Transcript of joint press conference with the NATO Secretary General
THU 14 JUNE 2012
PM: Mr Secretary-General, welcome to Parliament House and welcome to Australia.
You’ve come a long we to see us I note and I hope that the warmth of our welcome, perhaps not the Canberra air, but the personal warmth of our welcome means that all of those air miles were worth it.
The relationship between Australia and NATO has been growing stronger and closer in recent years and that in part reflects the work we’ve been doing together in Afghanistan.
It also in part reflects the way in which NATO has rethought its role in contributing to global security beyond the Atlantic and the way in which you’ve embraced new partners as a result.
NATO’s core purpose as a treaty organisation is of course the collective defence of its members but a NATO which looks outwards beyond its borders and which makes a contribution to meet the challenges as diverse as terrorism or piracy off the coast of Somalia or protecting civilians in Libya is a good thing for global security.
It’s something that Australia very much welcomes and which is in our interest.
And as you put it so eloquently in your speech yesterday Mr Secretary-General, the security challenges we face today are complex and they’re unpredictable but one thing is clear.
Wherever we are, we are connected.
Reflecting that closer relationship we have appointed an Ambassador to NATO, our first and we’ve strengthened our military representation at the NATO headquarters.
Today the Secretary-General and I signed a joint declaration on the relationship between NATO and Australia. Now this is a first for NATO.
There is a statement of intent by both parties that we value the partnership between us and we will look for ways to strengthen it.
It’s a statement that’s underpinned by our shared values and our interests in a stable international order and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
A separate partnership and cooperation program will be development under the auspices of this declaration and this will set out current and strengthened areas for cooperation between Australia and NATO.
Now of course Afghanistan will continue to be central to our focus for some time to come – the focus of the partnership between Australia and NATO.
So today we’ve had productive discussions about Afghanistan building on the work that we did together at the recent summit in Chicago.
We’ve agreed that transition is on track for completion by the end 2014.
The Defence Minister and I were pleased to brief the Secretary-General on Australia’s plans in transition in the Uruzgan province where we were and we discussed Afghanistan’s needs after 2014.
Beyond transition in 2014 our mission in Afghanistan will change and evolve.
Afghanistan will have responsibility for its own security.
ISAF will have made a shift from its combat mission but there will be a need to support through a new NATO led mission to train, assist and advise.
As I’ve indicated, Australia will contribute to the training of Afghan security forces after 2014 and we want to work closely with NATO in shaping this future.
Mr Secretary-General, once again you’re very welcome and I look forward to hosting the dinner in your honour later tonight.
SECRETARY-GENERAL: Thank you very much Prime Minister for these kind words.
It is a great pleasure for me for me to visit Australia. Australia is a highly valued partner of NATO.
Australia can seem a long way from Europe especially after 24 hours sitting in an aeroplane – and it’s true that we live on opposite sides of the world but we are on the same sides when it comes to values.
Freedom, democracy, peace and security for our citizens – we share those values and we share the commitment to defend them.
And we can also share the knowledge that security can start far from home.
A conflict or a challenge thousands of miles away can have a direct impact on our lives.
Threats like terrorism, piracy and cyber crime are global and they demand global solutions.
That’s why Australia and NATO are working together to build security and stability in Afghanistan so that it never again becomes a safe haven for terrorist who can plan attacks on our citizens.
Australia is making a vital contribution – you are the partner who provides most truths to our message.
You are playing a leading role in Uruzgan and your servicemen and women are doing a magnificent job.
I know that some of your troops have paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in our mission and I pay the deepest tribute to their courage and their sacrifice and in this regard I am honoured to have been able to lay a wreath at the war memorial today.
We will make sure that we maintain the gains we have achieved with such great investment and resources.
Across the country Afghan troops and Afghan police are taking charge of own security.
By the end of 2014 they will have full responsibility to keep their people secure.
At that time our combat mission will come to an end but we will continue to provide training and funding beyond 2014.
I know that Australia is committed to both and all of us in NATO thank you for your commitment.
But our relationship goes far beyond Afghanistan.
In this globalised world there are other common challenges we face such as terrorism, piracy and cyber terrorism and the more we cooperate to tackle them, the more we will all benefit and that’s why we agree that our forces should keep on training and working together.
