Home International Rasmussen highlights Afghan, Russian, Mediterranean ties

Rasmussen highlights Afghan, Russian, Mediterranean ties


Brussels: Operations in Afghanistan and relations with Russia and the states of the Mediterranean will be NATO’s top priorities over the next four years, the alliance’s new secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday.

“I want to see NATO reach its full potential as a pillar of global security,” Rasmussen told journalists at his first press conference in his new role.

His task over the next four years will be to chair NATO meetings and summits and coordinate debates and decisions among member states.

And top of the priority list will be NATO efforts to stabilise Afghanistan by teaching the country’s security forces to defeat extremists.

“Success would be to transfer the responsibility for security to the Afghans themselves: this is the ultimate goal,” Rasmussen said.

That will only come about if NATO stays in the country for the long term, he said. Public support for the Afghan mission in some alliance states is falling sharply following a surge in casualties over recent months.

“We will support the Afghan people for as long as it takes: let me repeat that, for as long as it takes,” Rasmussen said.

The second priority will be to improve cooperation on security issues with Russia, one year after NATO’s giant neighbour went to war with NATO hopeful Georgia.

“There will be fundamental areas on which we disagree, (but) we cannot let those areas of disagreement poison the whole relationship … I consider it a very important challenge to convince the Russian people and leadership that NATO is really not an enemy,” he said.

NATO froze ties with Russia after the war, but re-started formal cooperation in the spring. The sides remain at odds over issues such as NATO enlargement and missile defence.

Rasmussen stressed that he had no intention of backing away from an agreement NATO leaders, including himself, reached last year to make Georgia and Ukraine members of the alliance when they are ready, and to reform their forces along NATO lines in the mean time.

It was the “right approach to pursue this pragmatic approach”, he said.

The Dane’s third priority is to improve relations with the countries around the Mediterranean and Middle East, and especially in the Muslim world.

“Let me assure the governments and people (in NATO partner states in the region) that I am fully committed to building stronger relations with them on the basis of mutual respect, understanding and trust,” Rasmussen said.

NATO has invited Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to work more closely with it on security in two groups known as the Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

Rasmussen, who was Denmark’s prime minister in 2005 when a series of cartoons in a Copenhagen newspaper with caricatures of the prophet Mohammed outraged Muslim public opinion, has already invited the ambassadors of the 11 countries for talks on future cooperation.

The cartoons controversy is “an element of the past”, he stressed, saying that he was looking forward to working with Muslim leaders in Afghanistan, in particular.

The Danish politician also confirmed that he had appointed former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright to lead a group of political and diplomatic experts in debating a new security strategy for NATO to guide its planning over the next decade.

And Rasmussen said that he wanted to see NATO scale back its Kosovo peacekeeping force, KFOR, by the end of his tenure, set up a permanent anti-piracy force in the Gulf of Aden and improve cooperation with the European Union.

To that end, among his very first diplomatic efforts will be a visit to Turkey and Greece, whose row over Cyprus has long poisoned NATO-EU cooperation.

Earlier on Monday, NATO welcomed its 12th secretary general as Denmark’s former prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen arrived for his first day in the organisation’s top job.