NATO Voices "Openness to Doing More" in Iraq
Transcript: NATO Voices "Openness to Doing More" in Iraq, U.S. Official Says
(June 3, Madrid: background briefing by senior U.S. official)
A senior U.S. official says that as NATO foreign ministers meeting in Madrid June 3-4 discussed the situation in Iraq, he was "struck by the number of ministers who talked about the need to be open to doing more" in that country.
"There were discussions today -- conversations today -- not about any specifics but of an openness to doing more," the official said during a background briefing June 3.
The Madrid meetings included NATO foreign ministers and the foreign ministers from NATO partner countries and the seven candidate countries.
The U.S. official encouraged journalists to see the Madrid meetings within the context of the decisions made at the Prague Summit of 2002 and President Bush's May 31 speech in Krakow.
He noted that the president said the United States is committed to a strong Atlantic Alliance "to ensure our security, to advance human freedom and to keep peace in the world" and that NATO "must show resolve and foresight to act beyond Europe."
The official said the Alliance is "meeting some of the goals that the President laid out in the Krakow speech."
During the Madrid meetings, the foreign ministers also discussed NATO operations in the Balkans, its upcoming role commanding the international security force in Afghanistan, and the need for NATO countries to "meet their commitments on capabilities," the official said.
Asked about the possibility of a NATO role in the Middle East peace process, he said no proposal was made, "but a number of ministers said that if this is a success, if this is as big a breakthrough as we hope it will be, then we ought to keep our minds open to a NATO contribution."
The official was referring to the meetings in Egypt and Jordan between President Bush and Middle East leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.
The United States has "always said that at some time, if the parties agree, there might be some utility to monitoring," the official told reporters. He went on to caution, however, that, while the United State has not ruled "anything in or out," it was "premature" to discuss the issue.
The official denied that there was a dispute over the question of the European Union replacing NATO in Bosnia. "It is not a dispute. Our view is that it is premature because there is still work to be done by NATO in the Balkans." He explained that the U.S. "problem" with such a transfer of responsibility was "practical" rather than "philosophical."
Following is a transcript of the briefing provided by the American Embassy in Madrid:
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL
NATO Ministerial Madrid, Spain June 3, 2003
SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. I apologize for being a few minutes late. The Secretary General was running a little late and we took the chance to visit with him. Let me give you a very short perspective on where we stand at this moment at this ministerial and then I'd be very glad to answer any questions anybody has.
First, I think for your stories it is important for you to take a look again at President Bush's speech in Krakow the other day, and a couple of quotations I would commend to you. First, "The United States is committed to a strong Atlantic Alliance to ensure our security, to advance human freedom and to keep peace in the world." And then a quote that I know you have all seen as well, "NATO must show resolve and foresight to act beyond Europe and it has begun to do so. NATO has agreed to lead security forces in Afghanistan and to support our Polish allies in Iraq. A strong alliance with a broad vision of its role will serve our security and our cause of peace."
And if you take those quotations and put them in sequence from Prague, where this Alliance was really, in many ways, revolutionized and revitalized with new members, new capabilities and new relationships, then see the President's speech in Krakow and you bring it today into the conversation in Madrid, I think what you see is an Alliance meeting some of the goals that the President laid out in the Krakow speech.
I'll take a couple questions, but I'd like to just talk about specifics for a minute. One, I was very struck today by every single intervention, said two things in the NAC (North Atlantic Council). First, was that NATO is key to the security of each and every country that spoke. And second, that NATO, a strong NATO, a successful NATO is also key to a successful transatlantic relationship. And as I say that came from every one of the ministers. I was also struck by something the Danish foreign minister said. We've been trying to think through how to describe NATO, what is it today, and he said, "NATO is the decisive forum for conversations about security across the Atlantic." And I think that makes a lot of sense; I was attracted to the idea of "decisive forum."
So when I say Prague to Krakow to Madrid, I find today that a number of the things that we are doing are things that meet these obligations.
We had lunch today with seven new members who were represented by foreign ministers, and that was a very exciting moment. A number of ministers said, "You know, who would have thought ten or fifteen years ago that we would be having lunch with the seven new members?" And of course, we said to them, they already, in many ways, act as de facto allies. They acted as de facto allies in the Balkans. They acted as de facto allies in Afghanistan. They acted as de facto allies in Iraq. And I was pleased to report that our Senate voted -- 96 to nothing -- for the entry of the new members.
We also talked at lunch about the vision of Prague-to-Krakow-to-Madrid. We talked about Afghanistan. I think the majority of the ministers recognize first that this is a long term commitment, that when NATO takes over this ISAF war commitment in August, that it is a very big development and that we are going to have to work very hard as an alliance to meet that obligation. We talked about Iraq and, again, I was struck by the number of ministers who talked about the need to be open to doing more. There were discussions today -- conversations today -- not about any specifics but of an openness to doing more.
