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 Home > News & Policies > November 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 21, 2002

Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on the President's NATO Meetings
Prague Hilton
Prague, Czech Republic

5:25 P.M. (Local)

Q Sir, there is a small but meaningful discrepancy between the English and French versions of the NATO statement on Iraq. The French version suggests -- says that the U.N. resolution warned Iraq of the grave consequences it would face if it continues to fail to meet its obligations. The English version is obviously much more assertive, it talks about as a result of its continued violation of its obligations. Is that a meaningful discrepancy, and if so, what does it mean?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, thank you. It's not a meaningful discrepancy. Let me tell you how we arrived at this statement on Iraq. We've been talking at NATO for six months about Iraq. Rich Armitage, our Deputy Secretary of State, gave a top secret briefing to the NATO Alliance about Iraq and WMD. Secretary Rumsfeld, in June; Secretary Rumsfeld in September also gave highly classified intelligence briefings to the Alliance, as did John McLaughlin, our Deputy CIA Director. So we've had a long discussion.

We all knew in the Alliance that at this summit that the issue of Iraq would be a test of Alliance unity, and we've talked for a couple of months in the Alliance privately about how we should face it. Two days ago the U.S. tabled in Brussels this -- a draft text, and within 18 hours we had agreement on that text. That's warp speed; if you know anything about how NATO works, sometimes it's at a very glacial pace.

We negotiated this text in English. We have two official languages in NATO, English and French. It was negotiated in English, all of the French speakers at the table saw it in English, worked on it in English, and agreed to it in English, then a French translation is made.

So it is true that both texts are operative because in NATO, always both English and French texts are operative. But I would draw your attention to the English text as the document which was actually negotiated. It was also read out today to the heads in English, if that answers your question.

Q The French are objecting to December 8th as a possible trigger for war. Do you see December 8th as a trigger for war?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This question came up yesterday, and a senior administration official suggested that December 8th was not a trigger; December 8th was an important date, but the senior administration official said that some of the journalists were asking a hypothetical squared -- that is a hypothetical American response to a hypothetical Iraqi response on December 8th. And that was just too much for the senior administration official to handle, so he decided not to. That remains the case. It is a hypothetical.

Q Sir, you said that Iraq was a test of NATO unity, and I suspect that you would say NATO passed the test today in agreeing with the U.N. resolution. But the bigger test looms, which is NATO stepping up to the plate and providing capabilities for a possible conflict. What can you tell us about that? How confident does the President leave that he would have NATO folks stepping up to the plate should bullets start to fly?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Bob, I think you know, and you've read NATO documents in the past -- everything being relative, I think this is a very strong -- a very strong -- statement. We work at 19 -- there are 19 countries, and we operate by consensus, as my colleague said in her briefing. And so it's often very difficult sometimes even to get sentences that you can actually understand in the English language they're so convoluted.

In my experience as Ambassador over the past 15 months, this is a clear, strong statement. And what it means is that the 19 NATO countries have not only associated themselves in full agreement with the U.N. Security Council, I think in many ways -- because we are a military alliance -- the statement today from the NATO allies is very strong. Their message to Saddam Hussein is unmistakably clear that the NATO allies are prepared to take effective action to support the implementation of that resolution.

We consider it strong. As the leaders went around the table today -- and they had an opportunity to do this in the morning session -- after they had their public session on enlargement, the press left and there was a two and a half, three-hour discussion about the future of NATO, about NATO's military transformation. But a lot of this discussion focused on Iraq. And there was also a lunch conversation among the leaders on Iraq. And I would say without any exception, unstinting support for the diplomatic path the United States has taken for the resolution, but also for the thought that diplomacy has to be backed up by the threat of force and by the fact that countries are willing to do what's right. And I felt that sense of urgency in the room today.

Obviously, we're not speaking for all countries individually in saying this, but as this Alliance goes, I think this Alliance is focused on the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and, more broadly, in the world.

Q If I can just follow, your interpretation of this statement is that NATO now stands as one with President Bush on this ultimatum and the consequences that will flow if the ultimatum is not met?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is no question about it that the NATO Alliance stands with President Bush and the United States in what we have said in the primacy of the U.N. Security Council resolution and the importance of it, but also in the importance of sending a clear, strong message from a military alliance about this problem of disarmament in Iraq; no question at all, in my mind.

