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31 March 2004

NATO's Defense Role, Operation by Consensus Remain Same

Senior administration official briefs on NATO issues March 31

NATO will continue to operate by consensus, not majority vote, despite its enlarged membership, a senior Bush administration official stated during a background briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center March 31.

The official also said the role of NATO continues to be the defense of its members. The principal security threat is no longer the Soviet Union, however, but "this nexus of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction which has drawn sustenance from dictatorships, from failed states, from radical ideology," he said, pointing to the terrorist attacks in New York and Madrid, and the recent foiled effort in London.

In response to a reporter's question on the potential of NATO becoming more involved in Iraq, perhaps by taking over command of the Polish-led division there, he said, "That's something that we need to think more about. We need the NATO military authorities to give their advice. We need to take a decision collectively at NATO with all the allies as to whether we want to do this or not."

He noted that a U.N. reauthorization resolution and a request from the new Iraqi government, after sovereignty is handed over to it at the end of June, would be welcomed by the alliance members.

Asked about a possible role for NATO in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the official said the absence of a peacekeeping force is not the problem there nor would the presence of one solve the problem. "If we were at a stage where there is a settlement or there is an agreement of some kind ... then we could look at the question, 'what kind of support would that require and would a NATO role be appropriate,'" he said. "But I think talking about that now is trying to answer the wrong question and putting the wrong issue forward."

The official also said the United States is strongly supportive of the idea of niche capabilities -- the development of specialized forces -- in the alliance's member states. Under it, countries would develop specialties, such as airlift capability or aerial surveillance, so that NATO operations could be undertaken more efficiently and with greater flexibility.

Following is the transcript of the briefing:

(begin transcript)

Foreign Press Center Briefing With Senior Administration Official
Topic: Accession of Seven New Nations and Other NATO Issues
The Washington Foreign Press Center, Washington, D.C.
2:15 P.M. EST, Tuesday, March 30, 2004

COL. MACHAMER: Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. We're pleased to have you for a briefing on "Accession of Seven New Nations and Other NATO Issues."

As a reminder, this briefing is on background, so any remarks should be attributed to a Senior Administration Official.

Tape recorders are allowed, but those are for notes only.

And with that, I'd like to welcome our senior administration official.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much. Yesterday, we had a historic day at the White House. I think you're all very familiar with the event. It was the date on which the seven countries that had been invited to join NATO at the Prague Summit deposited their "instruments of accession" in United States.

At the repository, according to the NATO Treaty, they deposit the instruments here, and together with them, we decided to organize a ceremony to mark that historic event. The instruments themselves were deposited with Secretary Powell before a luncheon in the Department of Treasury building, and then the prime ministers of the seven countries, the new members of NATO, came over to the White House for a meeting with President Bush. They were joined by the prime ministers of the three countries that are part of NATO's membership action plan. They aspire to join NATO at some point in the future. Those are Albania, Macedonia and Croatia, and they're also joined by the Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

They had a meeting with the President in the White House, and then went out to the South Lawn of the White House where we had a very large crowd. I'm told that the Secret Service estimates about 4,800 cleared security for the lawn, which is a rather large event for the White House. And if you consider the number of people who were coming from the delegations, as well, it probably pushes the number close to 5,000, so a very large event on a very nice day.

The President gave remarks, as you have all seen. The prime ministers were there with him on stage. And after that, there were a number of other celebrations in Washington, and some of you may have been invited to some of those.

Secretary Rumsfeld gave remarks at a ceremony or a reception in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which took place in the evening; and then most of the prime ministers are on their way today.

I want to say two points about this issue that I think are important to understand, particularly, abroad. One of them is that the events that we saw today were the culmination of a lot of effort over a long period of time. And, first and foremost, they were the culmination of the effort of the countries concerned, that these nations, again, with the fall of communism, took their future in their own hands, strengthened democracy, strengthened economic institutions, made their market economies, set their course to becoming a part of NATO and eventually becoming a part of the EU. And we acted to support those efforts, but it was really the efforts of the countries concerned that matter; we strongly, strongly support those effort.

