by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Foreign Ministers
Today and tomorrow, NATO’s Foreign Ministers will address some of the security challenges we are all facing and we will do that by addressing a wide range of the issues but at the core of the meeting is the importance of the transatlantic bond, the bond between Europe and North America. One way of strengthening the bond between North America and Europe is by strengthening the cooperation between NATO and EU. And we have a momentum now when it comes to NATO-EU cooperation. In July, I signed a Joint Declaration with Presidents Tusk and Juncker and at the meeting today we will decide how we turn that declaration into concrete action.
So this afternoon, we will meet with EU High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini and all Allies will endorse over 40 proposals to deepen our cooperation in seven key areas. These include agreements to do more on land, at sea, and in cyberspace – including to counter hybrid threats.
We will also commit to working more closely to support our partners in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Our proposals are pragmatic, but ambitious and we will continue to work in this spirit.
Later today, we will focus on NATO’s efforts to project stability beyond our borders – to the south and to the east. We have made progress since the Warsaw Summit. Our AWACS surveillance planes have started to provide information to the Counter-ISIL Coalition. We have trained many Iraqi officers and are now expanding that training. And our new operation Sea Guardian is now supporting EU’s Operation Sophia in the Central Mediterranean. We will also address NATO’s support for the Western Balkans, which requires our continued attention and effort.
Tomorrow, we will begin with a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. Underscoring the Alliance’s enduring support for Ukraine. We will take stock of NATO’s support, and of the government’s reforms.
The ministerial will close with a meeting on Afghanistan and our Resolute Support mission. We will reconfirm our strong commitment to Afghanistan’s security and we will get an update on the government’s reform agenda, which is essential for Afghanistan’s long-term stability and prosperity.
And with that, I’m ready to take your questions.
Q: Secretary General, after the agreement on logistics signed today between the US and the EU, are you concerned at all that this sidesteps NATO? And, how can real NATO-EU cooperation move forward without a peace deal on Cyprus?
Secretary General: I welcome the agreement that is signed between the United States and the EU today. Because that is one building bloc of what we are going to do later on here at NATO, and that is to strengthen the transatlantic bond, by strengthening the cooperation between NATO and the European Union. And we think this is more important than ever, partly because we are faced with new kinds of threats. This combination of military and non-military means of aggression, hybrid, cyber, terrorism that requires that NATO and the European Union work together. We also think that stronger NATO-EU cooperation is even more important, because the European Union is now more focused on strengthening a European defence. And we welcome stronger European defence, but to make sure that this is done in a way which is complementary to NATO, we need even closer cooperation between NATO and the European Union. Also the fact that there have been questions, that questions have been asked related to the strength of the transatlantic bond, I think the best way to respond to those questions is to deliver stronger NATO-EU cooperation, which strengthens the transatlantic bond. And today, we will endorse 40 concrete proposals on cyber, on hybrid, on exercises, on maritime cooperation and in many other areas. So the agreement between the US and the European Union is something we welcome; we regard it as a building bloc in the broader effort of strengthening the transatlantic bond.
On the Cyprus conflict, I will just say that I strongly support the efforts, the UN-led efforts to find a solution between the two communities at Cyprus. There has been some progress, but still I think it’s not sure to say whether they will succeed or not. But I think what we have proven over the last couple of years is that even with the conflict in Cyprus unsolved, we have been able to move forward on strengthening NATO-EU cooperation. We have seen that in the Aegean Sea, where NATO and the European Union work together; we have seen it now in the Central Mediterranean with Sea Guardian and Operation Sophia and we see today with the 40 concrete proposals. So, yes I would like to see a solution to the conflict in Cyprus, but no, that’s not a precondition on moving forward on NATO-EU cooperation.
Q: in the war against Daesh NATO is participating in support of the Coalition, can you tell us the first result of NATO contribution in this war against Daesh in Syria and Iraq? And maybe will the Sea Guardian Operation be useful in monitoring and may be fighting the movement of Daesh fighters from Iraq and Syria to Libya, because according to many security experts this will be one of their options.
