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Briefing on NATO Issues Prior to Riga Summit

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs

Washington, DC
November 21, 2006

MR. GALLEGOS: Good morning, thank you for coming. This morning we have Under Secretary R. Nicholas Burns who will speak to you about the NATO summit. Under Secretary Burns.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you.

QUESTION: Could you before that perhaps say something about the assassination of still another Maronite Lebanese official? Well, not an official --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We just --

QUESTION: -- a prominent whatever --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes. Thank you, Barry. We just heard the news just about a half hour ago of the assassination of Pierre Gemayel in Lebanon. Obviously this is a very sad day for Lebanon. We were shocked by this assassination. We view it as an act of terrorism. We also view it as an act of intimidation against the March 14th Coalition. And we believe it's the responsibility of all countries to support the Siniora government and to oppose those who would try to divide Lebanon or return violence to political life in Lebanon. The Gemayel family has played a very important role in the history of Lebanon. They have suffered too much tragedy as a family and our condolences go to the Gemayel family.

We think it's very, very important that those who would divide Lebanon, who would use violence to destabilize the political situation, not be able to succeed. And we will give full support to the Siniora government in the days and weeks ahead to support that government, to support its continuation because it's been duly elected by the people of Lebanon, to support what it needs to do to reconstruct the country.

QUESTION: Does this cast any doubt on the ability to construct a carefully balanced government in Lebanon, which you're calling a democracy? We have had our own assassinations and we're a democracy, but does this say something about the abilities of the various Lebanese people to pull together for the good of the country?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, it's unfortunately all too -- part of an all too often pattern of violence and assassination in Lebanon's recent political history over the last 30 to 40 years. We support the Government of Lebanon. We support Prime Minister Siniora. We have felt for the last year and a half that the March 14th Coalition represents what's right about Lebanon: politicians, political leaders who are dedicated to democracy, who wanted to return Lebanon to a position of real sovereignty and free Lebanon from Syria's influence, and free Lebanon from the politics of violence and assassination. It's a very sad day to see someone -- a young leader like this, who was devoted to public service, to be gunned down. And so it does instill in us a belief that we have to redouble our efforts and those of our friends in the Arab world as well as in Europe to support the Siniora government. We have seen statements from Mr. Nasrallah and others over the past few weeks that are meant, we believe, to destabilize Lebanon and to divide the country and we oppose those statements. And we call on all countries to support the unity and territorial integrity of Lebanon and to free Lebanon from these acts of political intimidation and terrorism. This was an act of terrorism today.

Okay. If we have -- if you have no further questions on Lebanon, I'm happy to talk about NATO. You know that President Bush and Secretary Rice will be leaving early next week for the NATO summit in Riga in Latvia. And I think the White House will obviously talk to you about the President's schedule about where he's going, the other stop that he's making so I won't go into that. But let me just go over the substance of how we view NATO and how we view this summit and what we see unfolding at the NATO summit in Latvia.

You know that over the past few years we've made a very strong attempt to strengthen our relations with the European governments. We went through a difficult patch with some of those governments in 2002, in 2003. But beginning with President Bush's trip to Europe in mid-February of 2005, when he met with the NATO and EU leaderships in Brussels, when he met with President Chirac and then-Chancellor Schroder in Minsk, the United States has worked very, very hard to rebuild those bridges across the Atlantic and to sustain our ties with Europe and we think we've been successful. We think our partnership with Europe now is fully restored and strengthened. We are partners with the major European governments on the issue of Iran at the Security Council. We are partners with them on the issue of North Korea. We are partners with them in Afghanistan and I'll go into that in just a moment. And we continue to rely on both the military and economic and political support of most of the great majority of the European governments for what the United States is trying to do in Iraq. So in our sense, there has been a full renovation of our relations with Europe and we're very pleased about that.

It's also true that in many ways our relations with Europe are transformed. Now that Europe is, in the words of President Bush 41, "whole, free and at peace" and there are no longer any vital threats to the security of the United States emanating from Europe, the agenda with Europe has changed.

