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N. Burns After North Atlantic Council Meeting

Remarks to the Press After a Special North Atlantic Council Meeting

Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs

Brussels, Belgium
October 11, 2005


UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon. Sorry to be late. The meeting we had went much longer -- it went nearly three hours -- much longer than we had anticipated, and I just felt that I had to stay because some people (inaudible) walked out. So no long speech from me.

On the record, let me say a few things. First, you saw the effort the United States is making to assist Pakistan in the aftermath of this horrible earthquake. There's a NATO meeting at 5:00 p.m. today to see what NATO can do. We have a lot of allies just next door in ISAF and it's certainly the strong hope of the United States that those allies will be able to step up with provision of equipment especially.

The Pakistanis need helicopters, they need earth moving equipment because a lot of these villages are simply cut off and roads are closed down. They also are going to need a lot of financial assistance. The U.S., as you know, as the White House announced on Sunday night -- Secretary Rice spoke yesterday -- the U.S. is contributing $50 million, as well as an enormous amount of DoD equipment and services. I know Secretary Rumsfeld has been talking about that, as well. So we just hope that today NATO will be able to also chip in, in a very big way, and we expect that will be the result.

Second, we just had a meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of political director. We hadn't done this in a number of years, but we decided to go back to it because it seems to us that the U.S. is very much behind this, in support of it, I should say. It seems to us that NATO has got to be the place in the transatlantic relationship where we discuss issues that are broader than just NATO itself, but have implications for our mutual security -- issues like Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iran, the future of the Balkans. So this morning we discussed Afghanistan and the Balkans. We hope to come back here in a couple of months time and carry on with some of the other issues. I mentioned Iran because that's such an important issue for us now. It's one of the great security challenges that we have ahead of us and there's a lot of attention being paid to it by my government and we would very much like to see NATO have a discussion of that at some point in the future.

So we had a discussion today on Afghanistan. A very strong belief, I think, by almost everybody present that we need to now think through two things: What is the future of the international military involvement in Afghanistan, and what is the future of international civilian involvement? Tremendous progress: the two elections, the clear Kara leadership, the expansion of international humanitarian assistance from 2001 on, the great job that both NATO and the Coalition forces are doing. And the effort on the military side is going to be to narrow the, well, to close the gap that's existed between those two forces, to have them work in a very tightly organized fashion together, to carry out both peacekeeping and also some of the war fighting against al-Qaida and the Taliban. NATO now is going to be expanding into the southern part of Afghanistan. That will relieve the U.S. forces who will be able to concentrate on the eastern part of the country. There was quite a lot of discussion about how best to do that. I'll be happy to go into it if you would like.

A lot of discussion about the international civilian side. The British will be hosting a conference in London in January to think through the follow-on of the Bonn process. You all remember in the wake of the Afghan war, early 2002, the conference in Bonn that set up international civilian outreach to the Afghans, which has been largely successful. But now Bonn comes to an end with the parliamentary elections. So what we've got to do now is design a follow-on future framework for international civilian assistance. There was quite a lot of support in the room, and certainly the United States suggested this, as well, that we now think about perhaps the appointment of a leading individual who would be the coordinator of all international civil and economic assistance to Afghanistan. This is something that's not yet been decided, but there was a lot of discussion about it in the room and it's got to be something that's worked out at this London conference.

On the Balkans, which was the second issue discussed today, obviously a lot of focus on Kosovo. We the United States agree with Secretary-General Kofi Annan that it's time to begin the final status talks. We intend to be fully engaged in that process. We'll be appointing a senior American envoy to participate in those talks.

We certainly agree with Secretary General Kofi Annan that the status quo is no longer sustainable, meaning the period of time between June 9, 1999 -- the day the war ended -- and the present day has been one where the Kosovars have been able to work on civil order, work on economic development, work on all the standards that the international community has put before it, but now it's time to give the people of Kosovo a chance to determine their own future and to see what that future's going to be. We don't go into it -- we, the United States -- with any preconceived notion as to what the result is. The Secretary-General of the UN said there are two basic options on the table: there's independence and then there's continued autonomy of Kosovo within Serbia and Montenegro.

It's not for us to be scripting the result and you won't hear the United States favoring either of those two alternatives. But it is our responsibility to establish a framework with the United Nations so that the Serb government and the Kosovar Serbs and the Kosovar Albanian authorities can together decide this, and we think those talks ought to begin in 2005. We're waiting now for Kofi Annan to appoint his senior negotiator. We think those talks should proceed in a rapid and focused way. No one knows how long these talks are going to take but they've got to be focused, they've got to be properly structured, and the Kosovars have to have a chance to define their own future. I'm happy to talk about that.