It also naturally required leadership on this side as well. And I want to recall for all of you the President's speech in Warsaw in June of 2001, where, at a time when people were scratching their heads and wondering, "Well, what will happen at the Prague Summit? And will NATO enlarge?" And the President said that all of Europe's democracies from the Baltic to the Black Sea should have the same chance to secure their freedom -- and I'm paraphrasing, these are not the right words, you can find them -- the same chance for freedom that all democracies have had. And so we set that goal very high, and said we should do everything we can, not to see how little we can get away with, but to do as much as we can to advance the call to freedom, and that was the impetus for the big enlargement of NATO that we saw come to fruition yesterday. And so I think the President's leadership on this has been important over a sustained period of time, going back to 2001.

And I also want to highlight that, among the people in the audience yesterday, were former Secretary of State Albright, former National Security Advisor Berger, and to [highlight] the vote in the Unites States Senate on May 8th of 2003, to approve, or to ratify -- in fact, giving its advice and consent is the right word -- the Senate giving its advice and consent to the ratification of the protocols to the NATO treaty passed 96-0; a unanimous recorded vote in the Senate, and that is also a remarkable thing.

So it is a combination of strong presidential leadership, but also strong bipartisan support in this country for NATO and for the enlargement of NATO.

I'm going to stop there. I know there are other issues that are going to be on your minds, but maybe in the question and answer we can do that.

COL. MACHAMER: Just as a reminder, please make sure to wait for the microphone, and identify yourself and news organization when asking a question. And we'll start in the third row.

QUESTION: My name is Reha Atasagan with the Turkish Public Television. With the changing and security environment, can you define the role and mission of NATO, and is it efficient-oriented to cope with the fight against terrorism, and how it will serve on demand pay basis, like, you know, NATO will be providing security in the Olympics.

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. The role of NATO is very much the same as it has always been, which is the defense of its members, and what we have to look at when we make that statement is: What does that mean in 2004, compared to what that meant in 1949?

And we're looking at a NATO now of 26 members, that extends over vast territory in Europe, to the Black Sea, to the Baltic. We're looking at the principal threats to the security of NATO members not being the Soviet Union, which is gone, and not being even Russia. That's not the threat. The threat is this nexus of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, which has drawn sustenance from dictatorships, from failed states, from radical ideology, and has launched attacks in New York, in Madrid, the failed effort in London today, and what we see is that there are serious threats to our security after the end of the Cold War, and that there is a role for transatlantic community, the United States and Europe, to stick together and figure out how to deal with these.

This is a complex set of threats. NATO and military response is not the only answer, but it's part of the answer, and what we see today is that NATO is more active and engaged in more things than any time in its history. And I started dealing with NATO issues in 1988, before the Berlin Wall fell. There were no NATO operations. There were exercises, there was force planning, there was preparedness, but there were no NATO operations anywhere.

If you look around today, NATO still is running the operation in Kosovo, for peacekeeping there, still running the operation in Bosnia for peacekeeping there -- we hope to hand that over to the European Union this year -- has started and ended a peacekeeping operation in Macedonia. It is conducting maritime monitoring and challenging of vessels for counterterrorism purposes in the Mediterranean -- that's called Operation Active Endeavor -- is running the peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, ISAF, under NATO command, and is providing support to the Polish division in Iraq, which is part of the multinational forces there.

So there is an awful lot that NATO is doing now that it wasn't doing during the Cold War. And what is the future of this, in looking at the threats that we've defined?

I think the future is more and more that we expect NATO to play a large role, not the only role, not by itself, also the U.S. nationally, the European Union. We are working towards a G-8 summit later this year that will deal with a lot of the political and economic long-term issues concerning the nexus of threats that I addressed, and how we can develop a positive agenda for dealing with them, but I see a lot of hard work for NATO ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. But the policy is depending on defense, right? Defending the members, whereas, fighting with terrorism, doesn't it, you know, require offensive policy?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not sure I would put it in those terms. I think dealing with terrorism requires a lot of things. You asked about the Olympics. Well, thinking back to the Prague summit, one of the things that we had to do when NATO leaders met in Prague was to put in place an air cap over the Prague summit, so that any stray aircraft that might have aimed themselves at the summit could be either diverted away or shot down, if necessary. And that requires command and control, and it requires aircraft, and it requires communications, and these are the kind of things that NATO was able to provide for that operation. The U.S. did that. We did that with NATO together.

