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Transcript of joint press conference with the Secretary General of NATO: Brussels: 4 October 2010: Afghanistan; NATO

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The Hon Julia Gillard, MP

04 October 2010

Prime Minister

Secretary General of NATO, Mr Anders Fough Rasmussen

Transcript of joint press conference


Subject(s): Afghanistan; NATO

SECRETARY GENERAL RASMUSSEN: Good morning. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Gillard today. Welcome to NATO Headquarters.

As the largest non-NATO contributor of troops in Afghanistan, and indeed one of the largest contributors overall, Australia remains an important partner in our joint endeavour and I'm glad to have the opportunity to thank you for the commitment and bravery of Australian troops and civilians deployed there.

We share a common view that the mission in Afghanistan is vital for our own security interests. We face global threats to our security, as the tragic events in London, Madrid and Bali have shown us. These threats require a concerted and collective response.

This means helping the Afghans to develop the capacity to run their own affairs.

Australia's recent commitment to train Afghans sends exactly the right message and Australia's contribution of $150 million to the Afghan Army Trust Fund, making it the leading contributor, is highly welcome.

We appreciate Australian achievements in Uruzgan. The efforts of your soldiers and civilians have delivered very real improvement to the people there.

This morning the Prime Minister and I also discussed the central element of NATO's new Strategic Concept; a concept which we intend to adopt at our Summit in Lisbon in November.

A key element of this concept will be a refreshed approach to NATO's partners and it's my hope that the Strategic Concept will open the door more widely to partnership

between NATO and countries around the globe, and I hope that Australia, if it so chooses, will have the opportunity to deepen its relationship with NATO in the future.

Thank you.

PM: Thank you very much, and can I thank the Secretary General for meeting with me this morning and also for those words.

We do share a determination and a commitment in Afghanistan. I was able, this morning, to brief the Secretary General on what I learned in my very recent visit to Afghanistan, and first and foremost what I would say is progress is being made. Progress is being made in training the Afghan National Army. That is what our soldiers are working on. We are engaged in a mission to train soldiers for the Afghan National Army in Uruzgan province, and progress is being made.

Progress is also being made in our aid and reconstruction work through our Provincial Reconstruction Task Force. I had the opportunity, when I was in Afghanistan, not only to meet with our very brave soldiers, but also to meet with personnel from AusAID, from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Federal Police officers. They are

working there on education, on health, on governance, and our Australian Federal Police officers are engaged in training of local police, so progress is being made.

This was an important opportunity to discuss Afghanistan in the lead-up to the Lisbon Summit. We are obviously determined to see through our mission there, our mission of training the Afghan National Army in Uruzgan province.

Can I also welcome the words of the Secretary General on the Strategic Concept that NATO is developing. Obviously, as a non-NATO country but a very significant contributor to the work in Afghanistan, Australia has been keen to ensure that we are included in all discussions of the strategy in Afghanistan. Obviously that has sparked discussion about structures and ways of engagement in the future. Australia would be looking towards having the ability to engage with NATO in a flexible way over time, and this is being debated through and discussed in the NATO Strategic Concept, so I thank the Secretary General as well for our discussions on that topic today.

Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Hi, just a question to both of you - Philip Williams from ABC TV. There is obviously progress being made. You've outlined some of it, but also lives are being lost. It's run for nine years. There is no known end to this conflict. How long do you think the

Australian people and the other countries involved will have the political will to continue in what seems to be an endless conflict?

PM: Well, I can answer that first, given it's one of our Australian friends that I've brought with me who's asked the question.

Firstly, of course, the strategy in Afghanistan is a strategy to transition to Afghan leadership in the provision of security. That's why we are there training soldiers in the Afghan National Army, and in the province in which we work that training is showing dividends. It's showing dividends in the security environment.

What we've always said to the Australian people remains our position, which is: we will be able to transition over time to Afghan leadership of the provision of security. So, we look forward to that transition, which of course will be conditions-based.

When I've been asked for a time estimate - 'how long do we imagine that that task will take' - the estimate is between two to four years, so we are very clear on what the mission is; very clear on what success looks like as we see Afghan leadership of the Security Forces, the Afghan National Army and of course, the Afghan Police; and very clear on how that progress will roll out over time.

S.G. RASMUSSEN: Our presence in Afghanistan will not be endless. However, I will not fix an exit date. The whole process must, as the Prime Minister just said, be condition-based, but I can provide you with a roadmap.

I hope our Summit in November will announce that a transition to lead Afghan responsibility is about to start at the beginning of 2011, and at the latest by July 2011. At the same time, we will endorse President Karzai's ambition that Afghan Security Forces should be able to take lead responsibility all over Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

This is a clear road map endorsed by the international community at the Kabul Conference in July. That's our goal, but of course the whole process of gradual transition to lead Afghan responsibility must be condition-based. We will make sure that the Afghans are actually capable to take responsibility and to that end we need to train and educate Afghan soldiers and Afghan police and this the reason why it's so important that our training mission is fully resourced.

In conclusion, we are making progress in Afghanistan. We see a lot of media reports about increased fighting, but you shouldn't be surprised. We have sent in more soldiers. We are now attacking Taliban strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar, and obviously it gives more fighting, but the fact is that we see progress.

Al-Qaeda has no safe haven anywhere in Afghanistan. The Taliban is under pressure everywhere in Afghanistan, and gradually we will hand over responsibility to the Afghans.

JOURNALIST: Ben Nimmo from the German Press Agency, DPA. For the Prime Minister, on the question of strategic partnerships, from Australia's point of view how regular and structured would you want the partnership to be? Would you want something that goes

beyond ad hoc cooperation on ad hoc issues?

And for the Secretary General, on ISAF, Pakistan has protested vocally against the, what it sees as the incursions across its border on Friday. It has closed down one of the supply routes into Afghanistan and it's asked for an apology, so have you apologized to the Pakistani Foreign Minister this morning and what are you expecting on the supply routes?

Thank you.

PM: Well, for Australia, we would see the engagement being a flexible one. We are obviously not a NATO country, but we are a country that has worked alongside NATO, including obviously now in Afghanistan, so it would be a flexible engagement and we're working through how best that can be achieved.

S.G. RASMUSSEN: This morning I had a meeting with the Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi. We had a good and open discussion. I expressed my regret for the incident last week in which Pakistani soldiers lost their lives, and I expressed my condolences to the families.

Obviously this incident was unintended. Obviously we have to make sure we improve coordination between our militaries and our Pakistani partners. There is a joint investigation on the way, and we will determine what happened and draw the right lessons.

It is important that we step up our cooperation in the border region. We must, together, prevent militants from crossing the border to attack and kill Afghans and international soldiers.

And finally, I expressed my hope that the border will be open for supplies as soon as possible. The Foreign Minister committed work on that, for which I am very grateful.

Thank you.