Two additional points and I'll stop speaking. What happens in Bosnia is also going to be important for the future. If you look at Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia, you have now the makings, if there's progress in each of these areas over the next year or two, the Balkans can become a normal region again. Because they haven't climbed out fully of the wars of the 1990s, they haven't overcome them, they're still dealing with the legacies of those wars. But if they can make progress in each of those areas then they can begin to think about a future relationship with NATO, a future in NATO, a future relationship with the European Union, economic growth, an end to the social dislocations that have been a hallmark of what's happened in the Balkans over the last decade following the wars. So what we've got to do is recommit ourselves to be fully involved in that. The United States intends to be fully engaged in each of these areas.

In Bosnia we'll be holding a major international meeting, as well as conference, in Washington in November to mark the 10th Anniversary of Dayton, but not to look back so much as to look forward and to build on defense reform, to build on what we hope will be a police reform agreement in the future, and looking towards a further normalization of the governing structures in Bosnia-Herzegovina, so that that country can become whole and normal again.

In Kosovo, final status talks with the Serbs, to see if the Serbs can overcome the legacy of the 1990s, and that is to arrest Mladic. If they can do that, then the United States will support them for Partnership for Peace, and we would look upon Serbia as a future candidate member for NATO itself. If they cannot do that, then the United States is certainly not going to agree that they should come into Partnership for Peace. They'll continue to have a very checkered relationship with both NATO and the European Union and they'll hold themselves back in terms of their future political and economic progress with Europe and the United States. So the question for the Serbs is very clear. They've got to face this question of Mladic and they have to arrest him and send him to the Hague if he will not give himself up voluntarily, which I think has been the hope of the Serbian authorities.

So in all three respects -- in Serbia, in Kosovo and Bosnia -- there is a chance now for dramatic progress in the period ahead, if they make the right choices. So I'll be leaving tomorrow morning to go to Sarajevo and Pristina and Belgrade for talks in each of these, my second trip in five months, in order to put these ideas again on the table, to push forward American engagement, and to see if we can help, along with our European allies. We can see that they mark progress in the next couple of months and over the next year so that this rapprochement of the Balkans with the rest of the world can be finished. That is a primary objective of our foreign policy.

With that I'd be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: The decision of the EU to open accession talks with Croatia and association talks with Serbia Montenegro without having had (inaudible) all of the wartime suspects, does that help or hinder (inaudible)?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I wouldn't want to comment on that. We're not a member of the European Union so we didn't participate in that decision. We respect the decision that the EU made. However, it's our very strong view that NATO needs to maintain the decision made by the Foreign Ministers in Reykjavik in May 2002, and that is that there's full conditionality that Serbia will not be allowed into Partnership for Peace until Mladic is in the Hague and that Croatia will not become a member of NATO until Gotovina is in the Hague.

As you know, at NATO we make decisions by consensus. All 26 allies have to agree. And the United States will not agree to relax our conditionality in either case. We will not do it. Because we have to be responsible to help these countries drag themselves out of the morass of the Balkan wars. There cannot be a peace in the Balkans and we can't fully normalize our relations with either country until they make themselves accountable for what happened at Srebrenica in the case of Mladic and Karadzic, and in terms of the war crimes allegedly committed by Gotovina -- and that's alleged, he needs to stand trial and have a fair trial -- during an earlier part of the Balkan wars.

So our view is, and the message is very clear, Croatia will not become a member of NATO until he's arrested and transferred to the Hague, and Serbia will not become a member of PfP until Mladic is. It's up to the Bosnian Serbs to focus on the question of Karadzic. If Karadzic is going back and forth between Republika Srpska and Montenegro and Serbia, as some people allege, then they all have responsibility for finding Karadzic.

QUESTION: I understand (inaudible) directly on the EU decision --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, I wouldn't want to comment on the EU decision. And I don't want to say anything -- none of this should be implied criticism. It's not. The EU has a right and responsibility to make its own decisions. NATO is a very different organization. We're the ones who have been involved in the Balkans militarily for 10 years. We ended the Bosnian war through the NATO air strikes from August 30th to the middle part of September 1995, and through the nine years of peacekeeping. We're the ones who prevented the ethnic slaughter of a million Muslims in Kosovo by Milosevic in 1999. So we feel that as an institution -- from an American perspective -- that NATO has to hold this line on these war criminals, that we can't forget and we can't let these war criminals off the hook.

QUESTION: Even more so perhaps because (inaudible) leverage that was there is now no longer there to the same extent (inaudible).

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: But this is real leverage. There is real leverage from the NATO decision. These countries desperately want to be part of Partnership for Peace and NATO. They know they can't be fully integrated states into the Euro Atlantic community without access to NATO. It's leverage and they know it, and we're not budging on it.

