The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 2, 2008

Press Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on President's Schedule in Romania
JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel
Bucharest, Romania

11:50 P.M. (Local)

MR. JOHNDROE: Good evening. Thank you all for waiting. Obviously the leaders' dinner ran long. We have a senior administration official to do a briefing on background.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There were a couple things going on tonight, actually. There was a leaders' meeting over dinner, and then a subsequent discussion. There was a meeting over dinner of foreign ministers. There was also a separate meeting of defense ministers. And in some sense, they were talking about the same core subjects, taking a little bit of different take on them in some ways. Also the formats of the meeting I think were different and it's important to get a sense of it.

The purpose of the leaders' meeting is to have a small session with just the leaders of the 26 countries, and Secretary General, and a plus one in the back row. And the purpose is so that the leaders can talk among themselves on issues that tonight were confined really to Afghanistan and enlargement.

Now, these are issues that will be on the formal agenda tomorrow at the NATO meeting, the NATO summit, at heads of state and government level. And it will be tomorrow that formal decisions are taken. The purpose of this meeting tonight was so that people could express their views in a candid way, have a little bit of a back-and-forth, and in some sense, get the lay of the land a little bit before the formal proceedings tomorrow and formal decisions are taken tomorrow. And again, the focus was on enlargement and Afghanistan. And I'll talk a little bit about what those conversations were like and where the issues stand at this point.

Separately there is a foreign ministers meeting on -- that was, I believe, foreign ministers only. And they also covered the issue of enlargement and had a very spirited discussion, a lot -- probably a lot more back-and-forth than you had probably at the leaders' meeting. The format of the leaders' meeting was an opening statement by Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Secretary General, and then President Basescu was host, and then literally going in a pre-agreed order so that each of the 26 leaders has an opportunity to speak. Not as much back-and-forth permitted in the format as was in the foreign ministers' meeting, and that resulted in a fairly spirited discussion.

In terms of the leaders' meeting, in terms of enlargement, I think there -- again, there was no decisions taken, nor no formal consensus reached. I think, though, the discussions will make the discussions tomorrow more productive and more focused.

A couple things that were -- came through fairly clearly tonight. One is that everybody has agreed to support what has been NATO policy for several years now, which is the open door policy. That is to say that European countries that are pursuing democratic reforms, have the aspiration for membership in NATO, and that are willing and capable of making contributions to security should have the opportunity to become NATO members. Clearly, reaffirmation of the importance of the open door policy, which has been, as I say, NATO policy for a good 10 years or more now.

Secondly, I think one of the things that emerged from the discussion was a commitment to the democratic future of the aspirant countries and those countries seeking MAP and those countries seeking Intensified Dialogue -- and I'll get to those each in turn -- and that the importance for their democratic future, the importance for them to have a role in transatlantic institutions, that it is important for their development and it is also important for the future development of Europe.

Third thing that became clear was the importance of the Membership Action Program, this sort of sequence that states go through in terms of first being a member of the Partnership for Peace, then graduating into Intensified Dialogue, then graduating into the Membership Action Program -- that a number of countries who have been through that program and are now members of NATO emphasized how that program was essential to giving them both the incentives and the pressure to make the necessary reforms at home both to enhance political democracy, reform their economies, and reform their militaries.

It is the fact that they have a clear prospect of moving to membership, but also a clear program that is laid out of things they have to do, and pretty clear NATO pressure for them to do them that enable them and empower them to make the reforms that they knew they had to do, but did not have the sort of political will internally to do. So I think one of things that was emphasized was the importance of MAP in this process of encouraging reform.

The discussion was very serious. It took a lot of time. People got into a good discussion of their various issues. I think one other thing that was emphasized is that decisions on membership in NATO are -- or, again, the decisions for countries to enter in these various phases are decisions for NATO to make in consultation with the aspirant countries. They are not decisions that are subject to the views or the influence of countries that are not members of NATO.

No decision was reached. I think there will be a good discussion tomorrow. I think on the issue of the three countries that are seeking membership at this point in time -- Croatia, Albania and Macedonia -- there's a clear consensus that on the merits, all three should be members. I think that was clear. Again, there will be further discussion and formal decision tomorrow. As you know, with respect to Macedonia, there is an issue as to the name that it would be received in -- under which it would be received in NATO. This is an issue with one ally in particular, but I think what's interesting is that most every country believes that is the only issue with respect to Macedonia.

The other piece is the -- support the issue of Intensified Dialogue. As you know, Serbia -- sorry -- Montenegro has asked for an Intensified Dialogue, as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is, of course, the second step, from Partnership for Peace to Intensified Dialogue. And it was, I think, widely supported that they should be accepted. There's clearly broad support for that, and I'd expect you'd see that decision tomorrow -- and also that the door should remain open to Serbia. And it should be clear to Serbia that they have been in Partnership for Peace and that NATO extends them an Intensified Dialogue as soon as they step forward and say they want it. Countries were very strong on the need to keep open for Serbia the prospect of becoming a part of European and transatlantic institutions.