Secretary General: All NATO Allies participate in the counter-ISIL Coalition. And for the Coalition it is important and a great advantage that through decades of NATO exercises and decades of NATO operations, NATO allies and partners have developed interoperability, the ability to work closely together in military operations, as we now see in Syria and Iraq. So NATO Allies participate and the Coalition…[inaudible]. Second, we decided in July to increase our support from NATO to the Counter-ISIL Coalition. We have done that by providing AWACS support and AWACS planes have started to fly and to provide information supporting the counter-ISIL Coalition to improve their air picture over Iraq and Syria; and we have trained Iraqi officers; we will increase that by also starting now in-country training in Iraq from January; and we will then assess and look into whether we are going to do even more based on the experience from the activity that will start in Iraq in January.
Our Sea Guardian operation is a Maritime Security Operation. It’s a flexible operation. It can be used to different tasks, depending on decisions by the 28 Allies. We have already started to provide support to Operation Sophia; we provide logistical support and also information-sharing with Sea Guardian. Sea Guardian will not operate in Libyan territorial waters. It will operate in international waters, but of course improved situational awareness and better understanding of what’s going on also in the Mediterranean sea contributes to our overall effort to counter terrorism in the region.
Q: In Russian President Putin’s state of the union speech last week and his foreign policy document, he expressed the wish to try to [inaudible] cooperation with the US and the new President. What is your take on the speech and on the foreign policy document? Is there anything for NATO there to work for better relations with the Russians?
Secretary General: I welcome any toning down of the rhetoric, because words matter. Less aggressive rhetoric can be a first step towards also better dialogue. At the same time, words matter but of course deeds matter even more. Therefore the important thing is what we see, what kinds of actions we see from the Russian side. We will continue to pursue a dual track approach with Russia based on strength, based on deterrence and collective defence combined with dialogue and by keeping the channels for political dialogue open with Russia. This was the message the first day I arrived in NATO the 1st of October 2014, that we need defence and dialogue not defence or dialogue. Therefore, we welcome anything that can improve the conditions for dialogue with Russia. We believe that especially when tensions run high it is particularly important to have dialogue to have direct communications, and we do not want a new cold war, we don’t seek confrontation with Russia. We will continue to strive for a more constructive relationship with Russia.
Q: Mr Secretary General, there will be an informal discussion about the future relationship with Russia. Could you give us an insight why the Alliance is always trying to reconsider to look for another approach to make the ties with Russia better if there is no reciprocity from the Moscow side.
Secretary General: One of the reasons why we think it is important to sit down is also to discuss those issues where we disagree. So far this year we have been able to convene two meetings of the NATO-Russia Council. And there we have also discussed also issues like Ukraine. We didn’t come to any agreement, we continue to disagree but I think just to meet, to sit around the table and to have a frank and open discussion on also the difficult issues is important. We will continue to keep that kind of dialogue open in different ways but also through the Nato-Russia Council. Then we will also continue to work for reciprocity when it comes to transparency, risk reduction, and also the full implementation of the different agreements we have, for instance in the OSCE framework on transparency and risk reduction. We have something called the Vienna document and something called the open skies document. These documents regulate how you notify military exercises, how international observers are allowed to inspect military exercises, and one of the issues we have very much focused on in our dialogue with Russia is exactly how we can strengthen and improve these kind of mechanism’s, partly by making sure that existing mechanisms are fully implemented and partly by improving some of the mechanism. So we are strengthening the tools to avoid incidents and accidents, like for instance the downing of a Russian plane over Turkey last tear. Or some of the very dangerous situations we have seen in the Baltic Sea and Black Sea, where Russian planes have been very close to NATO or US planes and ships. So we need to strengthen the tools we have to avoid these kind of dangerous situations and if they happen, to make sure that they do not spiral out of control. This is of course about reciprocity and that is exactly what we are discussing for instance in the NATO-Russia Council.