Q Would you clarify the use of the terminology, NATO allies stand united, instead of the NATO Alliance stands united? Does that reflect the fact that, as you say, that all 19 members support a tough position -- but the German Foreign Minister is walking around the hall today saying that Germany doesn't support a military action against Iraq under any circumstances, and therefore, wouldn't participate in it -- and therefore, does this small word change indicate that this will be an ad hoc alliance should there be NATO support for military action in Iraq?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I would just take you, Pat, into the very first statement of the sentence: We, the 19 heads of state and government of NATO -- and they met as NATO today, and the NATO emblem was behind them. And then the last paragraph, "NATO allies" -- we are all allies in NATO, but I think it's unmistakable. I don't see the difference between the first sentence and the first reference to NATO and NATO allies. I think it's indistinguishable, myself.

Q And the distinction with Germany's position is how does the Alliance -- how do you characterize unity, total unity with Germany's position?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, obviously, it is no question that some countries in the Alliance have a different view about aspects of this and others; there's no question, based on their public statements, even in campaigns. But what's significant about this statement is that a country like Germany, the United States, and all of the other countries in between, agreed that NATO ought to take effective action to assist and support the efforts of the U.N., full and immediate compliance, without conditions or restrictions.

That's -- in diplomacy, that's strong language. And so I think there is a willingness and an interest among the 19 allies to send this kind of strong message.

Again, most of the conversation today in one way or another revolved around the following theme, that in the past, for most of our history, all the threats to NATO came from within Europe. Now all the threats we can think of come from outside Europe. And so NATO has to pivot. It has to turn and has to be willing to go out and meet those threats. And so the conversation revolved around the kind of military capabilities you need to do that, the U.S. idea of a response force, which was agreed to today -- and that was a proposal that President Bush made two months ago at the Warsaw Conference -- and I think a very strong sense that this is a new problem, that these we have all faced serious threats to our security before, this is a new kind of threat and we've got to face it and present a united and strong front. And that's what this statement represents to me as a diplomat.

If I was reading this as a diplomat and someone else had produced it, this is a strong statement. And so we wrote it with that intention. There was very little editing as these things go. I introduced this statement on Tuesday afternoon, and by Wednesday morning we had it done, with a minimal amount of editing. So there wasn't jockeying for position. People weren't ducking for cover behind artful phrases, and we were very gratified by that.

Q Could you give us a bit of an historic perspective on the options that have either been available to NATO or used by NATO that fall under the heading of effective action?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think as my colleague said, we are on a diplomatic path. The President challenged the U.N. September 12th. We have succeeded in the U.N. in producing the kind of action we wanted, the inspectors are there. And so we did not go to the NATO allies today with a long list of requirements for military action, because that's not where we are diplomatically. But it's very much true that behind diplomacy has to be credibility, and that is military strength and the political will to use that military strength if necessary. And that's, I think, the real meaning of effective action in this document.

Q Would you comment put on your NSC hat. How helpful is it to have the most populous nation in Europe with this sort of nascent and certainly not historical pacifism?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As with my with an NSC hat or any other hat, I'm very gratified by Germany's having signed up to this statement quickly and doing so, frankly, without dragging its claws or being pushed. This was -- I was gratified, is to put it very mildly, at the speed with which all 19 allies accepted this statement. I have -- I did not get the sense at any point during this brief period where this draft was out on the table that Germany's position or any other ally's position was at such variance that a consensus would not be possible. It became very clear that a consensus was possible.

Germany's position is well-known. And far be it from me to predict the future, but this statement is a very strong basis on which to proceed, however we have to proceed.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Could I just I know you all probably want to write your stories, but a lot else happened today, too. We're happy to answer any questions on the Iraq statement. But I just want to, in a very abbreviated fashion, say I think this was the most historic NATO summit since 1949, because NATO is we essentially have been reconstructing the old NATO and building a new one, and we're in an entirely new strategic environment. And so that aspect of transformation.

All of the initiatives that the U.S. put on the table today for a response force, for command structure review, for new military capabilities, is critical to NATO's future. And I also thought that the enlargement decision I don't know if you listened to the Latvian President. She gave a remarkably strong and passionate speech. And a lot of people have been questioning NATO's relevance. I know Secretary Powell likes to say it's hard to close the doors on a club when everyone is knocking on the door to get in. You saw seven heads of government, especially the Latvian President, I think, articulate for all of them why it's so important that this military and political organization not only continue, but continue to be America's most important military alliance.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To that, I would also like to add how struck I was how struck we all were -- listening to the discussion around the room. Leader after leader today said that NATO enlargement gives us the Europe whole, free and at peace that we've been dreaming of. But there are new threats in the world and NATO has to turn to these threats and we need the capabilities now to turn to these threats.

And then the new, the invited members, said we need to contribute to this; we cannot simply sit in our own happy condition and not contribute to the Alliance. It was a remarkable and, at times, quite moving demonstration of allied unity that came together today.