Our agenda with Europe is now a global agenda and it tends to be about the rest of the world, about what we can do as partners in the Middle East, in South and East Asia, in Africa and in Latin America. And that is a fully modern agenda and it's a great change from the agenda that we had with the Europeans for the five decades during the Cold War. So as the President goes to NATO, we not only have a reinforced U.S.-European relationship, greatly strengthened from 2003 and 2004 on the major political issues of the day, we have a transformed agenda which is much more global in orientation. And that really sets the stage for what's going to be the heart of the agenda as we see it in Riga at the NATO summit.

For us the number one issue is Afghanistan. NATO has taken on the lead role now in Afghanistan. NATO troops are in each sector of the country, including now in eastern Afghanistan as well as southern Afghanistan, and that is a historic mission for NATO. It's actually the first major combat operation in the history of the NATO Alliance going back to April 1949. NATO didn't fire a shot for its first five decades in existence. We then had the very successful peacekeeping missions in Bosnia between 1995 and 2004, and in Kosovo between 1999 and the present day, and that mission continues so this operation in Afghanistan is like no other NATO has undertaken in its history.

It is 2000 miles from the heart of Europe. There are 37 countries involved, 26 NATO allies and 11 partners including Australia and South Korea and Japan and Jordan. And this is an urgent mission because we have to try to help stabilize the country to protect that country's borders, to defend Afghanistan from the threat of the Taliban and al-Qaida offensive over the last year. NATO has established 25 Provincial Reconstruction Teams outside of Kabul. These are the combined military and civilian teams that both seek to assert security, but also bring development assistance and those have proven to be very effective.

NATO is -- the core of NATO's operation right now is in the south, in Kandahar, in Helmand and in Oruzgan provinces. And that's where Britain and the Netherlands and Canada and the United States have deployed over the last six months. And the NATO forces there have seen a good deal of combat action. There has been a major Taliban offensive over the past year and our view is that NATO has done very well. Contrary to some of the conventional wisdom that you read about, sometimes in press reports, our belief is that NATO has taken that fight to the Taliban forces in those three provinces and has inflicted a far greater number of casualties on the Taliban forces than they have been able to inflict on the NATO forces. And we're very pleased to see the way that Canada and the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have acquitted themselves. Each of these three countries has taken a significant number of casualties among its forces. The United States has taken a significant number of casualties. And yet we're continuing to stand there and defend those provinces and defend the Government of Afghanistan and to take the fight to the Taliban itself.

And this will be the major focus of the NATO summit, so the leaders will want to review the strategy and the tactics of this military operation. We stand by the strategy and tactics because they are proving to be successful, in our view. We want to see what NATO can do with international civil institutions like the United Nations or the European government -- Union -- or governments like the United States to work on the problem of counternarcotics to try to encourage a decrease in poppy production, particularly in those provinces that I mentioned, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, and discourage the trafficking of poppy out through Central Asia into Russia and into Europe. That's a major problem and NATO of course is trying its best to work with civil institutions to prevent that problem from continuing.

So I think Afghanistan will be the focus. I'll be happy to talk about any aspect of that that you want. It's also true that NATO has been transforming itself. As recently as just a few years ago, this was an alliance of 19 allies. It's now 26. It was an alliance that had never fought outside of Europe. It is now fighting in Afghanistan, has gone far beyond the shores of Europe. It was an alliance that thought of itself purely comprised of countries from the transatlantic area. Now we have a flourishing number of partners in the Caucasus and in Central Asia and in the Middle East. There are six Arab countries that are partners with NATO and Israel is a partner with NATO.

And one of the big, major proposals that President Bush will take to the NATO summit is a proposal to establish a program of global partners, and this will have NATO reach out to Australia and to Japan and to South Korea and to Sweden and Finland, the five countries that most prominently train with us, exercise with us in NATO and deploy in the Balkans and Afghanistan with us. These five countries -- at least the three Asian countries, I should say, Australia, Japan and South Korea -- do not seek NATO membership, but we seek a partnership with them so that we can train more intensively from a military point of view and grow closer to them because we are deployed with them. Australia, South Korea and Japan are in Afghanistan. They have all been in Iraq, as you know. They have all been in the Balkans. And so we want to grow closer to them. And indeed I think the foreign ministers of each of these countries have visited NATO headquarters outside of Brussels in the last two years to make the case for a closer relationship and that will be a priority issue for the United States at this summit, and we believe NATO will agree to this program of global partnerships.

