NATO Secretary General Rasmussen discusses missile defence, Afghanistan, enlargement with Bulgarian leaders
24. May 2010. | 09:49
Source: EMGportal, BTA
NATO's missile defence system, Bulgaria's involvement in Allied missions and the Alliance's enlargement to the Western Balkans topped the agenda of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen with Bulgarian officials.
NATO's missile defence system, Bulgaria's involvement in Allied missions and the Alliance's enlargement to the Western Balkans topped the agenda of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen with Bulgarian President and Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Georgi Purvanov, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov, and Defence Minister Anyu Angelov. Rasmussen arrived on a two-day visit on Thursday.
NATO MISSILE DEFENCE
Purvanov confirmed to the guest Bulgaria's principled position that NATO's capability to effectively repel ballistic missile threats must extend to the entire territory of the Alliance. The President stressed that such an approach is consistent with the principle of providing full protection to the Member States in line with the principles of indivisibility of security and of Allied solidarity. The head of State welcomed the opportunity to establish close cooperation between NATO and Russia in this area. He also expressed satisfaction with the new START Treaty signed by the US and Russia and expressed the hope that progress will be achieved on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.
"Building the missile defence system will cost some 200 million euro, which will be shared among the 28 Member States, guaranteeing security to 900 million people," Borissov told a joint news conference after his session with the guest.
Rasmussen confirmed that an effective missile defence system can be developed at a very low price: less than 200 million euro over ten years. The Secretary General argued that an effective defence against a real threat can be obtained at that low price.
He hopes that the NATO Summit in November will decide that missile defence will be an Allied mission and that the Alliance will cooperate with Russia in this respect. As he put it, politically, this will be a clear demonstration that the missile defence system is not targeted against Russia. The first discussion on the issue was held at the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday. Prime Minister Borissov also said that NATO's new strategy seeks to enlist Russia in the missile defence system.
The Bulgarian commitment to the system and its share of the cost will not become clear before November, when the overall missile defence strategy will be discussed, Borissov said. Replying to a question, the PM noted: "I don't know whether anybody imagines NATO being involved in a missile defence system, all Europe being involved, and only we saying 'no, we don't want to be involved.' When you are member of the Euro-Atlantic community, this entails rights as well as obligations."
Angelov told Rasmussen that Bulgaria acknowledges the real threat of medium-range ballistic missiles to the country's territory. That is why missile defence should be defined as part of NATO's new Strategic Concept, pooling the efforts of all Allies. The Defence Minister pledged Bulgaria's active role and contribution to the discussion of the various options for the implementation of the common missile defence.
Asked about the impact on the missile defence system of the signature of the agreement between Iran, Brazil and Turkey on processing uranium into nuclear fuel, Rasmussen commented that the agreement will not affect the missile defence plan.
The Secretary General said that he had discussed with Borissov the NATO Summit in Lisbon, where the Strategic Concept of the Alliance is to be adopted. NATO's main task will remain collective defence of the Allies' territories and population. Territorial defence requires better capacity, and the Alliance should be adapted to the new challenges.
Conferring with Rasmussen, Foreign Minister Mladenov stressed that the Report of the NATO Strategic Concept Expert Group, chaired by Madeleine Albright, reflects the Bulgarian ideas regarding NATO's new Strategic Concept: keeping the fundamental significance of Article 5 (collective defence); treating missile defence as an expression of Article 5 in respect of the new threats; including energy security among the key elements of security.
The Secretary General told the Foreign Minister that the Strategic Concept will keep the security guarantees, including the Europewide missile defence shield.
BULGARIAN PARTICIPATION IN AFGHANISTAN MISSION
From the moment Bulgaria joined NATO, the country has showed strong commitment and clear responsibility and has been contributing substantially to Allied operations, Rasmussen told journalists at the Council of Ministers.
The NATO Secretary General told Borissov that the Bulgarian military are highly appreciated and their contribution to the training of Afghan military and police is welcome. All allies are encouraged to provide more instructors for training missions.
"No one has doubted the good marks that Bulgarian missions have received across the world, the good work of the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry, or the fact that Bulgaria is a mainstay of the Alliance," Borissov said after the meeting.
"Bulgaria will deploy a small number of instructors in Afghanistan and will be in harmony with the Euro-Atlantic partners," Borissov said. In Rasmussen's opinion, Bulgaria can provide artillery instructors and air force experts.