Q If I can follow on what you said, we are NATO is a military alliance and you say it's stronger with the enlargement. Given that we have some metropolitan police departments with more helicopters than the military in some of these countries we just took in, how is the Alliance stronger militarily because of this enlargement? Is it just the location of the countries?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I visited each of these nine countries twice this year with an American delegation. We had 80 meetings with the governmental leadership. We looked very carefully into their military capabilities. We're adding about 46 million people to the Alliance today in these nine countries -- in these seven countries, excuse me.

Some of these countries are very effective militarily; I'll give you an example. Romania lifted its own mechanized battalion into the combat operation in Afghanistan in July. Romania did, in lifting its troops to Afghanistan, what a lot of our current allies cannot do. If you look at Romania and Bulgaria, who are both in Afghanistan, as well as in the Balkans, look at the very small countries of the Baltics who, eight years ago, formed a Baltic Battalion that has been serving with us in Bosnia and Kosovo.

What has always mattered in NATO, because Iceland and Luxembourg are charter members from 1949 -- Iceland doesn't have a military, and Luxembourg's is about 1,500 people -- is not the size, but political will and whether you're willing to defend each other and operate when the chips are down.

And what really strikes, I think, both of us -- and we've been working on this a long time through two administrations on this issue -- is that these countries are formed by their experience of having to live under totalitarianism. The Balts were occupied republics of the Soviet Union, and they took their place in NATO today. And these other countries were members of the Warsaw Pact. Two of the people at the table today actually closed the doors on the Warsaw Pact 10 years ago -- Vaclav Havel and President Iliescu of Romania.

So some of them are very capable militarily. Some of them are very small and won't add a lot of military umph, but everybody plays a role and everybody has a niche capability to offer. That Baltic battalion is going to go to Afghanistan, and it's been in the Balkans, and we do appreciate that.

And I think it's also -- the political dimension to this is, we're filling a security vacuum in Central Europe and we're widening the circle of democracies to create what my colleague has talked about -- a strategic ambition of President George H.W. Bush -- a Europe whole, free and at peace. President Clinton and now President Bush, all of the three American Presidents have had this vision, and now President George W. Bush has achieved it with his NATO allies. That's a fairly important, in diplomatic terms, historic accomplishment for our President.

I think back to his speech in Warsaw in June of 2001. He led the Alliance in arguing for a large enlargement, the largest we've ever had. And he drove that decision home personally over the last year and a half. And so I think he deserves a lot of credit personally for what happened today.

Q You've been very open about efforts to enlist the 19 NATO members. You are also very open about efforts to enlist the 15 members of the Security Council, everybody from France to Syria. Why, then, the secrecy over this 50 or 52-list country that you're now reaching out to for additional support against Iraq? Why not just disclose that list?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don't know about the secrecy, but it's usually a better idea when you're discussing issues of military contributions not to do so completely publicly. We have -- to be credible, the diplomatic track that we're now on requires us to be prepared in the event other means prove necessary. That is going to require planning. We would not want to get to the end of the road, whenever or however that may be, if it comes, and wake up and find that no planning has been done whatsoever.

One might ask a very good question in that event -- who had been asleep? This is planning in advance of need, which is the right thing to do. There is a difference between the kind of military discussions that are going on and the diplomatic discussions through which an international consensus has been developed, and developed rather rapidly.

When I think where we were during the summer holidays on this issue and how far we have come, I am, frankly, fairly staggered at the speed with which the international community has coalesced around the issue. I think I can mention something that President Kwasniewski of Poland said today during one of the discussions -- said, the Iraq problem can be discussed in various ways, and there are various view of what to do, but what cannot be discussed is whether or not it is a problem. It cannot be wished away. We must deal with it; we here at this table.

Now, I don't think that -- that was an articulate expression, but it was hardly an atypical expression. We have moved a very long way, frankly, under the leadership of President Bush, to create and develop an international consensus. And it is, again, most gratifying.

Q Can I ask two questions if that's okay? Firstly, could you give us a little more detail on the meetings tomorrow in Saint Petersburg, particularly with reference to whether or not Mr. Bush sees a role for the U.S. in this notion of a political solution in Chechnya; and also whether or not the question of oil -- a legal framework for U.S. oil companies in Russia and the possible nationalization of the Caspian pipeline -- whether those things will come up tomorrow?

And the second question, if that is okay, is, when NATO invoked Article Five and then was not directly involved in the creation of a coalition to deal with Afghanistan and the pursuit of Al Quaeda, this was thought to undermine the credibility of NATO. At this summit in Prague the Bush administration has launched the creation of a second military coalition while pursuing a political agenda with NATO. Do you think NATO now is a political organization, and that military operations will be conducted by ad hoc coalitions?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: With respect to the first question, President Bush will be meeting President Putin outside of Saint Petersburg tomorrow. I think that is about -- the party will be on the ground only a few hours, so it is a short meeting. And the model I would look at for such meetings is Ljubljana or more Genoa -- the shorter meetings as opposed to the full-up summits in Washington, Crawford and in Moscow last May.

