Vienna, 18 November 2004 - At the joint press conference following their working talks in Vienna today, Minister for Foreign Affairs Ursula Plassnik and NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop-Scheffer praised Austria's participation in the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and the Euroatlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) as "a success story and an important instrument for improving Austria's contribution to international crisis management". This not only applied to Austria's joint operations with NATO but also to her involvement in the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).
Another central topic of the talks between Plassnik and De Hoop-Scheffer, who was visiting Austria for the first time since taking office as NATO Secretary-General on 1.1. 2004, were the NATO-led operations in the Western Balkans in which Austria also plays a decisive role - within the framework of the KFOR mission in Kosovo, for instance.
"The long-term stabilization of the Western Balkans is an essential focus of Austria's security policy" emphasized the Foreign Minister, adding that she therefore advocated a continued and intensified Austrian commitment in the region. In this context Plassnik also drew attention to Austria's contribution to the SFOR follow-up operation ALTHEA in Bosnia and Herzegovina and pointed to the successful Austrian leadership of a PfP Trust Fund project for the destruction of approx. 1.3 m anti-personnel mines in Serbia and Montenegro.
Plassnik also highlighted the important role played by Austria in bringing about a rapprochement between both Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina and the PfP, and indicated Austria's continued willingness to play a pro-active role in this respect. Mention was further made of Austria's leading function in a PfP mine clearance project in Serbia and Montenegro.
The Foreign Minister and the NATO Secretary-General also exchanged opinions regarding the situation in Afghanistan, stressing the necessity of continued assistance from the international community. Foreign Minister Plassnik underlined Austria's considerable contribution to the reconstruction of Afghanistan: "Since 2002 Austria has made available a total of 14 million euro in aid, as well as dispatching soldiers from the Federal Army to the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan (ISAF)", Plassnik pointed out.
With a view to the forthcoming elections in the Ukraine, the Foreign Minister highlighted the Ukraine's significance as an important neighbour and partner of Austria, stressing that Austria would support the Ukraine on her path towards Europe. The elections represented a kind of "acid test for democracy", thus it was to be hoped that "the Ukraine can fulfil the expectations placed on her by the EU by conducting a free and fair second round of elections".