Angelov told Rasmussen that Bulgaria is ready to train and send, by the end of 2010, three additional training and liaison teams, ten instructors and two or three medical teams, or 70 service persons altogether.
At present, some 530 Bulgarian military guard Kabul and Kandahar airfields as part of the NATO-led ISAF mission.
Mladenov stressed the irreversibility of Bulgaria's commitment in Afghanistan. He discussed with Rasmussen the possibility of an increase of the Bulgarian contingent there.
NATO ENARGEMENT IN THE BALKANS
Purvanov and Rasmussen reaffirmed NATO's striving to support every European country which aspires to join the Alliance and meets the criteria of sharing Euro-Atlantic values: freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law and good-neighbourliness.
The two considered the opportunities for strengthening the dialogue between NATO and its neighbouring countries, full-fledged cooperation with the Black Sea states etc.
Borissov and Rasmussen also discussed the situation in the Balkans. The guest said he would like to see all countries in the region as NATO members.
"We must become a region of stability, and this can happen only if all countries join Euro-Atlantic structures," Borissov said.
According to Rasmussen, thanks to its relations with all Balkan states Bulgaria can play a key political role and provide advice within NATO. Regarding Macedonia, the Secretary General said that there is readiness for accession negotiations provided that the dispute over the country's name is satisfactorily settled, but this is above all a bilateral issue between Skopje and Athens. Regarding Serbia, the guest commented that for obvious historical reasons there may be skepticism about relations with NATO. Serbia is a European country, its future is in this community, he added.
Mladenov briefed Rasmussen on his recent tour of the Western Balkans and on Bulgaria's intention to back Bosnia and Herzegoina's next steps regarding a Membership Action Plan. The Foreign Minister also noted this country's fine military technological cooperation with Serbia.
The Secretary General stressed that he thinks about the Western Balkans along the same lines and highly appreciated Bulgaria's commitment to a removal of the obstacles to the region's Euro-Atlantic integration.
At the Borissov-Rasmussen talks, the question about NATO assistance to Bulgaria was raised as well but, as the Bulgarian PM put it, it turned out that NATO's budget was "more axed than ours" and that the financial problems there are rather serious.
Replying to a question, Borissov specified that the assistance in question was 30-40 million US dollars for military airfields, which are allocated in programmes.
For his part, Angelov explained that 30 million euro had been allocated under NATO's Host National Support strategic investment programme for modernization of the Bezmer Air Force Base, but considering the huge insufficiency of funds under that programme, Bulgaria has agreed to a postponement of this project. To make up for it, the country will get an extra 7.5 million euro for completion of the modernization of the Graf Ignatievo Air Force Base and will receive part of an air traffic and air defence control and communication system until 2015, the Defence Minister said.
The Alliance continues to transform itself, and my message is that we must not only press ahead with the transformation but also speed it up, Rasmussen said in a public lecture which he delivered here late Thursday afternoon. The lecture was organized by The Atlantic Club of Bulgaria.
Security in our times is not just for Europe or just inside Europe, our security is no longer determined by geography, the Secretary General said.
Regarding missile threats, Rasmussen referred to statements by Iranian officials according to which the modified Shabah 3 missiles have a range of 2,000 km which, as he put it, makes them capable of reaching Allies like Turkey, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria. He expressed his confidence that the time has come to make missile defence a mission of the Alliance.
Asked about NATO's role for security in the Gulf of Aden, the Secretary General said that the Alliance is already actively committed to the anti-pirate effort and cooperates with the EU and individual nations. This operation will continue, and even though pirate attacks still continue, a lot of success has been achieved in preventing seizures and attacks, the guest said.
"Somali piracy is another very serious problem, and this situation cannot be tolerated any longer," Borissov also said earlier in the day.
Atlantic Club President Solomon Passy proposed to the Secretary General a 14-point concept augmenting the proposals of Albright's expert group.
The lecture was attended, among others, by former Bulgarian Presidents Zhelyu Zhelev and Peter Stoyanov, ex-Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, MPs, government ministers, top brass and diplomats.
"Russia hopes to get clarifications from NATO's leadership about the negotiations with Bulgaria on the deployment of missile defence systems," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference in Rome on Thursday, quoted by the Russian State News and Information Agency RIA Novosti. Regarding Rasmussen's talks in Sofia, Lavrov recalled that everybody agree to discuss with Russia the assessment of security threats. "We are now interested to find out what form of joint work [on missile defence] we are offered," he added.