Let's look ahead to the Greek Olympics. There's a lot of security measure that need to be taken to help provide security for that large an event, and I know the Greek Government is working very hard on that. But it is partly, in some respects, a military challenge, partly intelligence, partly police. They overlap a lot of areas. But there is a military role in this.

So there is a proactive role for defense. I think where your question might be leading is a question of preemption, or, you know, targeting or an aggressive role. I think in a organization that runs by consensus, where it requires the agreement of all the members of NATO to take on any operation, just as a practical matter, it's hard to be on the aggressive like that. But I think the recognition of the challenges that we face, the determination to face them, and putting in place proactive measure to deal with them is quite feasible.

COL. MACHAMER: Up front.

QUESTION: Michael Backfisch, Germany's Business Daily, Handelsblatt. With Iraq being the central stage of the war against terror, as the President has said, what about the NATO role in Iraq? Mr. Rumsfeld said he's open for that. Could you depict a little bit which options are thinkable for the Administration, and also do you see a role possibly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. Let's take NATO-Iraq first. Let's start without NATO in Iraq, for a moment, and say: What do we have today?

We have a large number of nations participating with military forces in a multinational operation to provide peace and security in Iraq to the extent we can give the Iraqis space to build a free society and democracy, and we are providing security support for that.

In order to continue that beyond June 30th, when sovereignty is handed back to a government in Iraq, the majority of the countries involved currently have said we would welcome a new UN Security Council resolution. We know we will need the approval of the new Iraqi government, a sovereign government, to be here. So we would like to see a new resolution, a request from the Iraqi government. We think those are reasonable requests, things that we would expect too. And if you look at the question then: Well, what would you need to have a NATO role in Iraq? Well, you would need the same thing. So we're headed that direction. UN reauthorization, because there's a current authorization already under 1511, but a lot of our allies have said that they would like a reauthorization and a request from a sovereign Iraqi government.

Now, then you look at the question: What would NATO do if they were playing a larger, more direct role in Iraq? And there is a lot of thinking going on. We don't have a single firm answer to that question yet. What we are looking at most closely is a question that the Polish Government and the former Spanish Government raised some time ago, back in February, of would NATO be in a position to take over the Polish-led division in Iraq. And that's something that we need to think more about.

We need NATO military authorities to give their advice. We need to take a decision collectively with NATO, with all the allies, as to whether we want to do this or not. But when you look at the practicalities, we can see a lot of advantages to that. It provides a strong political footing for all the NATO allies to participate, if they wish. It provides an ability to generate forces so that you can sustain this division over time, because troops will rotate in, troops will rotate out, and managing a multinational division with a lot of countries participating is something that NATO has experience with.

So it's something that we're interested in, and we'd like to see it play out. But there's a little bit of ways to go from here to there, and some questions to answer about how that would be done.

QUESTION: A follow-up here. (Inaudible.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. I would put that one in a separate category because when we look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the first thing that strikes you is that the absence of a peacekeeping force is not the problem, so that if you were to say, "Okay, I'll put in a peacekeeping force," would the problem be solved? No. And what we have done instead is to engage, very energetically, in fact -- I can talk about (inaudible)?

QUESTION: Yes.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. The Deputy National Security Advisor is en route to Israel, again today, for further meetings with the Israelis. Keeping ourselves engaged with the discussions and with the process there, we recognize that that is an issue that requires active engagement, and that's what we're doing.

I don't think that a NATO peacekeeping role or not is the answer to that. If we're at a stage where there is a settlement, or there is an agreement of some kind, [or that] we've found the Palestinian interlocutor who's willing to work for peace, then we could look at the question: What kind of support would that require, and would a NATO role be appropriate?

But I think talking about that now is, first off, trying to answer the wrong question, putting the wrong issue forward.

QUESTION: My name is Andrei Sitov with the Russian News Agency ITAR TASS here, and obviously I will be asking about Russia and the CFE asked -- I know the official answer to that, of course, the CFE is not ratified, is not enforced and it will not be until Russia fulfills its own obligations in Moldova and Georgia.

