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Daniel Fried Following NATO Ministerial

Press Availability Following NATO Ministerial

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs

New York City
September 21, 2006

Assistant Secretary Fried: Thank you.

As the NATO Secretary General has spoken at length and very well about the ministerial, there is, in fact, little for me to add.

This was a ministerial somewhat out of normal sequence. We, and working with our NATO colleagues, agreed to this in order to give an impetus to preparations for the Riga Summit in late November.

This was a good meeting to talk about the current NATO operations in Afghanistan, talk about some of the ideas being developed for the Riga Summit, and it was an important opportunity in which we could remind ourselves and the world how important NATO is to our common security. As my Minister, Secretary of State Rice, said in her presentation today, in a world where our interests and our ideals are increasingly joined and where our democratic principles are our greatest source of security, NATO remains one of the most important, effective and remarkable alliances in history.

I think that Jaap de Hoop Scheffer went over the discussions today so there is no need for me to repeat all of that. A good discussion of Afghanistan, a good discussion of the principle of NATO's open door, and the success that NATO has had through the enlargement process in supporting reform, stability, and the deepening of democracy in Europe's East. This has been one of NATO's great strategic successes since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This process will continue.

There was strong support at the table for Georgia's new Intensified Dialogue with NATO and support for Georgia's continued reforms and for a peaceful resolution of some of the regional disputes with separatist regimes in Georgia.

Finally, you heard Jaap de Hoop Scheffer talk about his meeting this morning with the President of the African Union and the support the African Union conveyed to him with respect to NATO's backup for the Darfur mission. It is our view that this is another example of NATO's increasing role around the world. It can be called on for support in many places where NATO has not been present traditionally and is present today.

So with that, I'll answer a couple of questions. Time is short. Again, you had Jaap de Hoop Scheffer doing most of the work, so my remarks should be seen as supplemental.

Question: Touching to the issues other than Afghanistan, firstly the Western Balkans. Could you give us a little more indication of how particularly your government and NATO are approaching this next tranche of countries for membership? After all, they seem, compared to some of the earlier groups who have joined, to be very different. There is a massive difference, it seems to me, in the position of Croatia vis-Ã -vis Albania in terms of the criteria of a readiness to join the alliance; so that's question one. Are you still seeing them as a group, or are you looking at them as individual entities?

Secondly, the question of Georgia. Does this to an extent set a precedent that you are willing to engage at a greater and more depth with a country that still has some serious internal territorial disputes on its territory? And how concerned are you that this is going to be a step that is going to further alarm Moscow?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, with respect to the Western Balkans, all three countries of the so-called Adriatic Charter – Croatia, Macedonia, Albania – have all worked together cooperatively to give themselves some mutual solidarity in their respective NATO aspirations. This has worked well. Each of those countries has made considerable progress since they started on their individual roads to NATO membership.

Now it is true that NATO has never and will not treat countries as a group. We treat countries individually. That has always been the policy. These countries all know it, and yet cooperation among countries ought to be seen as a good thing. Cooperation between Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia was a stabilizing force in Europe in the 1990s. It ended well for all of these countries. These three countries have individual candidacies, but they're working together. It's too early for me to talk about NATO membership. This is something the alliance is going to look at and look at with these countries, but it is true that they have all made progress. If they're all different, they are all moving in the same direction.

With respect to Georgia, it is important to recognize just how much Georgia has achieved in the years since the so-called Rose Revolution. It was a failing state well on its way in those years to becoming a failed state. It is no longer. By all measures of economic progress, it's doing much, much better, remarkably better. It has been rated one of the better places to do business with one of the most, the greatest level of improvement in the business climate that I can recall. That said, Georgia has a long way to go and it does face serious separatist problems on its territory. It is a country that has a lot of work to do. It is our view that intensifying NATO's cooperation with Georgia will give Georgia the confidence it needs to pursue peaceful and democratic, peaceful diplomatic approaches to resolving all of those conflicts and in that it has the support of the American government and I dare say many European governments as well.

Again, peaceful diplomatic solutions are now on the table. Georgia is pursuing them. It's important that Georgia continue to pursue them, and with respect to Moscow, it is true that Moscow can very much be part of the solution here and we want to work closely with the Russians to promote peaceful solutions.

Question: Why is it that a Ukrainian possible membership isn't mentioned at all? Did it come to a halt? What is your opinion on that?

And back to Afghanistan, I also would like to get your opinion or judgment whether that explanation is right that more and more ISAF troops fight Taliban because American soldiers belonging to Enduring Freedom mandate are needed in Iraq.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, the second part of your question is based on a mistaken assumption and several mistaken assumptions, so I will push back just a bit.

NATO is in action in Afghanistan. It has taken over security in the south where the government presence was weak. ISAF has helped the Afghan government extend its presence. As it did so it ran into the Taliban, which seemed to believe – I can't speak obviously for what they actually believe – but they seemed to assume that NATO would be weak and irresolute and that the Taliban could surge forward militarily in the south against what they might have thought were weaker NATO allies, and they were sadly mistaken in this. The Dutch, the British, the Canadians and others fought hard and successfully. The Taliban, as General Jones explained yesterday, suffered a serious defeat on the battlefield. NATO proved itself in action. Americans are in the south, so your question is just not, I'm sorry to say, just not accurate, happily so. Because Americans are part of ISAF, we are part of NATO, we are present on the ground and in the air and we will be present.

