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STATEMENT TO THE PRESS BY THE SECRETARY GENERAL OF NATO, LORD ROBERTSON, FOLLOWING THE MEETING OF THE NORTH ATLANTIC COUNCIL FLORENCE,

24 MAY 2000

 

Today's meeting of Foreign Ministers was our first of the new century - a good time to set NATO's course for the future. For our first 40 years we kept the peace, for the next ten years we made the peace - and now in the 21st century we must shape the peace.

You will see a good example of this tomorrow when Croatia becomes a member of the Partnership for Peace, and takes the 46th seat at our Euro Atlantic Partnership Council. Now just imagine what this means - almost every European country is now sitting around the same table with NATO, co-operating not confronting each other. This is a truly remarkable symbol of the progress towards peace at the start of the new century.

My aim is to have every European nation around that table - the full set - before my term as NATO's Secretary General ends. Yesterday in Brussels I heard Bosnia-Herzegovina's President express his frustration that his country wasn't a member of this family - he felt isolated. One day I hope that isolation can be ended - and that we can also see an end to the self-imposed isolation of Yugoslavia, once it too has embraced democracy and turned its back on the past.

Croatia is proof that no country needs to remain a victim of history - it can change and move on. Once a country makes that choice we're ready to reward and encourage its progress. Croatia's entry into the Euro-Atlantic family is a message to the Serb people that there is a place for them too if they reject Milosovic and his terrible legacy.

Tragically that's a message the Serb people are finding it ever harder to hear as Milosovic systematically shuts down any part of the media that doesn't sing his song. He may close the TV stations but he can't close the minds of the Serb people.

And we are shaping the peace too in Kosovo, where in less than a year have made real, and lasting progress. Remember just a year ago: NATO airpower was still in action in the skies over Kosovo and Serbia. Now, on the ground, we're devoting our energies to a mission of peace.The challenges remain enormous, but imagine if we had not acted - imagine thousands more dead,hundreds of thousands of permanent refugees, the threat to the stability of an entire region. In Kosovo today we are helping to shape a peaceful future for all its people.

Today several Allies pledged additional judges, prosecutors and civil police - key components in tomorrow's Kosovo.

And that same emphasis on shaping tomorrow's peace is clear in our relations with Russia. In a few moments Foreign Minister Ivanov will join us in the NATO/Russia Permanent Joint Council.I'm glad that the NATO/Russia relationship is getting back on track. Of course we're not going to agree on everything, and some of the talking will be tough. But we are talking.

We recognise, and President Putin made this clear when he met me, that we have too many common interests not to work together. We share a common responsibility to tackle common threats. That's why I know the NATO/Russia relationship will develop. And there's no more important time to do this that when a new Russian president and government are taking over and looking afresh to the future.

But for success we need to broaden and deepen our links.In Kosovo and in Bosnia-Herzegovina our soldiers are working shoulder to shoulder in an effort to bring security to the people.This successful cooperation should be extended to include other areas of military to military interaction. We also need to dispel the hostile image so many Russians have of NATO - so I hope we will make swift progress to establishing a NATO information office in Moscow.

Finally,we are shaping the peace by re-shaping NATO itself. We all agree this Alliance needs a stronger European identity. I warmly welcome all the steps the EU has taken in the last few months to set up structures to deal with defence issues, but what counts for me are capabilities - to enable Europe and NATO to deal with tomorrow's challenges.

The EU's credibility is on the line. It has committed itself to a headline goal which it must deliver, and NATO's ready to help.This is good for NATO and the EU. We must also ensure that the non-EU allies are properly involved - because we are all in this together, and we'll only succeed by all working together.

Fortunately military reform is high on the agenda of several European nations. They're developing ambitious plans to re-shape their forces - but they must also provide the resources needed to deliver real results.

Finally I'd like to mention Madeleine Albright briefed us on the latest US thinking on the proposed National Missile Defence. We welcome the continuing US commitment to consulting the Allies and taking their views into account before making final decisions.Mrs. Albright also briefed on the latest US defense trade initiative.This is an important move and of great interest to the Alliance.

NATO played a fundamental role in solving the problems of the 2nd half of the last century, and NATO is now addressing the new challenges of the 21st century. There can be a long and lasting peace for the whole Euro-Atlantic communityand NATO is committed to shaping that peace.