My question is about modality and explanation for that answer because I think we do not really understand that. First, is the U.S. interested in the treaty, adapted treaty, being ratified and being enforced, and for the new members of NATO to be part of that treaty

Secondly, why is it necessary to try to -- with Russian presence in Moldova and Georgia, because Moldova and Georgia does not present a threat. It's a logistics problem, the way the Russians explain it. And we know that when Russians were moving their troops out of Germany, it did create a lot of logistics problems. So it's a legitimate concern. So why do you need to (inaudible) at all?

And last, but certainly not least, when the whole point of the Russian concern is not the treaty itself, but the forces, the Russians want assurances, I understand, maybe in the treaty form, maybe in some other form, that there will be no conventional forces buildup in the new NATO states, which is up to NATO to decide whether there will be or not, although if you could comment.

But my question to you is: You said Russia is not a threat. If you bring new aircraft to the Baltics, for instance, and if you do not preclude future buildups of forces there, whom would they guard against?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, that's a number of questions wrapped up into one. Let me start with a general statement that we strongly support good relations between NATO and Russia. It was President Bush who reinvigorated the NATO-Russia relationship by supporting the creation of a NATO-Russia Council in Practica Di Mare, Italy, in 2002. We, as the U.S., have been an activist within NATO saying, "Let's do more. Let's see how we can work with Russia." Part of this is the recognition that the threats that I talked about, things that we see and the challenges that face our societies face Russia. We know that, and we have every reason to be working together.

Now there are -- that's the general orientation. I don't want that to be lost, as I answer some of these other questions.

I think one thing we can't minimize is the importance of the commitments that Russia made about withdrawal of its forces from the Caucasus states that we're talking about. We had a long series of discussions. We had negotiations. We had an agreement called, "The Istanbul Commitment," that said Russia will do this, this and this. And the principle behind this is also important because states that don't want foreign forces on their territory shouldn't have foreign forces on their territory, and this is a matter then to be addressed. To gloss over that and say, "Well, let's just go ahead anyway with the adapted CFE Treaty," would miss an important point, for that reason.

Now, that said, we see value in the adapted CFE Treaty, and we are prepared to stick with our commitments concerning that. Concerning the Baltic States, and those countries who are joining NATO, which are joining NATO, that are not part of the CFE Treaty, it's, in the first instance, their sovereign decision what they will do. We'll not going to tell them, "You must do this." And those countries have all said that they intend to join the CFE Treaty at a time when they can do so. And they can't do so until the adapted CFE Treaty is in effect, and that won't happen until Russia meets its Istanbul Commitment. So that's the reason these issues are linked.

And he raised another question about, "Does Russia perceive threat from NATO members on its borders?" And this is a little digression, and I apologize. But I went to a ceremony this morning at the Estonian Embassy, where the Government of the United States today returned to the Government of Estonia, the military decorations of General Johan Laidoner. Laidoner was the commander-in-chief of the Estonian armed forces at the time of the Soviet invasion in June 1940, and he was taken away. He died in captivity in the Soviet Union. And the chief of army intelligence of Estonia, at the time, gathered up his military decorations and smuggled them out to Sweden, and then smuggled them to the United States; and then, today, with a sovereign Estonian Government, we return to these decorations. I think it's a great historic event and puts into perspective the kind of thing that happened yesterday on the South Lawn.

Now I bring up that story because for me to hear that kind of story and that kind of history, and then to think of Russia being concerned about Estonia being a member of NATO, you know, this is for the Estonians and for people who have observed this from the other side, the kind of thing that is just about preserving the freedom they have. And I don't think Russia has any problem with that. And so there is no reason to feel any concern that Estonia is now a member of NATO.

And I would likewise add that every NATO country had -- every former NATO country, until yesterday, the 19 -- had some means of air defense, some means of policing its own airspace, so that if there are intrusions into its air space it is knowledgeable about them and can respond in some way. That's something that every country, I think, would find natural to be able to do. It's certainly something that Russia would insist on, quite rightly, to be able to patrol its own air space. And because there were no aircraft able to do that in the Baltic states as these countries joined, in order to maintain the same level of security that every NATO country enjoys, NATO took a decision that there would be a small deployment of a handful of aircraft to Lithuania -- six of them, I think, six or four -- to be able to monitor and patrol air space. And these are not flying out of Baltic air space, but to monitor and protect inside of Baltic air space.

