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Nicholas Burn With Mats Carlbom of Dagens Nyheter

Interview With Mats Carlbom of Dagens Nyheter

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
Euro Atlantic Partnership Council Security Forum
Are, Sweden
May 24, 2005

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We're all happy to be here. The light is beautiful. [Inaudible]. We're pleased to be here. We thank the Swedish government for its hospitality and for the inspiration in not meeting in the usual kinds of places, but meeting in such a beautiful location.

QUESTION: [Inaudible].

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We look forward to good meetings.

QUESTION: What do you hope will come out of those meetings?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: This is a very important forum. NATO is not just the 26 members. A lot of what NATO does, is NATO works with its Partners, like Sweden, Finland, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, sometimes even Uzbekistan when they come to meetings. Those partners are very important to us. In the case of Sweden, you are working with us in Kosovo, in Afghanistan, and in the case of this forum, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Sweden and Finland have been the major proponents of trying to modernize our concept of partnership, which sounds esoteric but is actually quite practical. That is for those countries who do not wish to join NATO: how do they work with NATO and how can they best advance our common interests in peace and security and peacekeeping? I think it's appropriate that Sweden would host the first meeting outside of Brussels because Sweden has been a leader.

QUESTION: Would you say most partnership countries view the partnership as a first step to membership?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: For some partnership countries it is. Certainly for Albania, Croatia, Macedonia. They've applied for NATO membership, then Ukraine and Georgia. It was also for the ten countries that we admitted over the last five years.

For other countries, I don't think that Tajikistan considers itself a future member. I don't think we consider Tajikistan a future member of NATO at this point. But it's a valued partner.

In the case of Sweden and Finland, this is a question for the people of these countries, not for NATO. We're happy to work together, and we work together very intensively. You know in Kosovo, our troops work together and we value what Sweden has done there, as well as in Afghanistan. So, I think the major focus of this meeting is to try to get the countries of the Euro Atlantic area working together in a better, more effective way on practical problems -- Kosovo, Afghanistan, building up reform in Central Asia, in the Caucasus -- using this forum to urge countries to do better and to be more in conventional democracy.

So for instance, we wish Uzbekistan had come to the meeting. We wish they would have sent a representative. I think a lot of us, your county probably, certainly my country, would have said there ought to be an independent investigation into what happened there. Independent investigation, not just a government investigation. And it seems to us that the allegation of excessive use of force needs to be investigated.

QUESTION: Why do you think they did not show up?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I can't speak for that country. I don't know why they didn't show up. One could guess as to why they might not have wanted to.

QUESTION: So go ahead and guess.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, I'm generally not in the habit of doing that with the press. I think it's better to keep to the facts, and the facts as I know them are that they're not here. You can be assured that we have in Tashkent and in Washington made our views very clear to the Uzbek government.

QUESTION: The fact that this meeting is an open meeting where the press can listen to a lot of --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think it's great. This is the first time we've ever done this with NATO.

QUESTION: You don't think that's the reason why so many foreign ministers have not shown up?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Not at all. In the case of the United States, Secretary Rice wanted to be here. I apologized to the Minister today that Secretary Rice could not come. Secretary Rice had already scheduled a domestic trip when this invitation came, so unfortunately she couldn't make it. I am a very poor substitute for her, but I'll do my best to convey to the Swedes how much we've appreciated the partnership we've had. I had a chance to visit Stockholm last year, had excellent conversations with the government and with the press and with some NGOs, and I think Sweden is just one of our closest partners.

QUESTION: Where do you think NATO is in ten years from now?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think NATO will continue to be the most important link between the United States and Europe; the place where America and Europe discuss great issues of the day. It's going to be NATO because it's a place where the United States is every day.

We have a good relationship with the European Union, but we don't belong there. We're not invited to the meetings. [Inaudible] NATO meetings, and because of that we have a place where we can talk with Ambassadors, [inaudible], every day: with the Uzbek Ambassador every day; with the Russian Ambassador with the French Ambassador. So I think ten years from now they will be the most important meeting place with all the members -- for Europeans and Americans. So I think in ten years, I hope we're over 30 members. We're at 26 now.

QUESTION: What is the limit?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There is no limit. Well, the limit is the number of European democracies that wish to apply and that meet the requirements. We have five countries now that have formally said they want to join NATO. All of them need to meet the standards. Then other countries like Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia/Herzegovina, who we hope after time, when they finally put the wars behind them, when they arrest the war criminals, when they extradite them to the Hague, people like Mladicz and Karadzic, they can then begin to work with us in the EAPC and in Partnership for Peace, and then as they want, they can build from there towards membership. So the US has always taken a very liberal view of NATO membership. We say that the door is open to any European democracy that meets the requirements.

So we see NATO in ten years as the most important and most effective and best equipped peacekeeping force in the world. I think we're already earning that in what we're doing. What we did in the Balkans over the last ten years, Bosnia, Kosovo. What we're currently doing in Afghanistan. What we are going to do in Iraq. I think NATO is the world's strongest peacekeeping organization. We've changed a lot from the Cold War. We're very different. A lot of Swedes I hope when they read your article will understand how different NATO is today than it was 10 or 15 years ago. We've changed with the times.

QUESTION: Is it going to change as much in the coming --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It's hard to say. It depends on what history brings us. But I think we've gone through a real revolution over the past five to ten years in the basic mission of the organization and the membership and the increased importance of partnership. Here's why Sweden is so much more involved with NATO now than it was a decade ago: because we have changed our mission, and in the military capabilities that we have to have to be successful as well.

QUESTION: There will be protests tonight and there were protests yesterday against the fact that this meeting is being held. But the protesters believe that this is the first step for Sweden to join NATO and they call Partnership for Peace "NATO light." What would you like to say to them?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I'd just say that in a democratic society people have a right to protest, and thank goodness for that. I would never argue. If people want to protest peacefully, that's their right and we welcome it. It doesn't mean I agree with it, but we welcome the debate.

I would also say that [inaudible] Sweden could reside in the future with NATO. It's not appropriate for an American to come and give advice to Sweden publicly. It's really up to Sweden as part of the future. I can tell you that if Sweden applied for NATO membership it would take about 24 hours probably to decide by unanimous consent that we'd want Sweden in. But it's up to Sweden to decide that. If Sweden chooses partnership, then that's fine with us too, because we're working so closely together. As I look around the table, we have 46 countries at this meeting tonight and tomorrow. I can count on one hand the countries that have been more involved in partnership than Sweden. There haven't been any more involved. Sweden is the leader.

So we are very satisfied with our current relationship and we're happy to continue the current relationship where Sweden is independent. It's neutral. It maintains its historic status as a neutral country, but it's a country living and working with us as it chooses to. And should Sweden ever want to change that relationship towards membership, that's fine with us. That's up to Sweden to decide that.

QUESTION: Goodbye. It was a pleasure.


Released on May 27, 2005


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