This is an alliance where we act in solidarity with each other, and NATO has succeeded in an important tactical and battlefield test.

With respect to Ukraine, no, I don't think Ukraine's progress toward NATO has come to a halt. The Ukrainian Prime Minister was in NATO last week and made very clear that he hopes Ukraine's involvement with and cooperation with NATO will increase. In that he was welcomed. He also said there is a debate going on in Ukraine about NATO, which is really a debate among Ukrainians about Ukraine. And it's important that the Ukrainians sort out this debate with respect [inaudible]. We want to see Ukraine move as far as it wants toward NATO, as fast as it wants, and as fast as it meets NATO's requirements. But we are neither impatient, nor are we trying to grab Ukraine.

NATO enlargement, NATO membership, has always been demand driven. That is NATO and NATO members have responded to the desire of countries that want to join NATO. That's why NATO enlargement has been so successful. NATO is not a camp which tries to keep members in, it's an alliance of democracies which welcomes members that want to be in and have something to contribute.

So we are happy with our partnership with Ukraine, we are happy to see this deepen. The Ukrainians are working through these issues.

Question: Could you give a sense of when NATO ministers would be expected to actually discuss a new role in Darfur, and also give some sense of what that supporting role would involve, what type of logistics and material support would you be willing to provide?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I think it's premature for me to talk about the specifics of that and this is at any rate a NATO decision, but I think that the meeting today that Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had with the African Union was an important one, and progress will not require a meeting of Ministers. NATO Ambassadors and NATO's military staff can work on this and develop options, and I suspect that as thinking about the African Union mission and the UN role and as all of the pieces come together, NATO will be able to play a part, and I look forward to working with my colleagues. And our extraordinarily able Ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland, will be helping shape Washington's thinking and put together the options, and I look forward to making progress.

Question: I wonder if you might comment also again on the discussion about force generation for Afghanistan. Where do you believe things stand as compared to an ideal situation now that General Jones mentioned yesterday that significant new pledges have been made but he wouldn't make them public yet. What in your opinion is still required?

Assistant Secretary Fried: That's an interesting phrase, how would I compare the current situation to an ideal situation? Between the reality and the ideal is always a gap, and in human affairs it is always an infinite gap to say you never reach the idea. But you keep moving in that direction.

Look, to be serious, NATO countries have responded. Some of these responses are public. The Polish offer of a battalion is public. There are other offers which NATO governments have asked not be made public because they want to work them through their governments or their parliaments. The response has been substantial. That is countries are coming through, and it is the nature of a process like this that you tend to push.

But, in fact, I think NATO countries have come up with a lot, and, frankly, I think that the NATO countries who have been fighting in the south deserve a tremendous amount of credit. I think of the Netherlands, where they debated this issue very vigorously. They went in with their eyes open and they fought, and fought well, and deserve a lot of credit.

Question: Is there anything specific that you still think would make a good difference on the ground that you're still looking for in Afghanistan?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, we are always at the moment, we're always looking for a little more action in terms of lifting caveats, but in fact we did pretty well in the south,and I think that the pledges that have already been made or that we consider to be forthcoming are going to go a very long way to meeting the needs.

Question: The Secretary General said NATO is not sending troops to Darfur but offering support --

Assistant Secretary Fried: Ground troops, that's correct.

Question: Yes. Would they reconsider that if the UN troops did not get to Darfur, as is the current situation?

Assistant Secretary Fried: The most dangerous thing I could do is get into a speculative game about what if under certain conditions which do not pertain now. But right now we have not considered NATO ground forces, but I don't want to start ruling out things. That is not a hint. That is merely prudence in a situation that can change.

Question: The force on the ground in Afghanistan seems to be not a bit but much too small to secure the peace, especially for the population. Could you please comment on that, and please tell us how is the fight against the insurgents going on, do you think?

Assistant Secretary Fried: The size of the NATO force in the south is much larger than the size of the force when the south was under the responsibility of Operation Enduring Freedom. So NATO has greatly increased the size of allied forces working in support of the Afghan military and in support of President Kharzai and his government.

Ministers today at the table almost unanimously to a person stated the importance of the Afghanistan operation and determination that it succeed. NATO countries have increased the force, and I don't doubt they will be prepared to do more if necessary.

How has the battle gone? I think General Jones spoke to that yesterday and made clear that the Taliban had suffered a significant defeat on the battlefield and NATO had achieved a significant tactical victory. It is also true that in situations like this, military operations are only one part of what you need to get to success, and everyone knows that. But NATO is in action, and its security operations were a necessary first step. So far, so good, but obviously there is a great deal of work to do, and everyone is cognizant of that.

Thank you very much.

ENDS

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