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CNN BREAKING NEWS

NATO Holds Press Conference

Aired February 10, 2003 - 06:02   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you to Brussels AND NATO, where Lord Robertson, the secretary general of NATO, will speak to reporters. Let's listen to what he has to say.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: and then we will take questions after.

Lord Robertson, please.

LORD GEORGE ROBERTSON, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: Thank you.

As you all know, silence on the technical issue of tasking the NATO military authorities to undertake prudent contingency planning to deter or defend against the possible threat to Turkey was broken this morning by three NATO countries. In parallel, Turkey has requested consultations under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

Article 4 of the treaty states that NATO's members will consult together whenever in the opinion of any of them the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any NATO country is threatened.

These consultations began this morning, and will resume this afternoon at a meeting of the NATO council at 4:30 p.m.

This is undoubtedly a difficult situation, but allies have had differences before, and they will undoubtedly have more in the future. What matters is to arrive at a consensus, and I'm confident that we will.

We're united in our commitment to the security of all of NATO's members. The question is not if, but when to begin the planning.

We have a difficult issue in front of us. It's an issue which concerns solidarity with one ally, Turkey. It is not related to any possible participation by NATO in a military operation against Iraq.

I'm not seeking today to minimize the seriousness of this issue. It is certainly serious. The NATO nations take it seriously; hence, the debate that is going on. And the allies will act responsibly and collectively. ] And I will give you a briefing after the meeting of this council that starts at 4:30, but I, of course, can't tell you when it's likely to end.

Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. I will now invite questions. Could you please ask your questions in a short way? And also avoid asking multiple and sub-questions, so everyone has a chance. Thank you very much.

We'll start with Claus von Perstifer (ph).

QUESTION: Claus von Perstifer (ph). A very short question, Secretary General. Who is to blame?

ROBERTSON: I don't allocate blame. Three countries have broken silence; therefore, 16 countries agree with the tasking. But the differences of opinion that exist today are no different from differences that have existed in the future. They're just slightly more serious at this time.

But I don't allocate blame or praise. We have to work to get a consensus. That's difficult. It's sometimes very painful. But we've done it before, and I'm confident that we can do it again.

QUESTION: Secretary General, Julie Dunsie (ph), "Financial Times." Did Turkey ask for Article 4 in 1991?

ROBERTSON: The discussions in 1991 were complicated, and we're not actually sure whether they asked for those consultations under Article 4, or whether that was avoided by the deployments that took place. But I'm pretty certain that this is -- this is most likely to be the first time that a nation has asked for formal consultations under Article 4.

QUESTION: Michael Thurston (ph), AFP. It's been over three weeks now that you haven't come to an agreement. How long do you think it's going to take for an agreement? Is it possible to reach an agreement within days, weeks, or how long is it going to take?

ROBERTSON: Well, I'm confident that we will reach agreement, but I can't say when that's going to happen. Three nations have yet to be persuaded, but we're going to meet today. We are probably, if necessary, going to meet tomorrow and the next day, and we will eventually get an agreement, because that is the way the alliance works.

And everybody this morning, including the countries who have broken silence, have emphasized the unity that there is in terms of defending Turkey and of achieving an alliance consensus. So, there's a lot of work going on in this building, but also in a lot of capitals as well, to try and find the formula that will allow the tasking to go ahead.

QUESTION: Sabina Hull (ph), ARD. I'm here. Sir...

ROBERTSON: Yes, yes, you're always there, yes.

(LAUGHTER) QUESTION: Will the subject of NATO's council meeting this afternoon be the Turkish demand for Article 4? And if the council would agree to this demand, would that mean that the planning could start immediately?

ROBERTSON: Well, I know this is complicated, and it's complicated for me as well, but the consultations under Article 4 have already started. I consider that the meeting this morning was the beginning of those consultations asked for by Turkey, and we will resume those consultations this afternoon.

But it's a request for consultations in a formal context, and therefore, the taskings, those instructions to the military authorities to come forward with the contingency plans, are still on the table, and they will be the subject matter of the consultations that take place.

QUESTION: Yeh Mirar (ph) from Belgium Television. I'm here, sorry.

ROBERTSON: Yes.

QUESTION: Belgium is a small country and the host country of NATO. Will this have consequences for the position of Belgium in the alliance; for instance, the location of the headquarters?

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTSON: The design of the headquarters is along the corridor. The location of the new headquarters is across there. That is not in doubt at all, nor is the abating support that we get from the host nation to this country.

There is an honest disagreement inside NATO about when to start contingency planning. We are now working on that in order to get a solution to it.

I have made the point; I make it again. It is serious that after three weeks, we have not got an agreement. But a lot of people are working very hard to make sure an agreement takes place, and I'm confident that if people look at the serious implications of not getting a decision, then that will, I hope, give an impetus to providing a solution and getting consensus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last question in the back there, please.

QUESTION: Mike Doose (ph). I'm sorry, you will not be able to see me. Do you still believe that there is not an argument along the NATO members?

ROBERTSON: Well, there's still an argument. I've never denied that there was an argument. I think that would be foolish. There is a very heated argument inside NATO about the timing, but that is what it's about. It is about the timing. And clearly, if we haven't achieved agreement after three weeks of discussion, then that argument is of a serious nature. But at the same time, I think people are focusing on it now in a very determined way. That Turkey has asked for consultations under Article 4, and many of the countries concerned believe that now focuses it in an unavoidable way on Turkey and its defense. And that that may well lead -- help to lead to a solution to the present trouble and the existing difficulties.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

ROBERTSON: Thank you.

COSTELLO: All right, we're going to break away right now, because you see it has ended.

In case you're wondering, we want to make it clear as to what Lord Robertson was talking about, the secretary general of NATO. He was talking about France, Belgium and Germany all denying a request by Turkey to protect it in the case of a war with Iraq. Those three countries saying they're just not ready yet. It means there is disunity within NATO. And that means that there's a serious disagreement in there among NATO members, of course, and that could mean trouble.

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