QUESTION: How hopeful are you about Mladic and Karadzic at the moment? Some people interpret the Republika Srpska decision on police reform as a direct response to Serbia beginning talks with the EU. Do you think there's a positive dynamic that means that these people now finally might come to reach? And if I may, I've got a question on Iran, as well.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Sure. On the first one, Dan, we're going to have to judge the government in Belgrade especially, as well as the Banja Luka authorities by their actions because the words have just not amounted to much. I was in Belgrade in June, was led to believe that the arrest of Mladic was imminent -- didn't happen. The 10th Anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres passed -- didn't happen. Now we're coming up to the Anniversary of Dayton. I have no idea whether it will happen. I think we have to judge them by their actions. We're very disappointed that the Serb authorities have not been able to either induce him to surrender voluntarily, or to arrest him. It's a very small country where everyone knows everyone else's business. He's a prominent individual. He's instantly recognizable and there's really no excuse for the fact that 10 years after he massacred 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica he is living a free life. There's no excuse for that. So therefore, we're not going to put much stock in promises. We're just going to look for actions, and we're going to withhold normalization of our relations until that happens.

QUESTION: On Iran, I was wondering, we've had a series of comments from Dr. El Baradei, from Mr. [inaudible] that after award of the Nobel Prize this might be a time for the EU-3 to look at some kind of dialogue with the Iranians, perhaps even considering the South African proposal. Do you think talk like that is at all relevant while the (inaudible) remains active?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think the ball's in Iran's court more than the EU's court. Here's a country that has unilaterally ruptured the Paris Agreement, that has resumed uranium conversion at Esfahan, that its President threatened three times in his UN address to begin enrichment at (inaudible), who, a country that seems to be embarked on a fairly radical course in terms of its nuclear programs and is now faced with a very strong vote against it by the IAEA Board of Governors asking it to cease and desist, not to convert uranium, to return to the talks with the European Three, to try to pursue a peaceful negotiating course.

So, our view is the pressure is really on the Iranian government to respond to this very strong vote. You had 22 countries -- all of Europe, Japan, Australia, India, Ghana, Singapore, Ecuador, the United States -- all say you've got to return to international legality, international norms. Exactly one country supporting it -- Venezuela, which speaks for itself. And I think to the surprise of Iran, the abstention of countries that perhaps Iran felt were going to support it.

So the Iranians are in a weakened position diplomatically and it really should be up to the Iranians now to come back to these negotiations with the EU-3 and to resume them as the EU-3 was carrying them on in the summer. And our government fully supports the EU-3 and fully supports a negotiating process and wants to see one resumed. We are arguing for that right now diplomatically.

QUESTION: So when the EU-3 gets together at the political directors level and kind of brainstorm about this, is there any way we can go forward with Esfahan and is there any way we can look at something like the South African proposal that would keep conversion (inaudible)?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Our instinct is to let the EU-3 be in the lead and to support the EU-3 and to try to resume the negotiations that were abruptly and unilaterally ruptured by the Iranians in August. If the Iranians cannot do that they will face increased international diplomatic pressure and further isolation. The fact that so many countries abstained is a telling comment about the lack of support for the Iranian position.

QUESTION: There's no question of resuming those negotiations while Esfahan is still going?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think it's a strong desire -- if you look at the IAEA Board of Governors' announcement of August 11th and then look at the September vote, in both cases it was to ask Iran to stop conversion at Esfahan and to not engage in any aspect of a nuclear fuel cycle, and a return to the basis of the negotiations themselves. So we're fully in support of the European effort.

QUESTION: In Kosovo you say a very pressing issue is future status negotiations, even though the States has no pre-stated idea. What is your, the American idea about what should be going on in Kosovo, the ideal outcome of the negotiations for Kosovo?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: This is going to be a United Nations led process. We will support, obviously, a vigorous negotiation, but a peaceful one where both sides agree to maintain the peace. Of course, NATO is there with 18,000 troops ready to enforce the peace where both sides recognize that there's a need for a fair discussion, a full discussion, where, of course, the status quo is not maintained, but where majority and minority rights are respected.

We have talked a lot in our government, obviously, about wanting the Kosovars to determine their own future and they'll have to find that future themselves. But there's also no question that minority rights have to be respected and there has to be a way found for Serbs to feel they can come back to Kosovo, those who have left, and live there peacefully without fear of retribution or recrimination. Obviously religious sites need to be preserved. There are all sorts of issues that need to be taken into account as both sides sit down under UN supervision.

So we're looking forward to a vigorous negotiation. It's going to be a difficult, complex negotiation, but we believe it can be done peacefully, it will be done peacefully. We believe security will be maintained by NATO, and if that environment is created then they have a chance to define this future themselves. There's not going to be a blueprint put on the table by the United States or the European countries or even by the United Nations that says here's the end result of these negotiations. They have to sit down together and find that way forward themselves. It's very important.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) comments about the extra-European role of NATO. You mentioned Iran. Can you elaborate as to what that is?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Extra-European role?

