Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Volker spoke with Yasemin Çongar on CNN Turk.
November 15, 2006 Washington, D.C.
Çongar: Mr. Volker, good morning. Thank you for being with CNN Turk this morning.
Volker: Good morning.
Çongar: The Riga Summit is fast approaching, and let me start by asking you bluntly, what is wrong with NATO? How come the most successful alliance of the 20th century
finds itself having difficulty in persuading its own members to share the burdens and risks of its operations equitably? Of course, I’m talking mainly about Afghanistan.
Volker: I think NATO is extremely successful. I think it is taking on challenges now that were unimaginable ten years ago. If you think back to the NATO of 1994-1995, it had sixteen members, no partners, it had never conducted military operations. This year we have got NATO leading in Afghanistan, transporting African Union troops to Darfur, training Iraqi security forces; it is doing an awful lot. Afghanistan itself, I think, is an important measure of what the alliance is really doing. You have got a total of some 31,000 troops in Afghanistan. NATO is leading the ISAF operation throughout the entire country, all of our NATO allies are contributing. It is true that this is tough going in Afghanistan, but there has been tremendous progress over the last several years as well. Before ISAF operation, there we no children in school, no girls in school, now there are six million children in school—two million of them girls. Something over three million refugees have returned from Iran and Pakistan. The economy has tripled in size from when the operations in Afghanistan began in 2001. So we made remarkable progress in Afghanistan over several years, it is just difficult business.
Çongar: While there is success, as you said, there is also the difficulty of figting a counterinsurgency operation against the Taliban there. As you know, they are still present, they are still threatening the people and the government. The Secretary General of the NATO said, “Putting caveats on operations means putting caveats on the future of NATO.” How important is it, in the U.S. government’s view, that the individuals members would lift those caveats, those national restrictions on their troops in Afghanistan?
Volker: I think it is important to recognize that some countries, NATO countries in Afghanistan, are fighting very hard and doing a tremendous job there. Countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, others as well, the U.K. and some non-NATO countries like Australia, they are really carrying a hard load in Afghanistan. We think it is important that there would be solidarity within the alliance and all countries carry the burden as much as they can. It is also important for the military commanders to be able to use the forces as best they know how in order to get the job done. The Dutch recently lifted some caveats on their forces; others are there with no caveats at all. The U.S. forces are there without caveats. And we think that is an important aspect, but all the allied nations’ contributions are important. There are areas of the country that are more stable such as the North and the West, and other countries are doing important work there as well. We also think that it is important as the NATO allies pull together to do the job in Afghanistan, we do it on the basis of solidarity and shared risk.
Çongar: Could I still ask you if your administration joins the Secretary General of NATO and General Jones, the SACEUR, in asking Turkey specifically to remove its caveats—the restrictions on its troops which handicap their operation in Afghanistan? As you know, Turkish troops cannot leave Kabul…
Volker: I think it is important, as I said, that all countries look at what they can do to help the Afghan people. What is going to be the most effective thing? What is going to be the most effective for an effective NATO operation? Countries have to make their own choices. And as I said, we value every country’s contribution. There is not a single ally we would like to see go. We would like to see more. We would like to see greater support in Afghanistan and anything that Turkey can do to increase its level of support and to support the military commanders’ efforts to make use the best use of the forces in theater would be very important.
Çongar: Do you see the ultimate success in Afghanistan as a case of make or break for NATO?
Volker: I think it is a very important issue for the Afghan people principally. We cannot let them down. We have to help Afghanistan succeed. I think we made a lot of progress, but we have to keep going. I think it is important for NATO; NATO has taken on a very large mission here and it needs to succeed at this. I think that is the direction we are in. I think that is where we are headed. It is going to take time.
Çongar: Moving on to the issue of energy security… NATO has been talking about this recently. Where do you see NATO’s future role vis-à-vis energy security, and especially in the Black Sea basin?
Volker: Energy security is not a new issue for NATO, it is an old issue for NATO. If you think back to the Cold War, NATO had a pipeline committee that was devoted to ensuring that we had the security of energy supply for our NATO allies. This is something we had not thought much about since the end of the Cold War. But it is still out there, and we need to pay attention to that. Every NATO ally is responsible principally for security within its own territory and the alliance as a whole tries to ensure the security of the alliance as a whole. So it is only in that context that we will look at whether Turkey’s security and how it is managing its security as a NATO ally and what support could NATO provide to Turkey. And it is an issue that is not one with any major new initiatives coming up at the Riga Summit. But rather it is an issue of NATO trying to focus again on some of these old tasks that we should still pay attention to.