So that the lessons of cooperation we learnt in Afghanistan are put to good use and that is why we have both agreed to strengthen and broaden our political dialogue.
So that we can work together to prevent crisis, manage conflicts and keep our populations safe together because global challenges need global solutions and global friends.
NATO is a firm friend of Australia’s and I look forward to making that friendship still stronger in the coming years.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, did you discuss Syria, and do you agree with the Secretary-General’s view that military intervention in Syria would be unwise?
PM: We did discuss Syria and the Secretary-General yesterday explained, I think very well, the obstacles and problems with suggestions about military intervention.
But we do think given the very distressing violence that we are seeing in Syria that the world does have to put pressure on Assad to do what he needs to do and that is comply with the Kofi Annan peace plan.
So we do believe that the time has come for the world to work together on international sanctions to put further pressure on the regime in Syria.
JOURNALIST: And Secretary-General you were very critical yesterday that the United Nations Security Council hadn’t delivered a strong resolution condemning the violence in Syria.
Australia’s seeking a seat on the UN Security Council; Australia’s looking to win a seat on the Security Council with the United Nations.
Is that something that you would welcome, and would you recommend that your members support that bid?
SECRETARY-GENERAL: NATO as an organisation never interferes with the election process when it comes to the UN Security Council.
We of course are very appreciative of all efforts to make the UN Security Council effective in its work, but NATO as an organisation does not comment on or interfere with these election processes.
JOURNALIST: Mr Rasmussen, since you’ve got here to Australia you’ve on a number of occasions expressed confidence that once the NATO mission has ended in Afghanistan the local forces will be able to maintain responsibility for security and that the country implicitly has a future.
Other people are much more pessimistic about the future and suggest that there might be a general collapse within a matter of weeks or months after NATO pulls out of Afghanistan.
Can you just go into a little more detail to explain why, as a person who probably knows more about Afghanistan than anybody else, you are so confident that this transition can actually be made successfully?
SECRETARY-GENERAL: I am confident that the Afghan security forces will be able to take full responsibility for the security by the end of 2014, according to the plan that we have laid out.
I base my optimism on several elements, firstly already now the Afghan security forces have taken the lead in around 40 per cent of our security operations, and they participate in all security operations. That’s the first thing.
Secondly, we have seen how Afghan security forces handle security incidents in a very professional manner.
You will recall that some weeks ago we saw some spectacular enemy attacks in Kabul.
Actually the Afghan security forces handled that situation and turned what was planned to be spectacular attacks into a spectacular failure. So that’s their work in practice.
And finally, some weeks ago I visited Kabul and I had an opportunity to observe Afghan special operation forces in action and I was very impressed by what I saw.
These special operations forces operated very skilfully and in a very professional manner, and based on this I’m confident that they can take good responsibility by the end of 2014.
JOURNALIST: Mr Rasmussen, NATO expended some effort liberating Libyans from the regime of Colonel Gaddafi.
What is your message now to those same people in Libya who are holding a delegation from the International Criminal Court prisoner, including an Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor?
SECRETARY-GENERAL: I strongly regret that certain groups in Libya have arrested and held representatives of the International Criminal Court, and I would urge them to release these individuals as soon as possible.
We have seen that the new authorities in Libya cooperate in a positive manner with the International Criminal Court, and I hope that would also lead to a release of these ICC representatives as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, another Australian injured in Afghanistan today, what do you know of his injuries and what does that say about our continued role?
PM: I don’t want to comment too specifically about this matter.
We’re always very careful to get the details right and often find that the first information that comes through, for good reasons, isn’t the full information. So we’ll release further details as we can.
Generally on, you know, the losses that we have seen in Afghanistan, as a nation we've sacrificed a lot and you've heard the Secretary-General speak about that today in his knowledge around the world.
We've sacrificed a lot in loss of life; we've also seen many soldiers wounded.
We went to Afghanistan though for an important purpose for our nation’s security, making sure that it didn’t become a continuing safe haven for terrorism, and of course we know that terrorists trained in Afghanistan did take Australian lives.
So, when anyone is hurt in Afghanistan, whenever there is bad news, we grieve about the bad news but we stay steadfast in our purpose in Afghanistan.
Thank you very much.