Joint press point
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Vice President of the United States of America, Michael Pence
So good afternoon, Vice President Pence, welcome to NATO headquarters. It is really a great honour and a great pleasure to have you here. Just a month after you took office and just a few days after your great speech in Munich. Where you so clearly declared the commitment and unwavering support of the US to the transatlantic bond. We welcome that because we see the strong commitment of the US to the transatlantic bond not only in words but also in deeds.
These days the US is deploying new forces, additional forces, to Europe which is of great importance for the security of Europe and which is demonstrates the strong transatlantic commitment of the US and we are very grateful for this commitment.
You also stressed that just as the US stood with Europe, Europe stood tall with the US. And we have to remember that the only time that the Alliance has invoked our NATO has invoked our collective defence clause, Article 5, our, was after an attack on the US. And this was more than just a gesture. Several hundred thousands of Canadian and European troops have served in Afghanistan. And more than a thousand paid the ultimate price.
The bond between the US and Europe, embodied in the NATO Alliance, is very important today, because we live in times of turmoil and instability and then we need a strong Alliance more than ever. And we are stronger when we stand together.
During our meeting we discussed our progress in the fight against terrorism. NATO continues to train security forces in Afghanistan. We have started to train security forces and officers in Iraq. And we support the US-led Coalition against ISIL with AWACS surveillance planes. But we agree that the Alliance can, and should do more, in the fight against terrorism.
We also agree on the importance of higher defence spending and fairer burden-sharing in NATO. This has been my top priority since I took office. Europeans cannot ask the United States to commit to Europe's defence if they are not willing to commit more themselves. And they are committing more. In 2016, after many years of cuts, we turned a corner. Defence spending increased across Europe and Canada by 3.8 percent in real terms, or ten billion US dollars more. But we still have a long way to go, so all Allies must speed up their efforts to spend 2 percent of GDP on defence. This will be an important point when Allied leaders meet here in Brussels in May.
So Mr Vice-President, thank you for our excellent discussion. We agree that NATO is the most successful Alliance in history because NATO has been able to adapt and change when the world is changing. And we agree that we must continue to change, to keep our people safe. US leadership remains indispensable. So I really look forward to working with you.
And to welcoming President Trump in Brussels in May.
So please, you have the floor.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Secretary General.
It is a privilege to meet with you today to bring greetings on behalf of President Donald Trump and also to have the opportunity for a thorough and substantive discussion of the issues facing NATO and our historic alliance.
It has been a busy weekend for me. As I prepare to head back to the United States, I’m grateful. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to speak on Saturday about our shared security issues at the Munich Security Conference. And I appreciate your encouraging words about the message of the United States at that conference.
And I also was pleased to be able to hold a series of productive bilateral meetings with leaders from all across the world.
It was also deeply moving for me and my family to return to Dachau, the very first concentration camp, and to be accompanied by a survivor by the name of Abba Naor. I had first visited that camp in 1977. I wanted my daughter to see it. And we went there and walked through that historic memorial.
Abba told me that he arrived at Dachau as a 17-year-old boy. He told me of the nightmarish existence that he experienced there. But then he spoke words that resonate with our alliance. He said: “Then the Americans came.”
Those words touched my heart, and they speak volumes about the history and importance of the North Atlantic alliance and of NATO, more of which I’ll address momentarily.
But I thank you again for your hospitality in this historic place at this important time.
I was also grateful today to meet with the leadership of the European Union. And on behalf of President Trump, I express the commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the EU.
While we have our differences on some issues, I reiterated this point in all of my meetings with the EU leadership and appreciated the cordial and substantive discussions that we had.
But on Saturday, as the Secretary General mentioned, at the Munich Security Conference, I brought a message from President Trump -- the message is the same one I bring to you today.
It is my privilege here at the NATO Headquarters to express the strong support of President Trump and the United States of America for NATO and our transatlantic alliance.
The United States has been a proud and faithful member of NATO since its founding in 1949. This alliance plays a crucial role in promoting peace and prosperity in the North Atlantic and, frankly, in the entire world.