In terms of the issue of MAP, again that was discussed at great length, and clearly a sense, as I said, that the open door needs to be -- remain open; that people are very concerned of the importance of continuing the democratic progress that is being made in Ukraine and Georgia. It is important for their futures. It is important for Europe's future, if Europe is going to complete the architecture being of whole, free and at peace.

Again, the issue of exactly how to proceed on that decision was not resolved. A lot of good discussion tonight; I think a lot of people will think overnight and there will be an opportunity for those dialogues that occurred among the leaders' meeting and the foreign ministers' meeting to, if you will, converge a little bit overnight. And I think that discussion will continue tomorrow.

Good and extensive discussion on Afghanistan. Again, this is a discussion that began tonight. It will go into a formal presentation and decision phase tomorrow. I think we got a pretty good preview of what's coming tomorrow. One of the things that was interesting was, as opposed to the last time the leaders all got together on this issue, there was a real consensus that Afghanistan is an essential commitment for the Alliance; that as President Sarkozy has said, NATO cannot afford to fail in Afghanistan, not only because it would be a blow to the NATO Alliance, but it would be a threat to the security of all the countries of NATO.

So there was a, I think, a renewed commitment to the mission. There were also a number of countries who made very clear that they are going to increase their own contribution, whether in terms of military forces, in terms of training forces, in terms of further funds for reconstruction, further commitment on the civilian side. No attempt tonight to sort of rack and stack. Those countries I think will make formal presentations tomorrow, but pretty clear that they're going to be new contributions to the effort, and that they will be not insignificant contributions at this point.

A lot of emphasis on the need for publics to have a better understanding of the importance of the mission and what NATO's strategy is for accomplishing that mission, and the need for some kind of statement that would be issued to publics. Interestingly enough, a statement is in the works and it will be reviewed by heads of state and government tomorrow. Also emphasis on the need for integration of security, political and economic, and reconstruction efforts. The sort of shorthand was, you can't have democracy without security, but in the long run, you can't have security without democracy, economics and reconstruction, and the notion that we need to have an integrated strategy that pulls together and integrates those assets -- again, something that NATO is working on and that we'll be reviewed by heads of state and government tomorrow.

So, all in all, a good discussion, a lot on the table, I think preparing a good way for what tomorrow I think will be a successful day. I think you're going to see progress on Afghanistan along the lines I've described. I think you're going to see progress on the issue of enlargement along the lines I've described. And something that they didn't talk a lot about but which there is a lot on, as well, is enhancing NATO's capabilities to meet the 21st century demand, talking about the way ahead on missile defense, on cyber-security, on enhancing capacity and coordination among special forces, a number of other things.

So I think we're headed for a good day.

Q You talked about getting a pretty good preview of Afghanistan. Didn't you have a very good preview of where the MAP program is going to go for Georgia and Ukraine?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think there's a lot of thinking that's going to be done overnight on that. I don't -- as I sit here, I think it will be a, as I say, a very good opening discussion. I think people will do a lot of thinking overnight and I think we'll have a good further discussion on it tomorrow.

Q And at the end of the day tomorrow, do you expect that there will be a MAP program for those two countries?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that there will be a sense that NATO needs to keep the door open to membership; that the future role of those countries in NATO is a terribly important decision; that their future lies with democratic reform and being part of Western institutions. The question will be, well, how does MAP, when, fit into that vision? And that's the issue that still needs to be worked out.

So I think a lot of principles have been agreed. I think at this point we don't quite know the issue of sort of timing and modalities at this point.

Q Some of the European diplomats were saying precisely that, on the issue of timing, suggesting that maybe you would want to commit NATO to offering MAP to those two countries a year from now.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think there are going to be a lot of issues, a lot of ideas --

Q Would you favor that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- floating around. I think where we had left it is, as you would expect, for the President to be very clear that his position is, these countries need to see their future in NATO. The best way to do that is to get them into the MAP program because of the effects that it has, and that, as he made very clearly, his view -- he thinks we ought to take that decision here soon and get it underway.

So that's the President's view. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of discussing tonight about issues and possible ways ahead. And I think the leaders will reengage on this issue tomorrow.

Q Still seems like that you're pushing really hard for the MAP process to be awarded to these countries, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of give publicly in some of the statements that are coming out and the reports that are coming out. Is this going to be a -- are you setting yourself up for any kind of a defeat here with the Russians?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think the -- one of the things on the Russians, one of the things that was interesting in this meeting is there's concern that this would be viewed as an issue by many in the media that this was somehow influenced by Russia's positions. And it was interesting that the large number of heads of state and government tonight went out of their way to make clear that this is a decision that is going to be made in NATO, and pointed out, some of them quite persuasively, that there have been objections from outside countries to NATO enlargement all the way along, from the beginning to the early 1990s when this began -- objections about the first traunch with -- Czech Republic, objections about the Baltics, objections about Romania and Bulgaria. And NATO has consistently taken the decision that the leaders of the Alliance felt were in the interest.

So I think one of the things that came out pretty clearly is that this will be a decision taken by NATO for the right reasons. And we think that is important, because our concern would be that if this was, by appearance or fact, a suggestion that countries outside of NATO had a veto, that would, of course, raise real questions about the open door. And of course, the cornerstone of the discussion tonight is the open door needs to remain open.

