COMSFOR
Certainly I have been in consultation with a number of different countries that already offer troops here. When I say I have been in consultation those decisions are not made by me, I am the military commander who will apply the capabilities if and when those capabilities are formally offer through the political authority. But I have talked to a number of different countries who have expressed a desire to do so and they will express that desire through, as you are probably aware, a force generation process which will then be nominated up and in fact my political boss will be making the decision as to whether or not those forces will come to bear here. But yes, we are talking to a number of them.

Antonio Prlenda - Oslobodjenje
For the Secretary General, in your discussions with local officials here I wonder what impression you have got in talking to the Republika Srpska Defence officials because so far they have not been keen for any joint defence structure here in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
NATO
The responsibility of the restructuring lies with the federation military as well as the Republika Srpska military. We met the joint Presidency last night and I made it clear to all of them that entry into the PfP is conditional on these reforms being made. Bosnia and Herzegovina will only get into the PfP when these reforms have taken place. And I met the President of the Federation and the President of Republika Srpska with their vice Presidents this morning and I made it clear to the President of the Republika Srpska and to the Federation President that these are clearly seen as priorities by the whole International Community and especially by NATO. The President of the Republika Srpska tells me that I should remember the history of why there are different armies for the Federation and the Republika Srpska. I told him there is some point he is going to have to forget history and start remembering the future if he wants this country he lives in to be a member of the PfP. If Yugoslavia makes the reforms necessary to get into the PfP, then it could be in the PfP conceivably even this year. Then from Vancouver to Vladivostok in the whole of North America and in the whole of the European continent and Central Asia stretching to the Chinese border, it will only be Bosnia and Herzegovina that is not in the PfP. So the message to the Federation and to the Republika Srpska is 'if you want to join the world, you have to do what the rest of the world does and have common command and control of your armed forces and have one defence minister.'

Yasin Rawasdeh - Kuna
How do see the policy for Israel and Palestine today can reflect on the global security policy of NATO and Mediterranean and in Europe in general?
NATO
Well I do not intend to say anything today about the conflict in the Middle East. I think that it is better that when you are in Bosnia and Herzegovina to talk about the problems here and there are still plenty of them.

Goran Pirolic - Fena
Recently the main prosecutor of The Hague, Mrs. Carla del Ponte said that Karadzic could be tried in The Hague as early as October. In that regard does SFOR or NATO have any indication of an arrest of Karadzic soon?
NATO
I hope that Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and the other indictees will be on trial well before October. They have not been arrested yet but they will be. Karadzic and Mladic have to be lucky every single day, we only have to be lucky once. You saw a couple of months ago, two high profile operations directed against Karadzic. They are not the first operations, they are not going to be the last operations. You will not hear about all of them, but I can promise you that in due course Karadzic and Mladic will both face justice at The Hague and the Balkan region will be better and safer as a consequence.

Laurent Zecchini - Le Monde
General Sylvester, I would like to come back to this question of reduction of SFOR. As Lord Robertson said there will be further reductions in the number of troops deployed here, there are currently about, I think, 17,500 people. Do you think you will be able to ensure the same level of security if you have, let us say, 2,000 less people? Will it make any difference for you?
COMSFOR
As a responsible military officer obviously I would be expected to do a very thorough analysis of my mission and the requisite troops that I believed necessary in order to accomplish that mission. At the same time, I understand that I have been given direction to consider reducing the force. I have taken that guidance from my political and military commanders, and I have done a professional analysis and I have provided that to the appropriate chain of command. As in every military decision making process, I have provided several different courses of action. The chain of command will then make appropriate decisions and recommendations at their level and forward that to the decision-making authority. I am confident if they select one of the courses of action that I have submitted, or a variation thereof, that we will be able to accomplish our mission. We will continue to maintain a force with the appropriate capability, which is of a sufficient enough and robust enough nature to be able to accomplish that mission.

Lord Robertson
No doubt we will see you all again some time in the future. I have no doubt.