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Rice Press Availability at the NATO Ministerial

Press Availability at the NATO Ministerial

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Forum Palace
Vilnius, Lithuania
April 21, 2005

During her travel to Lithuania, Secretary Rice held a press conference at the NATO Ministerial Meetings. SECRETARY RICE: The meeting of 26 NATO allies in this great city a little more than one year since Lithuania joined the alliance highlights the power of freedom and democracy to bring fundamental change. It also symbolizes the strength and resilience of NATO. Today on the frontline in the war on terror and as the principle transatlantic forum for security issues. We intend to use NATO more and more effectively as the transatlantic security forum. We welcome the Secretary General's emphasis today and yesterday evening on enhancing our political dialogue at NATO. The wide range of topics that we covered during these meetings in Vilnius certainly illustrates NATO's expanded political role.

NATO has responded to a historic election in Ukraine by extending an invitation to Ukraine to begin an intensified dialogue on membership issues. During the meeting last month, President Bush assured President Yushchenko of our support for Ukraine's desire to integrate into Euro-Atlantic structures. NATO's offer today of an intensified dialogue on membership issues raises NATO's cooperation with Ukraine to a new level and underscores NATO's ongoing commitment to assist the people of Ukraine on their ambitious reform agenda.

The NATO-Russia Council welcomed Russia's signing of the NATO Partnership of Peace Status of Forces Agreement, facilitating greater practical military-to-military cooperation. We also had useful discussions in that forum of Kosovo, Afghanistan and Georgia. We discussed the situation in the Middle East last night, as well as the important developments in the Caucauses and in the broader Middle East.

The NATO Council today, as foreign ministers had lunch, discussed the situation in Sudan and in Darfur and what support NATO could give in the form of planning and logistics to support the AU-led effort, should a request be forthcoming or should it be necessary to help.

Finally, I was very pleased to meet with High Representative Javier Solano and with Foreign Minister of Lithuania Valionis, with several members of civil society of Belarus, we talked about the desire for democratic development in Belarus and what could be done to support those who are trying to make a difference in that very difficult circumstance.

Now I'm very happy to have Richard take your questions.

MR. BOUCHER: Start with AFP over here.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Mackler from Agence France-Press. As you said, you met with the activist from Belarus and then they came out and they announced to us -- are their plans encouraged by you to have massive street protests in the fall over the issue of disappearances as a way of unifying their country against Lukashenko's regime.

My question to you, Madame Secretary, is twofold. One, is the United States supporting regime change in Belarus? And second, will the United States support the demonstration route as opposed to elections, which they feel will be neither free nor fair?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, what we talked about was several ways that we could support these efforts in Belarus. The point was made very clearly that the 2006 elections really do present an excellent opportunity for the international community to focus on the need for free and fair elections in Belarus. Elections have been an important catalyst in any number of countries now around the world, if the international community makes very clear that they need to be free and fair and is prepared to judge whether they are free and fair.

The groups there were, who were represented, talked with Representative Solano and with Foreign Minister Valionis and with me about efforts that they would like to make to unify the civil society movements that are interested in changing Belarus. We did talk about the disappeared in Belarus and the need for there to be an accounting for those people. And the fact that this is something that the entire Belarusian population, undoubtedly, cares about because any number of people have had relatives or friends disappear in this society.

What the United States will always support is the evolution of democratic processes around the world and the desire of people to tap into the aspirations of their populations for freedom. And we will support the idea that elections, when they are held, should be real elections. They should not be sham elections and the international community ought to be prepared and ready to help Belarus to carry out free and fair elections in 2006.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

SECRETARY RICE: Look, I think that the people of Belarus will have to make their determinations about how they move forward. But the key here is that people ought to be able to protest, to speak their minds, there ought to be free media. We talked about the desire for there to be more independent media and independent voices in Belarus. These are principles that the United States has supported.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, let's go down here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) daily of the Czech Republic. Madame Secretary, what should be done to continue with the deep and broader political dialogue within NATO?

SECRETARY RICE: I thought we made a very good start today -- yesterday and today on deepening and broadening the political dialogue in NATO. I want to underscore something that I heard Secretary General say, which is that it does not mean that just because NATO has a discussion of certain political issues that NATO has to have a military operation attached to it.