I think it's not a question of defeat. I think for the -- I think the question will be if the Alliance can come together and show that the door remains open and can show that the process of new members coming into NATO continues, that will be a success. I think it is important that we deal with this issue and get an outcome on the issue of MAP. The President has made very clear what he thinks that outcome should be, and that it's important for those countries in the future of NATO to be clear, and offer them a clear prospect forward in their aspiration for membership.

Q I saw some reports that France is not going to offer a thousand troops, as has been reported, for Afghanistan, a thousand additional; the U.S. might be upping their commitment there to fill in the gap somehow.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a lot going on -- as I said, a number of -- a large number of countries indicated they were going to do more, but it wasn't -- this is not the formal time to say, I'm doing this -- these numbers on this date. That is what we will hear tomorrow. And I think when it's all said and done, it will be a useful contribution to enhancing our capabilities there.

So I think you should -- let's wait until tomorrow when formal presentations are made. I don't take much from what was said tonight because, again, countries were indicating the direction rather than the specifics.

Q Well, when did the increase from 3,200 Marines go to 3,500? And does that have any connection to these issues?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it doesn't. And those -- that's the sort of process we've now been -- when that decision was made and announced some couple months ago, those were preliminary estimates -- sort of 2,200 in terms of a combat view, and another thousand or so in terms of training, which is how we first got 3,200. Then as you move closer to the actual deployment and they crunch the numbers, the numbers have a way of tending to creep up rather than down.

Those deployments now have actually started. So orders have been cut; we actually know almost down to the man or woman who's leaving. And the latest assessment is it's probably going to come in about 3,500. Again, even now I can't give you the exact number. But as you move closer to the actual deployment, the numbers get refined. So it's a function of sizing the force and making sure that all the pieces that go with it are in the package. And it's that kind of fine-tuning close to the day of deployment that occurred, rather than any kind of change to reflect a reaction to announcements made by other countries or anything else.

MR. JOHNDROE: Last one.

Q President Bush was talking all day about how he thought NATO membership should be offered to Ukraine and -- I'm sorry -- Membership Action Plan to NATO [sic] and Ukraine now --

Q Ukraine and Georgia.

Q Ukraine and Georgia, thank you -- it's getting late.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And, you know, a lot of countries tonight said the same thing.

Q But who said no? I mean, we know who's been saying no publically, but who took on the President tonight? Obviously someone did.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The issue is -- I think the debate is really, do we do it now? That I think is most -- do you do it now in Bucharest at this meeting, or are there other ways that indicate clearly a prospect of these countries for becoming part of this process of moving towards membership.

Q So someone else is arguing, let's wait a little while?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because everybody -- I think you will see tomorrow that everybody is agreed that the door needs to be open to membership for states; that NATO needs to be welcome of the aspirations of these countries for membership. And even some of the countries that raised questions about timing would start out by indicating their own views about the progress that these countries have made, and the need for them to be offered a clear prospect for participation in these Western institutions -- and particularly security -- and a prospect, a way forward in that direction --

Q Was Germany one of the --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So it's not a question -- the other thing, I think, is, it is not the date where people are -- let me kind of put it this way. The President has been very clear what he thinks the right outcome is. A lot of other countries were clear on what they thought the outcome was, and a lot of them have the same view of the President, with equal conviction.

I think this was more a debate within mostly European countries about those who thought, on the one hand, it was terribly important to encourage the reform process within Georgia and Ukraine by saying that they should move to MAP now, and other countries that were concerned about whether, in their view, they were at the point -- they, these two countries -- were at the point where that was the logical next step, or whether they needed additional time to reform their institutions and to get greater clarity among their populations as to support for NATO, and to resolve some of the issues involved with their neighbors or with internal ethnic groups.

And interesting -- in that debate, again, which was mostly among the European countries themselves, a number of countries would say, look, we'd like -- we would like to see more progress on those things before we give them MAP. And on the other hand, European countries, some of whom have been through the PFP, Intensified Dialogue, MAP and membership process, would come back and they would say, well, you know, when we started, the level of support was low because we had not explained it to our people, and because people don't want to say they want something if they don't think they can get it.

So there are understandable reasons why, at this point in the time popular support might be low. Other countries would talk about -- one in particular, which I won't identify -- said, you know, he said, I understand this business about wanting to see more progress and reform, but for my country, this leader said, before we got MAP, we weren't making any progress on reform. And it was only when we had MAP, when we had the prospect of moving toward membership, when we had a plan, a set of commitments we were asked to commit to, and someone leaning over our back to make sure we met them, that's when our reform process stepped -- went forward.

So these European countries would say to the first group of European countries, if you think these problems need to be addressed, the best way to get them addressed is to get them in the MAP.

So I think in a way -- the President went early, he laid out his position early. It didn't surprise anybody because he's been very clear on it all along. And the debate was mostly from then on among Europeans. And it was quite split, and it split in a good way -- that is to say, a very vigorous discussion, countries sharing their experience and the diverse points of view, and I thought it was a terrific conversation in the end.

Thank you. Okay.

END 12:17 A.M. (Local)

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