Usually, a gathering of the UN General Assembly is not a reason for NATO to hold a high-level meeting at the same time. But NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the fact so many of the foreign ministers of the alliance's member states are at the UN this week offered an opportunity that could not be missed.
The gathering in New York will be hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and gives the foreign ministers a last chance to talk before the major upcoming NATO summit in Latvia in November.
"I think it's a milestone in the NATO-Russia relationship that we now
see Russian warships steaming alongside NATO ships in the fight against
On the agenda are a range of topics that remain top priorities for the alliance. De Hoop Scheffer told reporters in New York on September 19 that one of these is NATO-Russia relations.Cooperation With Russia
Both sides have had an uneasy relationship ever since the NATO-Russia Council was established in 1997. But the NATO chief said the common threat of terrorism now offers plenty of opportunities for Russia and NATO to cooperate.
Noting that a Russian warship has joined NATO's Active Endeavor counterterrorism operation in the Mediterranean Sea, de Hoop Scheffer said: "I think it's a milestone in the NATO-Russia relationship that we now see Russian warships steaming alongside NATO ships in the fight against terrorism because here you have one of the crucial elements also in the NATO-Russia relations: we are both threatened by terrorism -- Russia as much as the NATO alliance -- and that's why we should work together."
De Hoop Scheffer also said that, with varying success, the political dialogue between NATO and Russia is deepening. "The second point is that we intensify our political discussion and we do that on subjects where we agree, but also on subjects where we [do] not agree," he said.
"I think that [we have] mature political dialogue with the Russian Federation and that's what we're using the NATO-Russia Council for. We might have from time to time a different approach on NATO enlargement or on certain other developments but we discuss, of course, our disagreements, if we have them, behind closed doors and not in front of cameras," de Hoop Scheffer said.
Another topic to be discussed at the New York meeting is Afghanistan, which has been viewed as NATO's top-priority mission in 2006. De Hoop Scheffer said that as far as Afghanistan is concerned, he believes that "Russia and NATO think the same way, be it the strive and the ambition to reach more interoperability. Many collective projects in the sphere of the civil emergency planning."Enlargement Not On Agenda
NATO enlargement will not be a topic at the November 26-29 summit in Riga, as the alliance is not expected to offer membership to any candidate countries.
But de Hoop Scheffer said the foreign ministers might discuss what kind of message they want to send to the three participants in the NATO Membership Action Plan: Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia.
"I can tell you without hesitation that at a certain stage I am certainly expecting more children inside NATO, definitely. When that will be, I don't know, because, you know, the child that wants to come into NATO must perform, and it's based on those nations' performance and the NATO criteria so I can't tell you 'the when,'" he said.
"I can also tell you that the summit in Riga will not be a summit which will see decisions on enlargement," de Hoop Scheffer added. "It will be a summit where signals will be given and what those signals exactly will be -- it's too early to say."
Georgia has requested a formal intensified dialogue that could lead to NATO membership, and Ukraine has already begun an intensified dialogue.
NATO also wants to look at ways to improve the Partnership for Peace program, which offers assistance in military and political reforms for nations that either seek NATO membership or want to cooperate more closely with the alliance. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia are all interested in joining the program.