Finally, let me talk about the challenges that NATO faces. We have a transformed alliance. We have a healthy alliance. We have an alliance that's really working quite well to respond to modern security challenges. But there are some weaknesses in the alliance structure that need to be addressed. It is still true that only seven of the NATO allies spend more than 3 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. This is a very meaningful metric that seeks to measure a country's ability to be successful in the alliance and to contribute to the alliance. The United States is one of those seven countries. We spend 3.7 percent of our gross domestic product on our national defense, but the majority of the allies spend less than 2 percent of GDP on national defense. And what that essentially means in a multinational alliance, a collective military organization, is that we have a lack of strategic lift and of air-to-air refueling and of combat service support and of special forces, and these are the necessary ingredients for modern warfare, for counterinsurgency warfare, the type of counterinsurgency warfare that unfortunately we now have to practice in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. And there are weaknesses of the alliance that need to be addressed.

So I think that the United States delegation led by President Bush and Secretary Rice at the summit will be pressing this idea as they did in Istanbul in 2004 and in Prague in 2002 to encourage the allies, the European allies to spend more on defense, to acquire the systems and capabilities that are absolutely necessary for success on the modern battlefield and in modern peacekeeping. And there will be a NATO initiative, we hope, to announce that there'll be a NATO purchase of C-17 airlift which should help the alliance to do a better job in lifting its forces both to training exercises but also to combat operations in distant places like Afghanistan.

I should also say that, and this is the final point that I'll make, another challenge for us is to make sure that when countries deploy forces, those forces are free to operate in the country to which they're assigned. Let me give you two examples. In Kosovo in 2004, in March of 2004, there was rioting in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, and that rioting was essentially rioting against the Serb population. That rioting led to the death of Serbs, burned down homes and burned churches. NATO did not deploy as quickly and as efficiently into the streets to put down that rioting two years ago -- nearly three years ago I should say -- as it should have because many of the allies had restricted the ability of the troops in Kosovo to operate under the authority of the NATO commander there without the expressed permission of the capital, and so many of the troops stayed in their barracks. It was a wake-up call for NATO. And we pledged at NATO, after March 2004, we would never let that happen again, and these so called caveats, restrictions placed on NATO military forces, were completely removed from the forces in Kosovo. And so as we transition to final status in Kosovo, which will be another issue for this summit obviously, looking towards final status in early 2007, we know that we have a NATO force 15,000 strong in Kosovo that can maintain public order. And if there is a violation of public order or demonstrations or acts of violence, the NATO troops will put them down.

In Afghanistan today, we have the same problem in 2006 that we had in Kosovo in 2004. A number of the NATO countries have essentially said that their troops assigned to NATO command in Afghanistan can only be deployed -- they cannot be deployed at the suggestion of the commander in the country, but are controlled in essence by the defense ministries back in the capitals in Europe. What that essentially means is that if the commander decides to redeploy troops to meet an emergency, he cannot do so quickly; he must go through capitals and that slows us down and that doesn't allow us to accomplish the mission we need to accomplish. We hope very much that the European allies, those that have these restrictions on their forces, will lift them so that we have a very quick, forceful and energetic force in Afghanistan, the one we need to be fully successful in the years ahead.

With that, I'll be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about -- Dan Fried, your colleague, just briefed about an hour ago and said there will be no new invitations for membership in NATO at this summit.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: He was briefing here, Barry? Was there a briefing here?

QUESTION: Well, it was a Defense Writers breakfast. You've had -- I'm trying to figure out if this partnership has any real meaning, frankly, or if it's --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Which partnership? The one I just talked about?

QUESTION: The global partnership.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It has great meaning.

QUESTION: You had in the past, coalition of the willing.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yeah.

QUESTION: You have a group -- and I don't even remember the names -- in which Ukraine is a member of, if that's the right word. You have another group with at least three countries that are members. So you're creating now still another category. To convince us that means something, could you tell us what the obligations and who are the targeted countries for this? You're running out of European countries to put in pigeon holes, or to put in classifications.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good, I'm happy to take that question.