Çongar: As you know both Russia and Turkey had been very vocal about their misgivings about a continuous presence of NATO in the Black Sea. Has the U.S. given up on that idea?
Volker: Remember, Turkey is a member of NATO. So you are not going to get NATO out of the Black Sea unless you get Turkey out of NATO which no one wants to do.
Çongar: (Laughter) But you do know what I am talking about. I am talking about the idea of a continuous operation of NATO ships in the Black Sea…
Volker: This is, I think, an issue about whether the Active Endeavour operation which we conducted in the Mediterranean, which is for counterterrorism purposes should be extended to the Black Sea or not…
Volker: The obvious thing about the Black Sea is that this is a region that is very diverse from the Caucasus to Russia, Ukraine, Turkey. This is a region that in some areas, not all areas, suffers from problems like corruption, some security problems, need for economic development, need for greater democratization. So it is a region that we would hope will develop and grow both in democracy, market economy, stability, anti-corruption, anti-organized crime, fight against trafficking and things like that. There are many many ways to do this. And we work with the countries in the region to develop (inaudible...)
Çongar: At the summit in Riga, there won’t be an invitation to new members. But the language of enlargement continues. The process of enlargement is still there and will probably be part of the final statement in Riga. How do you see the chances of Georgia to join the NATO some day?
Volker: In the first instance, we have three countries that have been in the membership action plan for some time: Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia. And we do expect, in 2008, at the next NATO summit to take place, NATO will issue invitations to those countries who qualify with NATO standards. So that is the first instance. Georgia and Ukraine have expressed interest in NATO membership. Both of them have intensified dialogue with NATO about membership questions. And we are going to work with them to support the reforms necessary, the development necessary that they could become credible candidates for NATO membership. They are not at the same stage as some of the others, but they have expressed their aspiration and our view is that every European country that is a democracy, that supports the same values as the rest of the NATO alliance, that wants to contribute to common security should be considered eligible provided that they meet the standards of NATO.
Çongar: Nowadays, after the midterm elections in the U.S., there is more of a talk about a new strategy in Iraq. Does the U.S. government envisage a larger role for NATO in Iraq?
Volker: NATO is playing a niche role in Iraq right now which is the training of Iraqi security forces. That is a goal where there is consensus among the allies and where all the allies are contributing in one matter or another whether they are troop trainers or . That is likely to continue. I don’t see much prospect at the moment for changing that NATO role. And I see that also a little bit in a different context. I know you mentioned the debate going on now in the United States and of course the Iraq Study Group which is going to come forward with some recommendations about an overall Iraq strategy. That is all being done outside the NATO context. The NATO role has really been confined to training the Iraqi security forces.
Çongar: And will stay that way for the foreseeable future...
Çongar: Okay, one last question that is specifically on Turkey now. You might remember that President Bush, when he met Prime Minister Erdoğan at the Oval Office, said on the record that, “Turkey’s E.U. membership is in the Unites States’ national interest.” Now, as you know, the E.U. and Turkey are going through a very difficult period and there is some talk about the suspension of negotiations. How do you think both sides can overcome this Cyprus obstacle, if you will? And what, if anything, is the U.S. willing to do to help?
Volker: Well, as you said, we think it is in Turkey’s interest, we think it is in the E.U.’s interest, it is in our own interest to see Turkey work toward E.U. membership and the E.U. to reach out to Turkey and work with Turkey. We think that is good for everyone.
It is true that we had a recent E.U. report that says Turkey has not met the obligations that it took on in the execution of protocol that is part of its negotiations with E.U. There is work to be done. Of course, E.U. membership requires that countries to meet certain standards of E.U. just like we talk about when we talk about NATO membership of countries.
Turkey has made progress. There is more work to be done and we would hope that both E.U. and Turkey will draw up their sleeves and say “We know this is our common objective, let’s see what it takes to get there.” We are encouraging both sides to work in that spirit. We are not in a position where we can say to E.U. “do this” and “do that.” Nor, for that matter, to Turkey do we say “do this, do that.” That is something that both sides will have to want themselves and work toward themselves.
Çongar: I don’t want to put words into your mouth, but is it fair to say that the U.S. does not want to see the talks suspended?
Volker: We want to see them succeed.
Çongar: And, on that note, thank you very much for your time.
Volker: Thank you.