QUESTION: Outside, extraterritorial, outside of Europe.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Extra-Europe, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: You talked about the broader role for NATO. You mentioned Iran.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh, no, I was referring to the fact that what we want to do is use NATO as a place to discuss issues, discuss the import of issues or future strategy. Today we discussed Afghanistan and the Balkans. A future possibility might be our efforts to secure, promote peace in the Middle East, democracy in the Middle East. Iran might be another question. Kosovo in early 2006 as the negotiations have begun, the events in North Africa or the Sudan: there are all sorts of questions that we could put on the table here and make sure there's a high-level discussion going on. I'm talking about discussions here, as opposed to action.

QUESTION: I'm just wondering, and forgive me, what purpose does it serve apart from there being another arena? NATO doesn't do anything about Iran in particular.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well you see, NATO's been in existence for 56 years. For most of that time it's been the place where, it's the only place where Americans and Canadians meet with Europeans every day. It's the only place. It's the only forum to which we all belong. So, in addition to the work of the alliance, which is in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Balkans, we want to make sure that NATO's talking about all the other great issues there that have an impact on all of us. So it only stands to reason that we'd want to talk about all important issues -- aspects of our respective policies towards Asia. We've had discussions here on, for instance, the EU arms sales to China issue -- had them here as well as in the US-EU dialogue. So we ought to continue all that. That's different than action. Discussion is very different than action.

QUESTION: How confident are you that NATO's going to be able to resolve the outstanding differences with regard to the command structure between ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom and (inaudible) troops down there?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think we've pretty much sorted out the questions concerning the command structure. And the next step for NATO in the spring of 2006 will be to move NATO troops into Southern Afghanistan, into the Kandahar region. That will be led by the British and the Canadians and perhaps the Dutch and others. Then we'll be left with NATO having taken responsibility for Kabul, the north, the west and the south, and that will allow the United States Coalition forces to predominantly be stationed in the east, along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

QUESTION: Why not bring the American forces under the NATO umbrella?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Actually, the United States for about three years, beginning in February 2003, has suggested that we think about an integration of the forces, but that's not been -- we're not yet at the stage where all the allies can agree to a full integration of the forces. We are interested in talking about integration. So until that day comes we're going to be left with two forces -- the Coalition force and the NATO force. For a long time it was the Coalition force doing all of the most dangerous work, and now that work is going to be shared because the European allies, into southern Afghanistan where there's quite a significant threat of Taliban and al-Qaida action. There were 18 Afghan policemen killed today in (inaudible) Province, unfortunately, tragically. There were attacks last week on Kandahar officials. So that gives an indication of the spreading nature of the problem.

So we think it makes sense for NATO to take on these responsibilities. The U.S. is maintaining its commitment and its involvement in our presence. We're just going to be focused on the part of the country that is the least stable and where the greatest threat lies.

QUESTION: Do you foresee a common structure by the end of 2006?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: A common integrated mission? It's hard to say. Again, the United States has probably been the most active country, suggesting that we should lead the way towards integration, but it takes 26 to tango and some allies prefer to maintain a separation.

One of the points we made today was to say that we have to be careful not to end up with two different types of forces, that all the forces in the country, NATO and Coalition, should have very strong rules of engagement, that the mission should be the same, that all of us have an ability to be peacekeepers as well as fighters when attacked, because the action may be along the Pakistan-Afghan border right now, but the Taliban or al-Qaida could turn their attention to the north or the west or south -- you never know. So all the soldiers in the country have to have the ability and flexibility to respond to attack. When we went into Afghanistan two and a half years ago there were some allies who saw this as a humanitarian mission. Others saw it as a military mission. It's clear that it's both, so therefore our troops have to be equipped to do both things and do them well.

QUESTION: When do you expect the kind of rubberstamp to those arrangements?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There's an operational plan that's been drawn up by General Jones and we hope it will be fully agreed to by the North Atlantic Council by the first part of November, within a month, within 30 days. That operational plan does give very strong rules of engagement to every soldier and to every unit no matter where they are in Afghanistan. That's critically important.

QUESTION: Could you talk about (inaudible) individual to do the post-Bonn?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We didn't. And again, this was an initial discussion today. It was the first real discussion we've had with the European allies about the future. But as you know, until now we've been the Bonn process has been the framework and now Bonn has essentially lapsed with the parliamentary election. So now we have to create a new framework for the conditions of 2006 and there will be this conference in January to determine that.

QUESTION: One final question on the Netherlands and Iraq. (Inaudible) member of the Coalition forces, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs (inaudible) invasion in Iraq was (inaudible). I wondered whether his --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I didn't see the comment so I can't respond to a comment like that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) to Washington and (inaudible)?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I just haven't seen the comment. I didn't know that was said, if it was said that way and wouldn't want to comment on something I hadn't seen.

It's a pleasure to be with you. Thanks very much.

Released on October 17, 2005

ENDS


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