IT'S GOOD to be back in Brussels. More than 20 years ago I left this building after having worked here as a Dutch diplomat. Today I am back and starting my job as Secretary General of this alliance, which has brought us peace, stability and security throughout its existence, and will continue to do so. Of course it's a different Nato from 20 years ago, but still the cornerstone of our transatlantic relations and guarantor of our values.
As shown throughout its existence, the alliance functions properly if all its members perform as a team and they all feel the same high degree of commitment. I consider it to be my duty and that of my dedicated staff to ensure this.
There is no shortage of challenges for 2004. The primary focus at the moment should be on Afghanistan. Nato has taken on a great responsibility there in circumstances that are far from easy. It's an area where we must devote our attention if we are to see through our mission.
We are involved in the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and in supporting the Polish division in Iraq. Nato is playing an important role in the war against terror and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This year Nato will welcome seven new members and develop links with Russia, Ukraine and other partners.
Maintaining good relations with the European Union will be one of my priorities. Equally I intend to maintain close relations with other international organisations such as the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, who have often been our partners in missions around the world.
I am fully aware that I take the helm of Nato at a crucial moment in its history, when not only the organisation but also the international framework is in being transformed.