On April 7, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is set to arrive in Moscow on a two-day visit.
Mr Scheffer officially assumed his post as head of the alliance in January 2004, replacing George Robertson whose term ended in December 2003. Until then, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had been foreign minister of the Netherlands.
On the eve of his visit to Moscow, the NATO Secretary General answered the questions of RIA Novosti's Brussels correspondent Alexander Shishlo.
Question: How would you assess, in general, the current state of NATO-Russia relations?
Answer: I am pleased to say that our relations are better today than they have ever been. NATO and Russia achieved a genuine breakthrough at the Rome Summit in May 2002. We launched the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), a unique body in which Russia and the member states of NATO work together as equal partners in areas of common interest. The creation of the NRC was a recognition that far more unites the member states of NATO and Russia than divides us. After all, we live in a world in which we are all threatened by terrorism, proliferation and the consequences of "failed states". These threats recognise no borders, and we must set aside the rivalries of the past in order to cooperate in dealing with them effectively.
In the NRC, we have consulted regularly on pressing international developments, such as the situations in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and more recently on our respective approaches and ideas with regard to the broad geographic region sometimes known as the "Greater Middle East". We have developed an impressive array of practical cooperation in areas as diverse as the struggle against terrorism, civil emergency planning, and defence reform. We have looked beyond the horizon, developing several practical cooperative initiatives to be implemented over several years.
Just last month, for example, we conducted a successful joint theatre missile defence exercise in Colorado Springs, USA. We have agreed on political decision-making modalities for future NATO-Russia peacekeeping operations.
The expansion of our military-to-military cooperation has been dramatic.
And, as our first meeting in the enlarged format of "27" last Friday demonstrated, the now-enlarged NRC remains determined to continue along this path.
Question: It is often said that the acceptance of new members into NATO poses some threat to Russia's national security interests...
Answer: Actually, quite the opposite! I know that there have been different views in NATO and Russia with regard to the Alliance's "open door" policy. We have seen the NATO enlargement process, in tandem with the enlargement of the European Union, as a mechanism for encouraging the development of solid democratic institutions throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Too many in Russia, however, have continued to look at this issue in terms of "buffer zones" and geographical spheres of influence - concepts with absolutely no relevance in today's interdependent and globalising world. Let's look at the facts. The enlargement process has served as a tool for facilitating democratic reforms, reducing bloated Cold War military establishments and encouraging peaceful and harmonious relations with neighbouring states. And it has worked! When three states - the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland - joined the Alliance in 1999, this did not result in a massive movement of NATO forces eastward, nor did it make NATO itself "anti-Russian". In fact, these states enjoy much more constructive bilateral relationships with Russia today than they did five years ago. Freed from fears rooted in historical experience, these states have shown greater willingness to engage constructively with Russia. As the Alliance takes on seven additional members, I would expect this positive trend to continue.
But beyond this, the fact is that NATO and Russia have developed a solid partnership framework. Our military forces have served side-by-side in the common mission of bringing peace and stability to the Balkans. We have developed a broad programme of practical and political cooperation. Nearly two years ago, President Putin and his 19 NATO counterparts took a strategic decision "to enhance our ability to stand together against common threats and risks to our security". If Russia sees NATO as a strategic partner in security, why should it be a problem when others want to contribute to the success of this partnership as well? When new states join NATO, they also join the NATO-Russia Council. In so doing, they assume all of the rights - and, let us not forget, all of the obligations - inherent to the NATO-Russia partnership. By joining NATO, these states have told the world that they are bound by the Alliance's policies of military restraint and transparency, and to all of the agreements and understandings reached in the NATO-Russia context. Moreover, they are pledging themselves to our common effort to achieve the full promise of NATO-Russia partnership set forth in the Rome Declaration.
Question: What, in your view, are the prospects for NATO-Russia cooperation in the fight against terrorism?
Answer: You know, common cause in the struggle against terrorism was a key catalyst in bringing NATO member states and Russia together in the NATO-Russia Council. Recent events in Madrid, Tashkent and elsewhere are grim reminders of the need to intensify our efforts in this area, and NRC Foreign Ministers last week reiterated their intention to do just that.
Of course, as terrorism is a multifaceted threat, it requires an equally broad-based response. In the NRC framework, we have developed joint intelligence assessments. We have pooled our resources in managing the consequences of terrorist attacks, developing a very constructive relationship with the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations. We have explored ways to cooperate against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and have of course focused on the danger that such weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist groups. We have launched an ambitious programme of cooperation in airspace management, aimed in part at preventing a repetition of the scenario we saw in the United States on 11 September 2001. In many other areas as well, we are developing concrete capabilities and interoperability, which could enhance our ability to cooperate in combating terrorism.
NATO Allies and Russia are currently considering options for cooperation in Afghanistan, where Russia has offered assistance to ISAF for transit or strategic airlift. I think we should also look into possibilities for cooperation in the Mediterranean, where NATO is currently conducting successful maritime operations to deter terrorism and help prevent the transport of weapons of mass destruction.
Recently, Defence Minister Ivanov and I co-chaired a high-level conference on the role of the military in combating terrorism in Norfolk, USA. This was the third such conference, and these events have proven extremely useful, both in generating ideas for practical cooperation in the NRC framework and in enhancing our understanding of the capabilities - but also the limitations of military power in the struggle against terrorism.
Question: Which members of the Russian leadership do you intend to hold talks with in Moscow, Mr Secretary General?
Answer: I will be meeting with President Putin, Foreign Minister Lavrov, Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov and Secretary of the Security Council Igor Ivanov. In addition, I plan to exchange views with members of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security Committees of the State Duma. An open and frank dialogue at all levels is, of course, an essential part of any genuine partnership, and in this spirit we maintain close and regular contacts with the Russian leadership. Igor Ivanov and I, who are both former foreign ministers, have known each other for quite some time. And just within the past week, I have seen Sergei Lavrov at an informal meeting of NRC Foreign Ministers in Brussels, and Sergei Ivanov at the Norfolk Conference.