QUESTION: Okay.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Think of NATO as 26 members and then a mosaic of partnerships, and there are three major partnerships in NATO. The first partnership is essentially what you all know as the Partnership for Peace, which was created about ten years ago, and that includes most of the countries in Eastern Europe that are not members of NATO -- Albania, Macedonia, Croatia. It also includes Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia and it includes the five Central Asian countries. Those are the partners of NATO and they train with us and work with us. They meet with us politically around the table once a month to talk about doctrine. And we encourage them to be close to NATO, to work with us, to deploy with us. Some of them are seeking membership. So President Bush has come out and said that he supports Croatia for membership in 2008. We're looking at Albania and Macedonia as possible candidates for NATO membership. Some are looking for unique relationships with NATO. Ukraine and Georgia have had unique relationships with NATO. And so that's partnership.

The second group of countries, called the Mediterranean Dialogue Countries, and for ten years now they've been partners with NATO -- six Arab countries from North Africa and the Levant, and Israel. And we meet with them several times a year and we sometimes train with them and have military exercises. So NATO has tried to reach outside its membership and say if we're going to do the job that we must do to secure Europe and the Mediterranean and the Balkans, then we must have partners as well as members.

There's a third group of partners now we seek to create at the Riga summit called the global partners -- Japan, Australia and South Korea in the Far East. Why those three countries? None of them are seeking NATO membership, as I said before. But all of them are very interested in working more closely with NATO. So meeting with us politically from time to time to talk about the strategic landscape in the world, where the threats are occurring. They also want to train more frequently with us militarily because they're operating with us militarily. The three countries have been in Iraq, they've been in Afghanistan and they've been in the Balkans. And so we want to grow closer to them. We don't see them as future members, but we want to have a closer relationship.

We add to those three Sweden and Finland because Sweden and Finland are not members of NATO but they are very actively involved in NATO and they frequently contribute troops to NATO operations. Both of them, for instance, have been in Bosnia and Kosovo, and both of them have taken a leading role in some of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan in the northern part of Afghanistan.

So that's the concept of global partners. It fits seamlessly, Barry, with the ten-year tradition of the Partnership for Peace and Mediterranean Dialogue and it's the latest and now third grouping of partners that we add to NATO. And I hope you're fully convinced this is a brilliant idea.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: It sounds wonderful. Especially getting two neutral countries to become part of a military alliance is quite an accomplishment.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yeah, and I must say we've been very impressed by the Swedes and the Finns, the quality of their troops and their willingness to operate with us.

QUESTION: There goes history.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: And of course, both of those countries -- the door is always open to both of those countries should they ever seek NATO membership. Yes. Sweden and Finland.

QUESTION: Christoph Marschall from the German daily Der Tagesspiegel. I have to admit I am unfortunately also one of those who have a rather dark picture of the situation in Afghanistan and the developments there. Security is deteriorating. More and more fights with insurgents. Even in the north we count more and more attacks on the Bundeswehr and the north is supposed to be very peaceful, as you said yourself.

So what is better in Afghanistan than in Iraq and what gives us the hope that the situation in Afghanistan next summer will not be very, very similar to Iraq?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There is no question that there has been an increase in the number of Taliban and al-Qaida attacks on the NATO forces, as well as the Afghan national forces with which we work in Afghanistan. And you can chart the increase in those attacks in 2006. No question about it.

There is also no question that when NATO deployed to the southern part of Afghanistan in this past summer, to Helmand and Uruzgan and Kandahar provinces, NATO deployed in far greater numbers than the U.S. had had present since 2001. And so as NATO deployed to the towns and cities of those provinces, we came up against Taliban forces and collided with them.

And the story as I understand it, and we've done a very close look at this, of the picture between July and November is that NATO has dealt a fairly serious blow to those Taliban forces operating in those three provinces. Now, the Taliban has come in greater numbers than before. They have an ability to re-supply and also send in new fighters. So I'm not saying -- I don't mean to say at all or claim that somehow this threat has been taken care of. It has not. The threat continues. But the NATO forces have been skillful and very courageous in taking the fight to the Taliban and al-Qaida and we have scored a number of tactical victories.

