I visited Brussels on Thursday 21 and Friday 22 February for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Defence Ministers’ Meeting on Afghanistan.
The Ministerial meeting in Brussels followed on from my visit to Afghanistan earlier in the week with the Chief of the Defence Force General Hurley.
Ministers discussed progress in the transition to Afghan led security responsibility, following President Karzai's announcement in December last year of the fourth tranche of Districts and Provinces to undergo transition.
I advised NATO/ISAF Defence Ministers that on our latest analysis Australia is confident that transition in Uruzgan will occur by the end of this year.
Ministers agreed at the last NATO/ISAF Defence Ministerial meeting in October 2012 to commence planning for that post 2014 train, advise and assist mission.
That planning must now quickly commence so that Afghanistan can be confident of the long term support of the international community through the transition process and beyond.
Likewise the international community needs to finalise expeditiously the legal mandate and bilateral security arrangements to support the post 2014 role and presence.
I welcomed progress on the detail of plans for a NATO funding mechanism for post 2014 ANA sustainment.
The international community's long term political, military and financial commitment toAfghanistan sends a very clear message to the insurgency and its leadership of the international community’s abiding commitment to Afghanistan.
It also sends an all important message to Afghanistan's neighbours of the importance of regional support for peace and stability.
I again met Afghan Defence Minister Bismillah Khan following my visit to Afghanistan, 18-19 February. Minister Khan expressed his countries' gratitude for Australia's ongoing contribution and commitment to Afghanistan.
NATO Secretary General Rasmussen and I signed the Australia-NATO Individual Partnership Cooperation Program.
The Program maps out a program of practical cooperation activities that Australia and NATO will undertake under the Strategic Partnership Declaration signed by Secretary-General Rasmussen and Prime Minister Gillard in Australia in June last year.
I thanked retiring United States Defense Secretary Panetta for his robust global leadership and public service over almost 50 years. He has helped ensure the safety and security of the citizens of the United States and the international community generally.
I also thanked retiring Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) Admiral Stavridis for his service and for his support for Australia's strategic partnership with NATO.
I discussed global security issues with NATO and European partners, including the French and EU missions in Mali with EU High Representative Baroness Ashton.
I discussed the situation in Syria including with Turkish Defence Minister Yilmaz and EU High Representative Baroness Ashton. I also discussed the forthcoming talks with Iran with Baroness Ashton.
Canadian Defence Minister Mackay and I discussed bilateral defence cooperation, including our shared interest in the Joint Strike Fighter program.
I thanked Spanish Defence Minister Morenés for visiting Australia on 15 February to participate in the naming ceremony of Australia’s first Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ship, the Nu Ship Canberra.
During his visit, Minister Morenés and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding on bilateral defence cooperation and toured the Spanish Armada Ship Cantabria, which has been deployed toAustralia from mid-February until November this year.
I also thanked Swedish Defence Minister Enstrom for our productive discussions on submarine cooperation during my visit to Stockholmon 20 February.
UK Defence Secretary Hammond and I reviewed progress on the joint report we commissioned at the Australia United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations inPerth in January on the possibilities for mutually beneficial collaboration on Australia’s future frigate and the UK’s global combat ship.
New Zealand Defence Minister Coleman and I discussed the proposed Meeting of South Pacific Defence Ministers and look forward to meeting with Pacific colleagues in the near future.
I met separately with Belgian Defence Minister De Crem and Turkish Defence Minister Yilmaz and discussed planning for the Centenary Commemoration of World War I.
I also met a range of NATO/ISAF Defence Ministers, including Canadian Defence Minister Mackay, Danish Defence Minister Haekkerup, Georgian Defence Minister Alasania and Italian Defence Minister Di Paola.
I was accompanied by Australia’s Ambassador to NATO, Mr Duncan Lewis and the Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley.
A copy of the Australia-NATO Partnership Cooperation Program can be found in the attached PDF document. Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme
Minister Smith’s office: Andrew Porter (02) 6277 7800 or 0419 474 392