So as long as there are no challenges to Baltic air space, there's no problem. And I honestly -- I understand the sensitivities in the Russian side, but I think from a factual matter, a level of concern, I think we need to leave the perceptions of confrontation behind and instead work together.

And that takes me back to the first point I made, that this is not the issue. You know, aircraft in the Baltic states, Baltic air space, that was the issue of 1940 and the issue of the Cold War. It's not the issue today. And the issue today is: How do we and NATO and Russia engage together to deal with the challenges that have?

COL. MACHAMER: Front row, on the end.

QUESTION: Thank you. Nadia Steranova of Bulgarian Television.

One of the things which new NATO members are expected to contribute to NATO, including Bulgaria, is providing special operation forces. Is it kind of specialization for those countries; in other words, because they are not a source of special military equipment, are they seen like a source of special operation forces?

And I have a second question, please. Is there a foreseen probability the consensus decision-making process in NATO which takes place now eventually to be replaced with a decision-making process based on majority?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The last question first. No. Consensus, consensus, consensus. You can't have countries take decisions about their own security that they're not taking themselves. You just can't have it. So consensus rules there.

Concerning specialization and special forces, let's separate the two things, but they are related. Special forces refers to highly trained, highly capable small units and military forces that tend to be more lethal, more aggressive, more stealthy. Some of the operations that we're engaged in, in Afghanistan, for example, that's what we need; then talk about specialization of forces, the idea of niche capabilities, something that developed in the lead-up to the Prague summit and has continued on since then, and we strongly support.

The idea there, and I'm going to quote the former Secretary General of NATO Lord Robertson, who said that, you know, in a Europe that has 2 million men under arms, it's a challenge every day to keep 40,000 deployed in the Balkans; and then when you draw on top of that Afghanistan and Iraq and the other demands on forces -- Congo, Sierra Leone -- it's very, very hard.

And what's the problem? The problem is all countries in NATO, but to varying degrees, some better than others, I think you would have to admit, I think, the British are at the top of the list in terms of getting virtually all of their forces deployable -- we're obviously very high on the list -- other countries have a very difficult time deploying and sustaining forces at great distance, and yet they have large force structures. So the question is: How do you develop forces that can be sent a long way, be able to fight or to do whatever they're doing, peacekeeping, stay there for a sustained period of time?

That takes a different kind of development of force structure. It's costly and it means paring back some of the things that countries have traditionally done. The idea of large conscript forces for territorial defense is out the window really. It's not necessary for Western Europe and Central Europe. So when you look at how do you develop these deployable forces, you also start realizing that, well, not every country can do everything. In fact, there are very few countries in the world that can do everything and have a large and usable set of deployable military forces.

So it makes sense for countries that are part of an alliance like NATO, working together, to do some role specialization, see who can do what well, what kind of forces are we most likely to need so that we can plug in together and plug into larger operations. And those kind of forces are sometimes special forces, and you mentioned Bulgaria. I know Lithuania, for example, has developed its special forces, Norway has, as well. But then you also look at other things and say, well, airlift capability, and [it's] very, very important. Few countries have it, certainly don't have enough of it within NATO as a whole -- air-to-air refueling capability, aerial surveillance, something we don't have enough of. So you can identify a lot of roles that if a country said, well, we recognize that we can't do everything. We have to cut because we're under tight budgetary pressure anyway, but we need to develop forces that we can deploy and are going to be usable in the kind of challenges that we really will face in the future, then some kind of specialization along these lines and in these kinds of areas is important.

QUESTION: (Off mike) -- specialized in this line?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We support the idea of some specialization development, what we call niche capabilities, that for countries to have things that they're particularly good at and able to use is a help to all the allies.

COL. MACHAMER: Right behind her.

QUESTION: I'm Patrick Jarreau, the French daily Le Monde.