It is always dangerous and, therefore, foolish to predict what topics will or will not come up. But the President has raised in the past Chechnya a number of times with President Putin. They have discussed Georgia and efforts to clean up the Pankisi of terrorist-related elements. The President has said repeatedly that a political solution in Chechnya is necessary. He has also said repeatedly that there is no excuse, there is no justification for terrorism, period, full stop. And terrorism must be condemned, terrorism must be fought.

The President has also discussed American investments in Russia in general, energy investments in particular. In the past, he has discussed CPC as an example of a large, important American investment.

I'm familiar with the issue you cite, but whether or not we will -- it's not a good idea to predict, so I won't do it. With respect to the next question, NATO is a military organization, but I will let my anonymous colleague answer that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. I just wanted to make a brief comment on the last question about why these small countries are so important. The President said something that he he spoke extemporaneously this morning at the table on enlargement, instead of reading his text. And what he said about these seven countries is they will refresh the spirit of the Alliance. And I think that gets to the essence of why these countries are welcome and so important, because they're tough-minded. They've lived in a very bad neighborhood and they've been on the wrong end of justice President Freibergas spoke about that, the Latvian President for about 70 years. And that's why these countries are going to toughen our NATO Alliance and, in essence, bring us back to the core of why we were formed in the first place.

Your question on the relevance of the are we relevant anymore, can NATO ever be a military organization or are we just political -- we have 45,000 NATO troops in the Balkans right now, and those troops 14 months ago stopped a civil war in Macedonia, and three years ago stopped Milosevic's ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and six years ago ended the Bosnian War, which had killed 260,000 people and left 2 million people homeless. That's a fairly significant military contribution to peace in Europe. And NATO remains the most powerful military alliance in the world.

What it is not is a global cop. And in Afghanistan, the President was absolutely right strategically in forming a coalition of countries that included Pakistan and India and Russia and Saudi Arabia, not just the 19 NATO countries, to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda successfully, as we did. And so NATO is not going to be the recipe for every crisis around the world. But the fact that it exists, the fact that we have the military capacity to enforce peace as we did in the Balkans and to keep it, makes us the most significant military organization in the world.

And the President said today in his he said yesterday in his speech to the students and he said again today, NATO is America's most important military alliance. So I think for the future I look at NATO as we have a very heavy military responsibility to play in protecting peace in Europe and going out to meet these new threats, but we're also a political alliance. And so in a wider sense, beyond the 19 members and the seven we take in today, we've got a relationship with Russia and Ukraine, with the Central Asia and Caucasus countries. So from the Western reaches of North America all the way across to the Russian far east, there is one organization that unites all these countries either as allies or partners in a military political sense. You have to have an organization that does it, and that's NATO's role.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: When -- actually, I need to correct a minor detail of what my colleague said. He said that we had worked this issue through two administrations; it's actually been three administrations. And I remember the predictions. To put today's decisions on enlargement in some perspective, I have to recall what the expectations were in 1989 and 1990 during the administration of the first President Bush for this region.

It was widely assumed by pundits, academics, thinkers and most agencies of the United States government, that democracy in this part of the world would fail and probably fail spectacularly and, in any event, very quickly. Most analysts gave it six months. And if it didn't end in collapse and chaos, there would surely be an explosion of nationalism and a return to the relations that this countries had the last time they were independent and fully sovereign, which was the 1930s -- not a happy picture.

Yugoslavia is, of course, the case where everything did go wrong. Everywhere else, things went right. There are a series of dogs that did not bark in this part of the world, conflicts that did not happen, animosities that did not resurface.

This was not chance; it happened because the people who assumed power after the democratic revolutions in 1989 had a sense of their moral obligations not to repeat the past, and it also happened because NATO, under the leadership of the United States and working with other allies opened the doors to a Europe whole, free, and at peace. And that was probably the most stabilizing outside influence over this region during the past dozen years.

That has been an historic success. Europe whole, free and at peace went from an idea and a slogan that many people dismissed in 1989 and 1990 to something we're beginning to see emerge before our eyes. In a historical blink of a time, I had forgotten that Havel and Iliescu were present when the Warsaw Pact formally disbanded in this city. And they were present today. It is an historical triumph for common ideals, and it's also a testament to the steadiness of an American vision of -- that has lasted through three Presidents.

And at this moment, the discussion today at NATO was only partly about this achievement, but also and at least half about the new challenges that we face.

It's been a very good day.

END 5:53 P.M. (Local)