By G.P. Malouchos Kathimerini BRUSSELS – On the eve of his first visit to Athens as the new NATO secretary-general, and right after a visit to Ankara, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer spoke to Kathimerini in Brussels on a range of issues, including the Euro-Atlantic relationship, NATO’s role in confronting terrorism, in Afghanistan and later in Iraq, and the likelihood of the alliance becoming involved in Olympic Games security planning in Athens, which he said NATO was ready to take part in as soon as it received a request from Greece. Greece is not only getting ready for elections but for the Olympic Games. Is NATO willing to help Greece to be more secure? Of course, upon Greece’s request, NATO is certainly willing to provide any assistance, but of course that is an initiative that must be taken by the Greek government. If Greece does so, what kind of help could you give, and is there enough time? It depends entirely on what they ask. NATO can provide security in many fields. It would depend on what NATO is willing to do but more importantly on what the Greek government will ask. Such a formal request has not yet been made. It might come but it is up to the Greek government. NATO is ready and willing to assist. That is the bottom line. If necessary, there is always enough time. We hope that we are now very close to a solution of the Cyprus issue. The EU has a role now. Do you think there is room for a NATO role as well? Not at the moment, no. I am watching the process, of course, with great interest, not so much as NATO secretary-general as NATO has no direct role to play, but because in the past I was Dutch foreign minister. I sincerely hope, as anybody, that the parties will be able to reach a solution under the able and competent leadership of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan but I do not see a NATO role in this. Why not, particularly since you have spoken about a «Greater Middle East»? I don’t link it to the Greater Middle East. I hope the problem will be solved, everybody does, because there are a number of important dates coming up, but to avoid any misunderstanding, as NATO secretary-general I have no role and NATO has no formal opinion on the Cyprus issue. Let us go to the real Middle East. Do you think you can play a role there? There are a lot of initiatives on the table. In NATO, we have the Mediterranean dialogue and one of the ambitions for the Istanbul summit is to beef up the Mediterranean dialogue with Israel and six Arab countries. As for the if and how that will be linked to initiatives that have been taken by a number of countries, this discussion within NATO is still in its early stages. We have a number of important meetings coming up, the G8, the EU-US summit and the NATO summit in Istanbul where we might well discuss the Greater Middle East, certainly the Mediterranean dialogue, but we have not drawn any conclusions on the theme of the Greater Middle East as such, because it is still in the very early stages. What is the most important issue for you at the Istanbul summit? There are a number of important issues. There is Afghanistan and the need to make a decision in principle regarding the end of the SFOR mission in the Balkans and then the EU has to take a decision on the formal beginning of the EU mission. I think SFOR has been a big success. There will be an arrangement under «Berlin Plus,» so NATO will continue to play a role in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Then, the next element is building on the partnerships. Let me also mention NATO-Russia and I hope that President (Vladimir) Putin will be present at the Istanbul summit. It is in the interests of the Russians and of NATO as well. We have, of course, the other partnerships – let’s not forget about the Caucasus, the Balkans and other countries aspiring to be taken into the Euro-Atlantic structures, Central Asia, then of course Iraq. Do you believe there will be an official NATO role in Iraq this year? That depends on a number of political factors. I think it is important that you have a sovereign Iraqi government which is supported by the United Nations’ requesting NATO to play a role. I think that NATO would say yes. What form that is exactly going to take is very difficult to say at the moment, because of all kinds of important factors but Iraq is certainly on NATO’s agenda already. There are some discussions about Serbia and Montenegro. Is it likely that they will join the Partnership For Peace? We recognize clearly Serbia and Montenegro’s ambitions. They are not the only ones. It is important, among other things, how they cooperate with the Hague tribunal on the war criminals. So it depends on handing over Mladic and Karadzic? The Partnership for Peace (PFP) has, of course, a number of criteria but if you are talking about (Ratko) Mladic and (Radovan) Karadzic, you are talking about the main obstacle. One of the important criteria for PFP is that they fully cooperate with the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia). The sooner Karadzic and Mladic are in The Hague, the better it will be for their (countries’) PFP ambitions. In the new NATO structure are you going to take decisions unanimously as you have in the past? I think the consensus rule is a good one and we should stick to that. But you have had problems with consensus. NATO has always lived up to its expectations. Of course, it has seen difficult times, but that as such had nothing to do with the consensus rule. Are you happy with the results of the Afghanistan operation? Up till now, if you look at the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) and at Kabul, more is necessary but that is the reason we are trying to extend NATO’s responsibility further in the region. President (Hamid) Karzai said last week that wherever he goes and talks to his citizens about security and stability they say «bring us ISAF.» NATO cannot of course cover the whole country; we will not do that. I think as far as ISAF is concerned, things have gone well until now. Not to say there are not problems – the fight against narcotics, which is not in the ISAF mandate. As a former Dutch foreign minister, from the European «campus» of the Euro-Atlantic relationship, you are the best possible link between the two sides. Well, I consider it the same «campus» to use your expression. I am a convinced Atlanticist but I also have a European vocation and I think that Europe should, can and will play a more important role also in the field of foreign policy and defense if that defense identity is complementary to NATO. If it worked contrary to NATO, which it does not, I underline, then we might have a problem but if complementary to NATO, on the basis of the decisions taken in December, I think it can work very well. But if there is no European ambition regarding defense? European ambitions will have to be met by defense budgets and by the usability of forces which is at the moment not the case. That is why I am stressing capability and usability. That is why I say there are several degrees of happiness a NATO secretary-general can have, and I have a high degree of happiness. Europe has that ambition and I think that is right because it will also help NATO, as long as it is complementary. You have been in office two months but one day you will leave. How do you want to be remembered? This alliance is going through a very fundamental process of transformation. Who could have predicted three years ago that NATO would be in Afghanistan, that it would play a supporting role in Iraq? What I want to do is to give credit to my predecessor, to be a secretary-general who brings this transformation process further, with new countries, facing new threats with different circumstances in the world, with a number of very important partnerships with countries, guiding this process, being a catalyst, being a bridge-builder where necessary. Do you think public opinion in Europe supports NATO? I think so, but we have to make a big effort there because, for my generation, the Cold War generation, NATO is an institution which is well established. For the generation of my daughters, who are now 24 and 22, NATO is not a natural, normal thing. They ask me what NATO is doing in Afghanistan, so far from home. I explain to them that if you look at the moral threat, at terrorism, at the fact that 9/11 originated in Afghanistan, that it should never again be a safe haven for terrorists who come to our doorstep, then I can explain why NATO and ISAF are in Afghanistan.