As you know, ten countries, including some of these, will be joining the European Union on the 1st of May. What is the thinking now of the U.S. Administration about the so-called European Defense Identity, the idea of a European component of NATO? And both on the strategic level and on the industrial level, how is that you are viewing the idea that this gathering could help the strengthening of European defense industry?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to keep going back in history. But one of the first visits that President Bush had when he became President -- it was actually Camp David rather than at the White House - was with Prime Minister Blair of Britain. And Prime Minister Blair and President Bush issued a statement about ESDI, which was -- and I've been following these issues a long time and I was in Brussels at the time working there -- I thought one of the most forward-leaning statements of policy on ESDI from any U.S. administration because it said we will support it, we're not afraid of Europe developing greater defense capabilities. And what we want is for these capabilities to be fully transparent and coordinated with NATO so that one doesn't undercut the other in any way. There's a lot of words that have always been thrown around about "complementarity" or mutually reinforcing, but that's the idea. So not an EU force that is a separatist idea, but an EU capability that reinforces the common capability, is a good idea.

And the Administration was very diligent about pursuing this policy over time, and the so-called -- I'm getting really into the weeds here -- something called the Berlin Plus arrangements which refers to a ministerial that NATO held in 1996 in Berlin where we talked about ESDI and the need to move forward, and then at the Washington Summit in 1999 we got a little bit more specific and so that added specificity was called Berlin Plus. And it involved an arrangement between NATO and the EU, how we would work together to support EU-led military operations, and this meant things like the role of the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, who is a European, as a strategic commander for European-led operations. Talked about the availability of assets and capabilities, the presumed availability of assets and capabilities of NATO to supporting an EU-led operation.

So if NATO has AWACS aircraft and the EU says we could use those, presumed availability that NATO would make them available. Assured access to defense planning at NATO, which means that if the EU needs to run an operation, it can turn to NATO and say "Can you help us with the defense planning for that operation?"

This set of arrangements got hung up for a couple of years, over a variety of concerns, particularly participation concerns involving Turkey and other non-NATO members in EU-led operations. The United States played a large role in working with Turkey and working with the UK, which was representing the EU in these discussions, about how to bridge these gaps so that we could really get this done. And we reached an agreement on Berlin Plus, so that there is a way forward, a roadmap for how NATO and the EU can work together. We're trying to use that roadmap this summer, and as we move into the fall, because we are aiming to hand over the NATO-led operation in Bosnia, S-4, to an EU-led force in Bosnia, and we want to use these Berlin Plus arrangements to do that.

Now beyond Berlin Plus, there have been other things put on the table more recently that seem to, to be perfectly frank, go beyond where we were with Berlin Plus -- the idea of an EU operational headquarters, the idea of a standing EU operational headquarters, EU doing defense planning outside of cooperation in NATO as defined in Berlin Plus, and we've also accommodated ourselves to that. And I think this was in the news last winter. But we have some concerns about what I started out saying, the idea of a separatist EU defense capability, that pulls apart the European side of NATO and the American side of NATO. Nobody wants that.

So we've got to be careful about the structures that we create. But that said, an EU capability that is reinforcing, and that can take on certain things, we definitely support.

COL. MACHAMER: Second row.

QUESTION: Slobodan Pavlovic with Serbian B.K. television. Since yesterday, there are some political leaders in Belgrade who are expressing very serious concern regarding the enlargement of NATO. They say basically that Serbia now is encircled by a group of full members like Slovenia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Greece, and by the potential members, like Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia.

I wonder, what would be your message for the Serbian people, having in mind their fears, as they explain it in Belgrade, as I said, since yesterday, that there are some very serious reasons for concern: Number one, there are nearly 20,000 NATO soldiers in Serbia, as we know, Kosovo is a part -- still part of Serbia; and number two, Serbia and Montenegro is, beside Bosnia and Lithuania, the only European country not engaged in PFP program, not to mention NATO alliance.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I guess the first thing I would say is that Switzerland is surrounded by NATO countries, as well. To answer the substantive points that you're addressing though, I think, first off, the presence of NATO forces in Kosovo is there to maintain peace in Kosovo. And as we saw in the last few weeks, that's a tenuous situation, and we need to keep at it. We're there and we're talking with the Government of Serbia, and we are trying to figure out: How do we do the best we can to protect the Serb minorities in Kosovo, to protect Albanians in Kosovo and to have a secure enough environment that the political process can move on from there?

