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Tony Jones talks to US Ambassador to NATO, Vi -

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Tony Jones talks to US Ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland

Broadcast: 20/03/2008

Reporter: Tony Jones

Lateline is joined by the US Ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland, to talk about the summit of NATO


TONY JONES: One of the key organisers of that critical Bucharest summit to examine where the
Afghanistan strategy is working and where it's failing is Ambassador Victoria Nuland, the US
permanent representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and she joined us from Brussels
just a short time ago. Ambassador Nuland, thanks for joining us.


TONY JONES: Will the Prime Minister get what he wants at the Bucharest summit, a common agreed
strategy for the military campaign and the civilian reconstruction in Afghanistan?

VICTORIA NULAND: He will, Tony. We are working at NATO headquarters with the NATO 26 and also all
of our partners in the mission, notably including Australia on a vision statement for the heads of
state and government to release at Bucharest which first and foremost remind our publics why we are
there. That this is to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for terror, because our
own security is tied to their security. The document will also go through the successes that the
Afghans have had since we've been helping them and since the liberation and that the mission has
had and then we'll set forth some shared goals, both in the security arena, in the governance arena
and in the development arena. And our hope is that it will be something that will be useful not
only at the summit table but at the kitchen table.

TONY JONES: I am sure you'd be aware of the concerns of the Australian Prime Minister. Mr Rudd said
yesterday that his Defence Minister and his Government were staggered when they came to power to
find there was no commonly agreed strategy. Do you agree that that's the case?

VICTORIA NULAND: Well, first let me take this opportunity Tony to thank the Australian Government,
to thank Australian troops for the superb job that they do in Afghanistan and that they've done
with us in Afghanistan from the beginning. But particularly now that they're making this
contribution to strengthen the NATO-led mission. You know, NATO has had a strategy from the
beginning. I think the issue here is whether it needs to evolve now. We have been in Afghanistan,
throughout Afghanistan as NATO for a year and a half. Conditions continue to evolve both in the
east and the south and so we need to use the opportunity of this summit to update our view and we
will do that together with Prime Minister Rudd, and we very much welcome the fact that he is coming
to Bucharest. A new Prime Minister to join with the other heads of state and government in looking
hard at Afghanistan and making common commitments.

TONY JONES: I'm sure you'd be aware that Mr Rudd spoke directly to President Bush on the telephone
recently and expressed some of these specific concerns to the President. Have those concerns
filtered down the chain of command to you at NATO headquarters?

VICTORIA NULAND: I work very closely with your terrific ambassador here in Brussels, Alan Thomas.
We are working together on the vision document. We are also working together on the kinds of goals
in terms of troop commitments, training commitment s that we hope to have in Bucharest. So I think
we all have the same ambitions here, which is to use the opportunity of the summit sitting with
Karzai, sitting with Ban Ki Moon and sitting with all the partners and heads of state and
government to pause, look at how we're doing and set a strong course for the coming period. Now
that we have a new Australian Government this is an opportunity for that government to put its mark
on the strategy with us.

TONY JONES: Australia's in a rather unique situation here, isn't it? It's the largest non NATO
troop deployment in Afghanistan and yet, it has not until now been inside the NATO tent where
strategy is made, and I think that was the shock that the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister
had. That whilst they were part of this big operation, they weren't contributing to any ideas on
how it went ahead?

VICTORIA NULAND: You know, I think that's an overstatement. We have consulted actively with
Australia from the beginning and we certainly do in US Australian channels and that works very
well. If I could put it a different way, as I said, I think that as we head into 2008 and as we
seek to strengthen security in Afghanistan and strengthen security in Afghanistan and strengthen
the ISAF mission so that we can prepare for elections next year in Afghanistan, it's a good time
for all of us to improve the strategy. To polish it and to ensure that we're not just talking about
what we do militarily. We are combining the military line with development, with governance, which
as you know is new for NATO. It's not new for Australia. But you are, in fact, as a partner
contributing to the development of this common comprehensive approach and we value that very much.

TONY JONES: Indeed, but Mr Rudd gave an example yesterday. He said for example Australian troops
might be sent into a difficult area to clean it out of Taliban fighters, then they leave and
nothing happens on the ground in terms of civilian aid and reconstruction to secure the area in a
civilian sense for proper governance. So inevitably the Taliban come back and the problem exists
again and as he puts it, it's like being on a merry go ground. Is that the sort of area you'd want
to see changed significantly?