We had a conversation about the Balkans which I think also fits into these themes. And we know that there is more work to do in the Balkans, especially in Bosnia. More war criminals to take up, more terrorism to deal with; and that's one reason I think that NATO decided earlier this year not to lower troop levels, to keep them at about 12,000 so it's possible to finish the job. We did NATO/Russia, talked about NATO/Ukraine, and the outreach we want to do to Central Asia and the Caucasus. So all of these areas I think fit into this vision of a NATO that is important for security, for human freedom and for peace.
Two other points; then I'll quit. One is, there were also what I thought very good conversations both at the NAC and at the lunch about the need for people to meet their commitments on capabilities. The Chairman of the Military Committee made a very good presentation about the need for capabilities. Secretary General Robertson, as he always is, is very strong on this issue; we tried to support him in any way that we could with our intervention.
We also had a conversation about the Middle East, and I took the opportunity at the Secretary General's invitation to open the lunch and to brief people on where things stood in Sharm-el-Sheikh and, then, President Bush's objectives for Aqaba tomorrow. We still have a lot of this material to go: there's the NATO-EU ministerial that starts here in a few minutes, there's Russia and Ukraine and the EAPC, glad to talk to you again when those things are over, but I'll give you a status report of where we stand today.
I'll be glad to take a couple questions. Yes sir.
QUESTION: Warren from the Associated Press. About the discussion on the Middle East and a possible NATO role should there be a need for peacekeeping, how far has that subject gone? Which way has it gone?
SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Well, I'd say actually that the discussion hasn't gone very far at all. As Secretary General Robertson reported, when I had the opportunity to talk a little bit about what was going on in Sharm-el-Sheikh and in Aqaba, a number of ministers -- and not me -- but a number of ministers said that if this is a success, if this is as big a breakthrough as we hope it will be, then we ought to keep our minds open to a NATO contribution. But there was no debate about it, there were no specifics involved. But I was, as Robertson was, struck by the two or three ministers who said that we ought to keep our minds open to this. But it was, I'll be clear, not a proposal we made. We did not mention it, it was in response to this report.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. (unintelligible)?
SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Well, we've always said that at some time, if the parties agree, there might be some utility to monitoring. But we think we're far away from that. What I would say to you is let's have a success at Sharm-el-Sheikh and then go on to Aqaba tomorrow, and then we'll see what to do.
QUESTION: It seems to me that there is a general misunderstanding involved on the idea of the dispute about the question of the EU replacing NATO in Bosnia in the future. Why is it premature to talk about this issue?
SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: First of all, sir, let me with all due respect to your question certainly say that this is not a dispute. I would say that calling it a dispute is way overstating it and that anyone who says that it is a dispute is trying to cause trouble. It is not a dispute. Our view is that it is premature because there is still work to be done by NATO in the Balkans. And the people in the area recognize that their work still has to be done. And it's about war criminals and it's about terrorism and it's about continuing to bring these societies together. Now, I didn't say never, I said it was premature. Indeed, from my perspective -- and we'll see what happens here at the NATO-EU meeting -- to me there has not been any formal request that has come anyway. So, I've tried to answer your question as honestly as possible. This isn't a dispute. There are views on how to go forward. I assume that if there is ever a formal request we'll deal with those views. Our view is that it is premature.
QUESTION: Given that there are several EU countries which -- although there has been no formal request -- do maintain that the EU should take over the Balkans? Or is the United States then alone in believing that this is premature?
SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: I have no idea. Let's talk at the NAC or at NATO and we'll find out. The reason why I don't think this is in the dispute category is because of what has happened in Macedonia. I think that the fact that the European Union has taken over the Macedonian mission is an extremely good thing. So, it can't be that our problem is philosophical. Our problem is practical. And, all we said is that it is premature and that's all. That's our position and I just ask you not to make a bigger deal out of this than it is.
QUESTION: Do you or do you not have a role for monitoring the Middle East or just starting to?
SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: I don't rule anything in or out. I said that from our perspective, like the EU mission in Bosnia, it's premature. But I think that the United States has been on the record in public for a long time saying that if both parties were to agree that it might be useful to have some kind of monitoring mechanism there. But as I said to the gentleman before, let's do the job before us -- which is Sharm-el-Sheikh and Aqaba -- before we get too far ahead of ourselves.
U.S. PRESS OFFICIAL: So as not to have you write that the US delegation was late for the NATO-EU meeting, we'll have to make this the last question.
SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Yes sir.
QUESTION: You just told us the ministers said that [NATO] needs to be open to a role in Iraq. Would you say that it is a majority of ministers in NATO of the 17 members and what does it mean to be open to a role? Is it more than political power?
SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: No, it's exactly that. If you go back again to the history here, Paul Wolfwowitz came to the Alliance last December. Secretary Powell followed up as you say in April and what we have said is those ideas are still on the table. In fact, if you look at some of those ideas, some of them have already been accomplished. Help to Turkey, for example. It's not only been accomplished, but has been completed. There might be more things that can be done. That's really up to NATO. We consider that these ideas are on the table. I didn't take a vote count, and I'm not trying to duck your question, I want to be real clear here. It did not come up at the luncheon so therefore I would not count the 7 new members into this. It was a conversation at the NAC. And, I say, we didn't take a vote. I was just struck by the number of ministers who said let's leave our minds open to the possibilities here. Thank you all very much.