Remarks After the NATO-Russia Council Meeting

James B. Steinberg
Deputy Secretary of State
Corfu, Greece
June 27, 2009

Date: 06/27/2009 Description: Remarks by Deputy Secretary Steinber after the NATO-Russia Council Meeting in Corfu, Greece. © State Dept Image DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Good evening, everybody. I just want to make a few brief remarks and then I’ll take a couple of questions.

First of all, I want to begin by thanking Prime Minister Karamanlis and the foreign minister for the wonderful hospitality and making this meeting possible in this wonderful site. It’s a pleasure for me to be back in Greece for the second time since the beginning of the Obama Administration. It’s a real reflection of the strong bilateral relationship we have with Greece as well as the important relationship we have here in the two institutions that we’re going to be discussing, both the NATO-Russia Council and the OSCE. I also want to express the United States’s appreciation to the NATO secretary general as he comes to the end of his term. He’s been a tremendous leader and a great friend of the United States, and we’re grateful for his efforts.

I think the meeting today, the informal meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, was a very important meeting. Secretary Clinton herself is very personally committed to this and played a major role in helping to make sure that this meeting took place. And it reflects our strong belief and the importance of both resuming and revitalizing the NATO-Russia Council.

As you know, today was not a decisional meeting. It was an informal discussion. But I think it was an opportunity, at a very important political level, for senior officials from all the members of the council to begin to reflect on the way forward. I think there was a clear desire to give a strong political impulse to the work of the council, and that had a very positive impact.

We see the NATO-Russia Council as playing two very critical roles. The first is to provide a forum for practical cooperation between the NATO members and Russia across a broad range of issues. We discussed today, as you’ve heard from the secretary general, issues like counterterrorism, counternarcotics, nonproliferation, piracy, air space management, Afghanistan, and many others, and particularly with an emphasis on mil-to-mil cooperation.

And the council is also a forum for us to be able to have dialogue on areas of both common interest and areas of disagreement. And we recognize that it’s important, as many have said, for this to be an all-weather forum, that we have – we need a place to discuss our differences as well as the places where we can work together to enhance dialogue on those differences. And today, we obviously had an airing of some of those differences, particularly on Georgia and the issue of NATO enlargement. But I think the opportunity to have a frank and candid exchange of views was quite welcome.

I think we emphasized, and I emphasized today, that we feel a very strong commitment to the NATO Founding Act and the charter, and a particular recognition that there are some core principles that have to be taken together in understanding the commitments that we made in the NATO Founding Act. We agreed with our colleague from the Russian Federation on the importance of indivisibility of security, but also called attention to the fact that in the founding charter, there is an equal commitment to the right of every member of NATO and Euro-Atlantic space to choose its own security arrangements, and that remains as fundamental to us as the issue of indivisibility.

All and all, I think there was a tremendous emphasis on the role of the NATO-Russia Council as an opportunity to build confidence and trust, and I think today’s meeting was a very important step in that direction. And we look forward to the council now taking practical steps to begin to revitalize the actual work of the council and to begin to develop the procedures to make those efforts effective.

So let me take your questions. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. Apart from agreeing to disagree on Georgia, did the U.S., or the NATO allies collectively, have any firmer message for Russia given what it’s done in Georgia lately with the blocking of the extension of the monitoring missions? There are also military exercises going on right now in the Caucasus. Did you pass any additional message to Russia at this meeting?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, first, I think we – I think it was a very clear message that the members of the alliance all feel very strongly that the issue of NATO’s – of Georgia’s territorial integrity is something that should be respected, that we don’t intend to recognize the purported attempt to set up separate states within the territory of Georgia. And we also made clear that we need to recognize that if we’re going to adhere to the principles that are in the NATO Founding Act, including that commitment to sovereignty and territorial integrity, that the ability to be effective within these fora are to live up to the commitments that we’ve made.

We also, I think, have stressed that in the long run, it’s in Russia’s interest to assure that there is stability in Georgia and the South Caucasus, and this continued effort to freeze the conflict there and to prevent efforts to bring a resolution and to bring humanitarian relief and contact across the lines there are going to just enhance and extend instability, which is not in Russia’s interest either.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is (inaudible) from Antennae TV, a Greek TV station. You mentioned the fact that Greece is hosting the event. I was wondering how do you assess, or does the U.S. assess Greece’s effort to have international monitors in Georgia or Abkhazia and South Ossetia? It was not accepted by Russia. But how does the alliance, or more specifically, the U.S., assess this effort by the Greek presidency of another organization who will meet tomorrow? But I guess it’s also part of the NATO-Russia –

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, I can say absolutely in the case of the United States and the strong impression on behalf of all the members of NATO that we greatly appreciate the efforts of the Greek presidency of the OSCE. I think the prime minister and the foreign minister in particular have played an enormously creative and effective role in trying to articulate and be creative in thinking about ways to try to bridge the gaps, try to develop status-neutral approaches to really focus on the real need, which is the humanitarian concerns and ways to make sure that this conflict doesn’t become frozen, and it doesn’t become a long-term source of instability.

And I think there has been a tremendous personal effort and a real commitment to try to make the institution of the OSCE work. And it’s been a hallmark of Greece’s chairmanship of the OSCE to really believe in this institution, to recognize its potential, and the United States is enormously grateful for that kind of leadership.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll take one more over here.

QUESTION: My name is (inaudible) from (inaudible) radio station in Athens. Did you discuss the situation of Iran? And which is your point of view on that issue?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: We did not discuss Iran. We had a lot on our plate. Although a number of the ministers had just come from Trieste, where the G-8 had an opportunity to discuss this. And I think we’re very appreciative of the statement that the United States was obviously part of in making clear the concerns of the G-8 countries.

We’ve said from the beginning, and President Obama has said from the beginning, that ultimately, the decision about political leadership in Iran is for the Iranians to make. But we feel very strongly that people need to have the opportunity to express their opinions free from violence and intimidation, and we remain deeply concerned about not only the actual violence in the streets, but the continuing threats by the leadership designed to suppress that fair and free and nonviolent protest.

So again, we believe that this is not an issue for the United States to decide. Ultimately, as the – what is the right outcome of this election? But I think the entire international community is increasingly concerned by the way in which the Government of Iran is handling the attempts of the people in Iran to peacefully express their concerns.

Thank you all.