VICTORIA NULAND: I think we share the view that as we clear, we also have to be prepared to hold
and then to build. This is the same experience that the US and Australia have had in Iraq and if
you are going to have that effect, you have to plan from the very beginning before military
operations start after we clear, who is going to come and hold, and have we worked with the
district heads, with the tribunal chiefs to ensure that we are developing in a way that meets the
needs of the population? So that their quality of life is better after we have cleared the area
than it was when they were being intimidated and dominated by the Taliban. So that is what we are
working on as NATO in Oruzgan province where Australia leads with the Dutch forces and the US is
also present. Australia's largely in a combat role and then the US and Dutch development and
governance workers come in behind. But yes, we are looking to strengthen that comprehensive
approach. But I don't think it's fair to say that in Oruzgan we have not had significant successes.
Clearing areas, holding areas and then beginning development. I do think, though, we're going to
need more police, we're going to need more development support going far.

TONY JONES: Would you like to see more Australian troops?

VICTORIA NULAND: Again, the contribution that Australia makes is absolutely phenomenal in
Afghanistan. You are the largest non NATO troop contributor. Your forces are terrific. Your
trainers are terrific. In Bucharest we have, as you know from Washington, been asking particularly
all our NATO allies as we strengthen our own contribution, to dig deep and do as much more as they
can. We look forward to celebrating the Australian contribution at Bucharest and frankly, making
sure that all of our European allies appreciate how much you are doing. Not only for after, but to
support this alliance that as you have said, you're a partner of, but not a member of.

TONY JONES: Ambassador, we can see why you're a career diplomat. Obviously the way you put things,
but on another front on which the Australians believe the strategy is failing is the war on the
opium trade, which is actually the trade itself helps to fund the insurgency. Yet this has not been
a priority for NATO strategy at all. Why is that?

VICTORIA NULAND: Tony, again I think one of the frustrations that you all may be all feeling is
that the NATO alliance is a political military organisation, it does not as such, have a
development arm or a counter narcotics arm. So NATO can, as you say, clear and hold, but we have to
depend on the nations, the United Nations, the EU to do the building. So as we look at narcotics,
what we are seeing in Afghanistan is that the situation on the narcotics front is improving where
security is strong.

Essentially in the northern half of the country, and frankly in the east now where the United
States has doubled its commitment both in terms of combat power and in terms of development and
counter narcotics work and put it together. But the majority of the opium is now in the south and
it's in the most insecure areas Helmand Province, Oruzgan province, so going forward we have to do
a better job. The NATO and partner, the ISAF security mission, combining the security we provide
with efforts to offer farmers alternatives, efforts to ensure drug king pins are arrested, locked
up, stay in jail. So this is the comprehensive approach that we have to apply. We recently put some
US DEA guys into the PRT in Oruzgan so that we can help strengthen our combined US, Dutch
Australian effort in the counter narcotics area, but we have to do better along these lines,
particularly in the south of Afghanistan. But it starts with security, which is why the Australian
contribution to security is so important.

TONY JONES: All right, we spoke recently to the executive director of the United Nations' Office on
Drugs and Crime, Antonia Maria Costa. I'm sure you're aware of his concerns. He's been calling on
NATO to take the problem much more seriously, to take out heroin labs, the trafficking convoys and
the war lords who are behind all of that. When will that start to happen, do you believe?

VICTORIA NULAND: About nine months ago the NATO secretary general and the supreme allied commander
of NATO joined by the NAC and partners sent an instruction to ISAF to maximise the contribution
that it makes to helping the Afghans both on the interdiction side, helping to share intelligence,
provide support to the Afghans as they go to make cases and arrests against drug king pins. But
also to support the Afghan counter narcotic forces when they go in to make busts, when they go in
to eradicate. But frankly, it is the job of the Afghans to lead in this area. It is NATO's job to
support and it is the nations of the international community's job to provide the money for the
Afghan effort. But we do not see NATO soldiers pulling poppy out of the grown. We need to be
providing the security so that the Afghans can do that job.

TONY JONES: Okay, what about the job of finding and destroying the heroin labs which are operating
now and which are producing funds for the Taliban who are fighting our own forces? And what about
the interdiction of the convoys, you talked about the arrest of the warlords, but what about
isolating and finding all of those people and catching them, because we must know where they are?

VICTORIA NULAND: What this new order allows us to do is work more intensively to share
intelligence. ISAF intelligence with the Afghans to support them as they plan these kinds of raids
and interdiction operations that you're talking about. When we have the means to help them get
where they need to go, provide outer ring security. So I think NATO is playing a stronger role, but
the nations have to play a stronger role in enabling the Afghans to do the job. I would say in
regard to Mr Kostya we are also working hard with the UN urging it to open more offices in the
south and east of Afghanistan where we need the most help from the UN along these lines, as well.
And we are grateful that Ban Ki Moon is coming to Bucharest and that's something that we can talk
about at the summit.

TONY JONES: That's all we have time for now Ambassador Nuland, but we do thank you very much for
taking the time out of what is a very busy schedule ahead of this summit, to come and talk to us
tonight. Thank you.

VICTORIA NULAND: Thank you Tony, and we look forward to seeing Prime Minister Rudd at Bucharest. It
sends a great signal to the Afghans and to the global community.

TONY JONES: Thanks indeed.