(Note: Minister Hrytsenko's remarks are provided through interpreter.)
MR. : (Through interpreter.) Ladies and gentlemen and Generals, may I have your attention, please? We're going to start the press conference -- (inaudible) -- conference of the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial. We don't have much time, so we will ask you to be -- (inaudible) -- in your questions and restrict your comments -- give also a chance to ask questions, please.
We would like to welcome the minister of Ukraine, Mr. Hrytsenko.
MIN. HRYTSENKO: Good afternoon. It's a pleasure for me to note that this Defense ministerial in Ukraine is the first event of this kind that is taking place in Ukraine. Representatives of 21 countries participated. These are the countries of the council of Defense ministers of Southeast Europe, as well as invited ministers from (inaudible word) countries and Visegrad Group countries.
Generally speaking, in the history of these meetings is the largest meeting in a number of -- (inaudible).
At this meeting, Ukraine has joined the agreement on joint peacekeeping forces. In the next stage, we will submit this agreement for certification in the Ukraine parliament and also will decide with the command of the peacekeeping brigade and with the general staff of Ukraine the specific -- (inaudible) -- of Ukraine's participation in the peacekeeping activities.
And Ukraine assisted the peacekeeping forces last year. In particular, it assisted in airlift of forces from Romania into Afghanistan and in the return direction.
Today, in the morning, the president of Ukraine and the minister of Defense of Ukraine, on behalf of the president, confirmed the priority for Ukraine of making the contribution to the joint peacekeeping activities. And all of our partners noted with pleasure that Ukraine is the only partner that takes part in all four peacekeeping operations of NATO, including KFOR in the Balkans, (Operation) Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean, ISAF in Afghanistan and training missions in Iraq.
Thank you very much.
MR. : Mr. (inaudible name), the head of the Coordination Committee, is asked to -- (inaudible).
(chairperson, Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial Coordination Committee): (Inaudible) -- speech of Minister of Defense of Ukraine Hrytsenko. Today this event was held in Kiev.
(Sixty-one ?) ministers were present on the meeting, and -- (inaudible) -- minister for the first time it shows this interest for forces in the region and beyond. The presence of President Yushchenko also shows -- (inaudible) -- Ukraine is right way to join us.
Besides ordinary issues we have discussed, I'd like to underline three main outcomes from the meeting.
The first one is enlargement of the SEDM process. Ukraine was welcomed by the minister of defense in the SEDM process and became the full-fledged member of SEDM process.
MS. : (Inaudible.)
MR. : (Through interpreter.) The SEDM conference is enlarging, and we are happy for it. Within SEDM, strongly supported by the United States of America, nations that in the past have been -- (off mike) -- today act in an orderly manner and share same (off mike) and thoughts. Through the SEDM mechanism, the member nations -- (off mike) -- cooperation in the fields of security, defense and integration into Euroatlantic -- (off mike).
The second outcome I would like to emphasize is that SEDM ministers emphasize that the enlargement of NATO has been -- (off mike) -- success in -- (off mike) -- ministers of defense strongly supported the ongoing support of -- (off mike) -- NATO membership. As well, they encouraged all nations to contribute to the enhancement of SEDM process and to prepare themselves for their NATO integration. Thank you.
MR. : (Through interpreter.) (Off mike) -- whether the issue of Ukraine's participation in the operation -- (off mike). This question was not discussed directly during the meeting. The issue was discussed in a different fashion, and Ukraine now can join the peacekeeping forces. At the next stage, we will decide, together with partners, the continued forum of their participation. And as options, it could be staff, engineer, or medical units.
So this would be an international unit ready for action, and where and in which manner -- will be decided in consensus by all participating parties and by each individual nation according to its national legislation. In the case of Ukraine, this would be a decision taken jointly by the president, the National Council on Security and Defense of Ukraine, and government of Ukraine.
MR. : Next question.
Q Mr. Secretary, we heard today about -- (off mike) -- for additional forces in Afghanistan. We know that you came here to talk a little about what more these nations could do in Afghanistan and the need to potentially deploy -- (off mike). Did you receive any commitments on these issues?
SEC. GATES: Several countries indicated their intent to increase their commitment in Afghanistan and Iraq, principally in Afghanistan. They still have certain hurdles to clear at home, so they're not prepared to make those commitments public at this time. This will clearly be a principal theme of the NATO defense ministers' meeting in the Netherlands later this week.
I am not satisfied that an alliance whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen cannot find the modest additional resources that have been committed for Afghanistan.
And I intend to pursue this in our meetings in the Netherlands.
MR. : Next question, please.
Q (Through interpreter.) Channel 24 Television. The question is about the process of Ukrainian membership in NATO. Today in the morning President Yushchenko asked for facilitation of the (Ukraine concerning ?) the membership action plan. So what is the reaction to his request? And this question is for (NATO ministers ?).
MIN. : Well, I think that first of all we have to hear that officially, even the NATO countries -- (off mike.) And then, of course, NATO will have to decide by consensus as always. And we will have a decision (fairly quickly ?).
MR. : Next question, please.
Q Bob Burns with AP. I have a question for Secretary Gates. Sir --
SEC. GATES: My understanding is, under the ground rules established last year, this is my second-to-the-last question. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. Secretary, do you think that the outcome of the elections in Poland will complicate your efforts to complete a missile basing agreement there? And also, will it make it harder to maintain the current coalition force levels in Iraq?
SEC. GATES: I think it's too early to say. I think that the relationship between the United States and Poland is a very close one, and regardless of the composition of the government, I expect that cooperation to continue. But obviously, we will have to have discussions with the new government in Poland in terms of their specific future plans. But we clearly are hopeful that the kind of cooperation we've enjoyed recently, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, on the one hand, and in moving forward negotiations and an agreement on missile defense, will continue as before.
MR. : Next question.
Q (Through interpreter.) A question from Oonian (ph) Wire Service to -- (off mike) -- ministers, primarily -- (off mike). What were the discussions yesterday?
And at what the stage is the creation of the -- (inaudible) -- peacekeeping force at?
MIN./MR. : I hope my colleagues will -- and as to what I say, yes, yesterday we had working consultations starting with the defense plans -- (inaudible) -- earlier political issues of interest to all of them.
We did not discuss the specifically the operation of a giant peacekeeping force at this point, but in the future we will have consultations -- (off mike).
Q A question for the minister -- (inaudible). What about the argument Macedonia should get the invitation for membership in NATO-- (inaudible)?
MIN./MR. : (Inaudible) -- very much and very important is that -- (inaudible) -- nations and countries -- (inaudible) -- permit very, very good and also -- (inaudible) -- contributed -- (inaudible) -- very, very, very much in the beginning and a general -- (inaudible) -- a performance-based organization. We are speaking about fulfilling the other -- (inaudible) -- on the society.
Q (Off mike) -- Macedonia -- (inaudible)?
MIN./MR. : (Inaudible) -- it's very important that -- (inaudible) -- (belong ?) to Europe -- (inaudible) -- European nations, and our future and our status -- (inaudible).
Q (Off mike.)
MIN./MR. : (Off mike.)
MR. : One more question, because we still have ministers who didn't answer and journalists who didn't ask questions. If there are no more questions -- thank you very much.
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