The key thing for us will be to maintain this level of activity and strong political will, so to keep resisting the attempts by the Taliban to come into some of these towns to assassinate local leaders, to try to intimidate women from going to work or girls from going to school, which they try to do, and to destabilize the political order in these three provinces. And so the fight is there and NATO is well armed. There are 32,000 NATO troops in the country, including the American forces assigned to NATO. And we need to maintain that troop strength, as the Secretary General of NATO has suggested. We need to be very vigorous in taking the fight to Taliban and al-Qaida, which we will do.

So we don't feel that the situation is somehow one that is sliding away. We feel this is a manageable situation, but it is certainly one of increased combat, increased threat, but NATO is meeting that threat. The American forces -- there are some assigned to NATO. In fact, the United States represents the largest national contingent in NATO, 12,000 troops. We also have American forces operating along the eastern border in the mountains and they are American national forces operating with the Afghan National Army. There are still 20,000 American troops in country. We're the largest contingent by far. And this combination of the United States, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands in the south and east has been very effective, in our view. We just need to maintain the intensity and attain our purpose in defending the government and defending the people of Afghanistan from this destabilization.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: You mentioned before that the transatlantic alliance is exhibiting its restored strength, especially in tackling the Iran problem, so I wonder if I can ask you about Iran.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Nice segue.

QUESTION: Seamless.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It really was a seamless transition. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: In New York in September during the UN General Assembly you told us that we were in extra innings, and then in London you told us that extra innings had ended. Is there even a baseball metaphor that suffices to describe the situation now? Is it the case that the Russian pitchers have struck us out entirely?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, first of all, let me just agree with your first point, and that is the fact that we have restored fully our partnership with the major European countries. The health of these relations is very good. We are partners in all the leading security challenges around the world. I mentioned some of them -- Iran and North Korea, the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan. And we're very pleased that in 2006 we can look back and say because of the efforts we have made and the European countries have made, we have a very solid alliance partnership with them and the days of crisis and of discord from 2002 and '3 have passed from our relations.

I would say on the subject of Iran I think the longest baseball game every played -- Barry and Charlie might correct me -- I think it was 21 or 22 innings. And I don't know, we may be in the 13th or 14th, I think.

QUESTION: Twenty-six, Boston Braves.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The Boston Braves, 26 innings. That's right. What year was it?

QUESTION: I don't know. Probably the teens.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yeah, okay. Just after the First World War. So we know we're not going to defeat that record.

QUESTION: Thanks for ruining the sound bite. (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Let me start all over again here.

QUESTION: Give me the 13, 14 again.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think we're still in extra innings. The good news is this. China, Russia, UK, France, Germany and the United States have a deal, and that deal was made on July 31st of 2006 in Resolution 1696 in the penultimate paragraph of that resolution. Chapter 7, Article 41 sanctions will be placed on Iran if it doesn't meet the condition of a temporary suspension of its enrichment programs at its plant in Natanz. They didn't meet that condition.

We, the P-5, the permanent five countries of the UN, the Security Council and Germany gave Iran four and one half months to think about the offer we made to negotiate -- it was a serious offer to suspend its enrichment program -- and they decided not to do it. So they walked away. Iran walked away from negotiations. We now have no alternative but to pass a Chapter 7, Article 41 sanctions resolution to display the unity of the international community in telling the Iranians we are not going to support a continuation of your enrichment programs.

We believe that that resolution will pass in the Security Council. We hope it will pass as quickly as possible. We're working very hard on it. I had a conversation this morning with European colleagues. I have another conversation tomorrow, Ambassador Bolton is working very hard at the UN, and we are confident that that Security Council resolution is going to pass.

The Iranians will then have to reflect on the fact that they are isolated, that they are one of the few countries in the world with Chapter 7 sanctions placed upon them by the Security Council. We will leave the offer to negotiate on the table, we won't withdraw it, and we hope the Iranians will recalculate the cost to them of the sanctions regime and will turn back to negotiations. We want to have negotiations with Iran, but not at any price. They've got to suspend their enrichment program first.

QUESTION: What's the problem?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: This is a very -- well, I think the issue is this is a very complex issue. It's not often that the Security Council passes sanctions resolutions and there have been some tactical differences among some of the major countries. I believe we're beginning to narrow those differences and I do believe we'll have a resolution.