We talked about the fact that so many aspects of international politics and strategy are interconnected that, of course, we need to have a political dialogue about a broad range of issues, even if NATO has no expectations or intentions of having an actual physical presence or a military operation attached to it.

If you take, for instance, the example of the Middle East, it's very clear that given the fact that NATO is involved in Iraq through the training mission; given the fact that Iraq, of course, has NATO neighbors, including Turkey; given the fact that the Middle East -- Broader Middle East initiatives have been (inaudible) with NATO and with the European Union for some time; and given the interest in the Israeli-Palestinian issues, of course, we're going to have a dialogue about the Middle East and the Middle East Israeli-Palestinian issues and also the Broader Middle East.

So what was really underscored here is that NATO needs to be able to raise and talk about any issue, strategically, that is of interest to its members, that that's a broad range of issues, not a narrow range of issues, but that it need not attend specific NATO actions in order to have that dialogue.

MR. BOUCHER: Let's go over there to Reuters, I think.

QUESTION: I'm not Reuters.

MR. BOUCHER: I was going to go to Saul. Wait your turn, please.

SECRETARY RICE: We'll come back to you.

QUESTION: Ladies first.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: What a gentleman, thank you. (Inaudible), International National Herald Tribune. Secretary of State, the relationship between the EU and NATO has been pretty miserable over the past years, as you well know. How do you intend not you personally, but how do you see this deadlock being broken, apart from the informal procedures that Minister Fischer suggested?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I actually think that the relationship between NATO and the European Union is moving ahead on a number of fronts. For instance, when the President was in Brussels, he went both to NATO and to the European Union, I think, signaling that the United States recognizes that there are two pillars to the Euro-Atlantic structures. The European Union and NATO have been cooperative in any number of (inaudible) for instance in the Baltics, certainly in Afghanistan. There is much that we each bring to the table on all of these issues.

As to formal contacts between the EU and NATO, we know that there have been certain constraints, you know, imposed by certain realities for members of those organizations, but it doesn't mean that we can't continue to have a dialogue and we very much support both formal and informal discussions between EU and NATO and will continue to do that.

MR. BOUCHER: Now let's try Reuters.

QUESTION: Thank you. Madame Secretary, can I ask you again about Belarus, just to elaborate on your answer? The Belarusian members who were speaking to you today, they are putting emphasis on street protests, whereas you are putting emphasis on elections. We've seen in the region that it was street protests that actually worked to topple governments in Ukraine and in Georgia. Critics would say, the longer you wait, the more disappeared you will have in Belarus. Why not encourage the Belarusians now to get out into the streets to protest? Why should they wait for elections?

SECRETARY RICE: It is not for the United States to tell people how to fulfill their aspirations for freedom. These are the people who are closest to the ground. They are the people who know best the methods that are going to be necessary to make changes in Belarus. What the United States can do, what the European Union can do, what we can do together -- and it was really very good to have Javier Solana there today -- what we can do together is we can shine a spotlight on places where people are still denied freedom.

We can put that on the international agenda. We can insist on certain standards of behavior by any government, any place in the world, including standards of behavior when it comes to the holding of elections. We can provide support, as both we and the European Union are doing, to the development of civil society groups and the training of independent media and independent political and civil society forces. That's the role of outside forces.

To tell the Belarusians or anyone else, "You should or must do this," would not be an appropriate role for the United States or for the international community; they will make those judgments. But they can be certain, through sessions like we had today, through the support that they're getting from various funds from the EU and from the United States that people know about the struggle in Belarus and are prepared to support independent voices in that struggle. And the Belarusian government should know that their behavior is being watched by the international community, that this is not a dark corner in which things can go on unobserved, uncommented on, and as if Belarus was somehow not a part of the European continent.

MODERATOR: We've got Washington Times down here.