When you look at the fact, it's true, yeah, all these countries around Serbia are joining NATO or want to join NATO. If I were a democratic country in the center of Europe, center of the Balkans, I wouldn't be too worried about that. NATO is an alliance of democracies, an alliance of values. It is not aggressive. It is a defense alliance. And I don't think Serbia has much to worry as long as it sees itself in that role. And I think the majority of the Serb people do.

The question about PFP is an interesting one because there have been a lot of, while you say, on the one hand, surrounded by NATO, on the other hand, a lot of interest expressed by Serbia about joining the Partnership for Peace, which I think is a more logical conclusion from the facts on the ground than feeling threatened. And the issue of Serb membership, Serbian membership in the Partnership for Peace is really hung up on a few things that we would like to see addressed. I think most important of these is the apprehension of war criminals and full cooperation with the ICTY.

There are other factors as well. And there is a sense that Serbia is making progress in political democracy and market economy, cooperation with the international community, supporting the process in Bosnia, and those things are better and better. I'd say that the return of some more nationalist parties to the government in Serbia has given us pause, but at the same time people have to be judged on what they do, what they do now.

And so far, I think the Serbian Government has shown some will to continue to try to address the issues that I just mentioned, with the exception of war criminals, and I think that is one that is particularly important to be addressed. And I think we would like to see Serbia and Montenegro as a part of PFP and to join the process that all of the other countries in the region are trying to join.

COL. MACHAMER: How are we for time? We still okay?

Okay, in the center.

QUESTION: Hi, Natasha Briski, Slovenia TV. Referring to remarks by the President yesterday upon joining of the seven members, he yesterday said that the people of these nations were a part when NATO was founded, part of the empire. Since Slovenia was never part of the Soviet bloc, I am wondering do you have any comment on that?

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you know whom he was referring to. I wouldn't be so worried about parsing words. I think, you know, it's a statement that, you know, the Baltic states were incorporated into the Soviet Union, that Bulgaria, Slovakia were part of the Warsaw Pact. So I don't see anything wrong with that.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia and it wasn't part of the Warsaw Pact, and yes, that's right.

QUESTION: So Warsaw Pact was this empire?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What he's saying is that the Soviet Union and the imposition of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly states of the Warsaw Pact, was the imposition of an empire, and that imposition was lifted with the fall of the Berlin Wall and with the revolutions in each of these countries to establish free societies. And I don't think there's anything wrong with saying that.

COL. MACHAMER: Okay, two behind her. That'll be the last question.

QUESTION: Jyri Raivio, Helsingin Sanomat, Finland. Would it be desirable for NATO or for non-NATO EU countries to join, and when do you expect this to happen?

And another small thing, in addition to what my friend Andrei asked. Here, in January, I think it was, it was after Secretary Powell's visit to Moscow, when a named high government official, Ms. Jones, said that NATO enlargement is not at all a problem for Russia. Russia was concerned about this, this American bases in -- on the southern flank of Russia, but not at all NATO enlargement.

These noises that we have heard from Moscow these past few days, are they a big surprise to you?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Concerning the membership of the four European former neutrals that have -- I don't know if they still call themselves neutrals or not -- but it's up to them. I mean, NATO's door is open. As we've always said ever since the enlargement process started, more countries can join NATO. They need to want to do that, then NATO will then need to take a decision about admitting them.

And as for the timing of that, it's really, you know, you say you're from Finland, and I'd look to the Government of Finland to say what they have in mind.

In terms of Russia, I think what Beth was getting at was the sense that the real issues that Russia is going to be concerned about for security are not issues concerning the Baltic states, as we were saying. The real issues are in the south and some of -- you know, the Russians worry a lot about Chechnya. We don't like the way they have handled that, but they have some legitimate concerns as well. They're worried about the Caucasus. They're worried about Central Asia. And so the issues there are real security issues that need to be addressed.

I think, in terms of characterizing whether Russia is worried about the Baltics or Russia is worried about U.S. bases in Central Asia, I think you have to let the Russians speak for themselves as to what they feel concerned about. My perception is that it hasn't been a high level of concern about either one, to be honest.

COL. MACHAMER: Okay. Thank you very much.

(end transcript)