QUESTION: But if you've had a deal -- if I had a deal with somebody on July the 31st and we were now closing out the month of November, I wouldn't feel as if my partner were being faithful to that deal.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I did say I thought we were in extra innings and we're definitely in extra innings and we're working hard to end this process and I believe we can do so.

QUESTION: Is Russia being faithful to the deal you had in July?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I believe the Russian Government will meet its commitment to its partners. I believe China will as well. I was in Beijing two weeks ago. I had extensive talks with the Chinese Government about this. We've been in -- I've been in touch, Secretary Rice has been in touch with the Russian Government and we believe that Russia and China will work out an arrangement with us to pass a Security Council Resolution imposing sanctions on Iran.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can you just summarize for us what their concern is, what their problem is?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, I'm not a spokesman for the Russian and Chinese government, so I think you'll have to ask them.

QUESTION: But you know what's happening and we don't.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes. And I would just say this, I think that we agree on more than we disagree on, but there have been some important tactical issues we've had to discuss. I think we're working our way through them and I do believe we'll have a resolution.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: President Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran has come out saying that they'll help negotiate with -- in Baghdad with the Baghdad new interim government or present government. Is this just plain silliness on his part? It just came out in the news overnight.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I haven't seen President Ahmadi-Nejad's statement, so I probably shouldn't comment on that particular statement that I haven't read. But I will say this, there's been a lot of talk in recent days about whether or not Syria and Iraq will normalize their relations or whether or not some of the Iraqi leaders will travel to Iran. The United States, of course, wants a sovereign Iraqi Government to have good relations with all of its neighbors, including Iraq -- Iran and including Syria. And so we would obviously want to see an improvement of relations between Iran and Syria with Iraq. But probably more importantly, we want to see Iran and Syria be good neighbors.

Right now, the Syrian Government permits people -- insurgent fighters to cross its border to go into Iraq to kill American soldiers and to kill Iraqis. That ought to stop. The Iranian Government, we believe, has given assistance, material and otherwise, to Shia insurgent groups that are attacking Sunni Iraqis, but also attacking American and British forces. That has to stop.

So I think the real story here is are -- will Iran and Syria act in a more responsible and constructive way to support a unitary state in Iraq and to support the process that we support of political reconciliation among Shia, Sunni and Kurd and a more stable political environment. The challenge really is to the leadership in Tehran and Damascus to demonstrate that they have good faith here. It's not just to remark about meetings. It's to see some substantive change, policy change on the ground. That's what everyone's looking for.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: A breaking news question, on Lebanon, they just assassinated this morning the Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel. What is the reaction of the -- oh, you did? Oh, I'm sorry.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I did. I spoke to that.

QUESTION: I was delayed because of the --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you. I spoke to that and I'll be happy to give you the transcript of what I said. I'm happy to take any specific question you have.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. Coming back to the issue of Russian (inaudible) NATO (inaudible) cooperation again, Assistant Secretary Fried said a month or so ago in one of the similar briefings about the upcoming Riga NATO summit, that the potential of cooperation between Russia and NATO pretty much remains untapped from the point of view of the Bush Administration. May we expect any talks about the possible increase of this cooperation in Riga, either in form of NATO-Russia Council or any new category? And as a follow-up to that, there was an idea of cooperation on missile defense either in bilateral or trilateral form. Is it already dead or --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We formed the NATO-Russia Council four years ago. And we were happy to do so. The NATO partnership with Russia is extremely important to us. I think all of us would agree that we can do more to build that partnership. I know that will be a topic at the Riga summit and we look forward to hearing the views of allies as to how we can strengthen that partnership. Whether it's in a possible -- whether it's in military deployments, which we have done from time to time, Russia has participated in Operation Active Endeavor, NATO's effort in the Mediterranean Sea to interdict terrorist groups, and Russia has been also a very good partner in trying to help us think through how we counter the threat of biological and chemical and nuclear attack. And we've done some exercises in Russia in the northern part of Europe with the Russian Government. So there have been some good high points, positive points in the last four years, but I think all of us would agree, and I'm sure the Russian Government would as well, we can do more and we can build this relationship further.

I'm sorry, I've got to leave. Thank you very, very much for your attention. 2006/1060

Released on November 21, 2006

ENDS


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