QUESTION: Nicholas Kralev with the Washington Times. On Sudan, if there is a request from the African Union, do you think NATO's response should be positive? And what exactly can they do to help the African Union?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I've had some discussions with the African Union leadership. I had discussions with President Kunari last week in Washington. Bob Zoellick was just in Darfur and Sudan. The United States has obviously been very involved in trying to deal with the humanitarian situation there. The United States, of course, through Jack Danforth, really was very important in brokering the North-South Agreement. We've been putting in a lot of aid. We've been very active but what we really all are focusing on now -- and by the way I had this conversation with Kofi Annan a couple days ago, too -- is the African Union, which is taking the lead and everybody wants to encourage the African Union to take the lead because regional organizations do this better than anyone else.

The African Union may need some help with capacity, in order, particularly, to get monitors into Darfur, to make it safe for humanitarian assistance to be able to be delivered and so forth. That probably requires planning and logistics capability. If there is a request, I would hope that NATO would act favorably. And since we all have a responsibility to do what we can to alleviate the suffering in Darfur, to create conditions in which humanitarian aid can get in and to try to diminish the violence.

There's a long-term track of trying to strengthen the comprehensive agreement between North and South so that there's a more unified Sudanese Government, to deal with Darfur and other regional conflicts in Sudan. There's a long-term track of trying to get a political solution that brings all factors and all elements in Darfur together. But there's a short-term problem and that short-term problem is to try and create better circumstances for the humanitarian, the human condition, in Darfur. And if asked, I would hope that NATO would be prepared to be a part of that.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Try the lady down here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from the Spanish news agency EFE. I would like to know whether you could give us a reaction on the political crisis in Ecuador. And also whether you have a message for the Ecuadorian authorities? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Well, there is an unfolding situation, of course, in Ecuador and our concerns are, first of all, that all people involved make certain that they don't resort to violence in any way. What is needed now is calm in Quito and in Ecuador, more generally. What is needed is a path to maintain a constitutional framework on anything that happens there. And I'm quite certain that there will be plenty of help and plenty of counsel, including from members of the Organization of American States to help the Ecuadorians to chart a path toward a more permanent constitutional arrangement to respond to the political crisis that has emerged there.

I did, by the way, have discussions with my Spanish colleague about this, Mr. Moratinos, and we agreed to have our ambassadors to have urgent consultations because Spain can obviously be a link back to the European Union on these issues and has a very important presence in Ecuador so that's one thing that we did last night at dinner, in addition to what the United States and the OAS are doing.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. I think we have time for one more. Why don't you ask, the gentleman here.

QUESTION: Secretary of State, I'm Dan (Inaudible), Financial Times. On the issue of the European constitution, Mr. (Inaudible) has said that it is not in NATO's interest in Europe to stall. Mr. Barnier has talked about a political breakdown in Europe. Do you perceive a risk of Europe stalling? How would you react to that?

And if I may, a second one, how realistic are Ukraine's chances of joining by 2008 as his Foreign Minister indicated today?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, on the second question, when you talk about performance-based criteria, I think you're talking about performance, not a timetable. But NATO has remained open and I think that the accession of new members after new members has demonstrated that if, in fact, states meet the criteria, if they go through the reforms that are necessary, then NATO fulfills its promise to offer membership.

And so I would encourage the Ukrainian Government -- and we have in fact encouraged the Ukrainian Government -- to focus on what needs to be done and to do that, as soon as they possibly can. There are major reforms that are needed, it's not an easy course. I think any country that has been through this will tell you that it requires a lot of change to meet the criteria that are there for NATO. But again, when the criteria are met, NATO has demonstrated that it is prepared to fulfill its obligation to remain open to new members.

In terms of the European Union -- we're obviously not members of the European Union, we're not a part of this debate, individual countries have to make their choices but we have been very supportive of the European project, of its completion, of the European Union. And we have developed, and I think, increasing developed a good partnership with the European Community -- European Union -- and the Commission and all of the structures of the European Union.

So obviously, from our point of view, the continued success of the European construction is important. I would just note that the European Union has been an important drawing card, an important incentive for democratization and reform in a number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe, as they've emerged as democracies. It's also -- continues to be, I think, an important set of incentives as we try to resolve the last remaining conflicts, for instance, in the Balkans.

And so it has been an important force for stability and for progress in this theatre and a force for good and for the promotion of democratic principles abroad.

MR. BOUCHER: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. 2005/T5-11 (Revised)

Released on April 21, 2005

ENDS


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