By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 3, 2012 – NATO’s core business is security, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels yesterday as he outlined the role of the alliance and the international community in Syria and Afghanistan.
“NATO is where North America and Europe come together every day to discuss the security issues which concern us,” Rasmussen said, “and NATO is where Europe and North America work together every day to find solutions.”
In NATO, any ally can bring any issue to the table at any time, he added, referring to the meeting of NATO allies called by Turkey after a June 22 shootdown by Syrian forces of a Turkish F-4 fighter and its two-member crew.
“We condemn Syria’s shooting down of the Turkish aircraft in the strongest possible terms, and we condemn the escalating spiral of killing, destruction and human rights abuses in Syria,” Rasmussen said.
“The right response to this crisis remains a political response,” he added, “and a concerted response by the international community against a regime that has lost all humanity and all legitimacy.”
Last week Kofi Annan, the Joint Special Envoy for Syria, announced a June 30 meeting of the Action Group for Syria in Geneva. There, according to the United Nations, the international group forged an agreement outlining steps for a peaceful transition in Syria while strongly condemning the continued and escalating violence that has taken place there over the past 16 months.
The group also called for all parties to immediately recommit to a sustained halt of armed violence, to fully cooperate with observers serving with the U.N. supervision mission in Syria, and to implement a six-point peace plan that Annan put forward earlier this year.
The U.N. estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising began.
Rasmussen said he welcomed the action group meeting.
“The international community has come together [and] … clearly endorsed a plan for a democratic transition to end the violence and answer the legitimate aspirations of the people of Syria,” the secretary general added.
To enforce the political plan, he said, every member of the international community should use its influence to bring an end to the bloodshed and move Syria forward.
“This conflict has already gone on for too long,” Rasmussen noted. “It has cost too many lives and put the stability of the whole region at risk. The international community has a duty to put an end to it -- and to do it now.”
NATO is at work on another sort of transition in Afghanistan, he said: to put the security of Afghanistan in the hands of the Afghans.
“As we speak,” the secretary general added, “half the Afghan population lives in areas where their own forces are in the lead for providing security. And over the coming weeks and months, that protection will extend to three quarters of the population.”
But security is just one challenge in Afghanistan, and NATO is just one part of the solution, he said. In the bigger picture of Afghanistan’s security future, Rasmussen added, development and good governance must come together, and the international community and the Afghan people are putting the pieces in place.
“Over the last few months, we have built a strong framework of partnership and mutual responsibility on which Afghanistan can rely as it stands on its own two feet,” he said.
In Chicago in May, decisions at the NATO summit sent a clear message that after 2014, NATO’s mission will be to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces, Rasmussen added.
At a conference in the Afghan capital of Kabul in June, the message was one of regional responsibility for the countries of Central Asia and their neighbors to support Afghanistan well into the next decade, he said.
Next week, the international community will gather in Tokyo to show its commitment to Afghanistan’s long-term economic development, he said, calling it a key opportunity to make sure Afghanistan continues to develop and remain secure after 2014.
“Even when Afghanistan is fully in charge of its own security, it will still be one of the poorest countries in the world,” Rasmussen said. “And the best way to maintain its security will be to help it face this challenge.”
At the same time, the international community needs to know that the Afghan authorities will live up to their commitments, the secretary general said.
Rasmussen said Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pledged to improve governance, fight corruption and ensure the protection of human rights, including the rights of women.
Delivering on those pledges is vital, Rasmussen added.
“We now have a once-in-a-generation chance to break the cycle of violence and extremism in Afghanistan,” the secretary general said, “[and] to build long-term security for Afghans, the wider region and for ourselves. It’s a chance we must all seize.”