The United States’ commitment to NATO is clear. As we speak, President Trump and our administration are developing plans to ensure that the strongest military in the world in the United States becomes stronger still.
Let me assure you, Mr. Secretary, that in the United States, we're about the process of strengthening our military and restoring the arsenal of democracy. Working with members of Congress, we intend to increase military funding to make it possible for us to provide for the common defense for the people of the United States, but also meet the obligations that we have with our treaty allies, including in this historic treaty.
America -- therefore I can say with confidence: America will do our part. But Europe’s defense requires Europe’s commitment as much as ours.
At the Wales Summit in 2014, all 28 members of the NATO alliance declared their intention to move towards a minimum security investment of 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense within a decade.
As a candidate for office, President Trump actually called attention repeatedly to the fact that for too long, for too many, this burden has not been shared fairly among our NATO allies. And that must come to an end.
At this moment, the United States and only four other NATO members meet this basic standard. And while we commend the few nations that are on track and have met the obligation, the truth is that many others, including some of our largest allies, still lack a clear and credible path to meet this minimum goal.
So let me say again what I said this last weekend in Munich, the President of the United States and the American people expect our allies to keep their word and to do more in our common defense. And the President expects real progress by the end of 2017.
As Secretary of Defense James Mattis said here in Belgium just a few short days ago, if you’re a nation that meets the 2 percent target, we need your help encouraging other nations to do likewise. If you have a plan to get there, as he said, our alliance needs you to accelerate it. And if you don’t yet have a plan, these are my words not his: Get one. It is time for actions, not words.
And let me thank specifically the Secretary General for your outspoken leadership on this issue. As you and I discussed privately and you've discussed with the President, the world needs NATO’s strength and leadership now more than ever before. And we are grateful, Mr. Secretary General, that you join us in calling for immediate and steady progress on all of our NATO allies’ commitment to our common defense.
The truth is the rise of adversaries new and old demands a strong response from this alliance. In the east, NATO has embarked on improvement in its deterrent posture by stationing four combat-ready multinational battalions in Poland and the Baltic States.
And as I assured the Secretary General in our meeting today, in the wake of Russian efforts to redraw international borders by force, the United States will continue its leadership role in the Enhanced Forward Presence Initiative and other critical joint actions.
With regard to Ukraine, as I said before, our alliance will continue to hold Russia accountable and demand that they honor the Minsk Agreements, beginning with de-escalating violence in eastern Ukraine.
For the sake of peace and for the sake of innocent human lives, we urge both sides to abide by the ceasefire that began today. And we pray for peace in Ukraine.
Be assured, the United States, as well, will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which President Trump firmly believes can be found.
As I said in Munich, though, NATO’s continued leadership is also necessary in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism; this, another item that as a candidate for office, President Trump first raised.
As a candidate a year ago, he called on NATO to evolve by expanding counterterrorism operations. And we're encouraged to see under your leadership NATO is in the process of doing just that. It’s hard to speak of these issues in the abstract as I stand here in Brussels, just now almost a year ago that three horrific suicide bombings occurred, 33 innocent victims, including four Americans, hundreds more injured. I just want to assure the people of Brussels and all the people of Europe that your pain is our pain, your loss our loss. And it’s precisely why the President believes it’s essential that NATO continue on this new path of evolving and expanding its mission to be more effective in counterterrorism.
We will work tirelessly with our NATO allies to ensure security in our countries and yours. But adapting to these new and ever-shifting challenges must remain a central focus of our collaboration and cooperation. Our alliance needs to intensify efforts to cut off terrorist funding and increase cyber capabilities. We must be -- as I said before, we must be as dominant in the digital world as we are in the physical world. And the United States is committed to continuing to work with our NATO allies to achieve that objective for the security of all the nations in our alliance.
By building on tactics from the last century with these new century opportunities and challenges, NATO will be better prepared to confront and overcome the new adversaries of the 21st century.
Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States, I can assure you, is fully committed to NATO’s noble mission. We are grateful for your leadership, Mr. Secretary General. And I know the President looks forward to working closely with you to advance our shared objectives. A strong NATO means a safer world. And the United States of America looks forward to continuing to work with our partners in NATO to achieve just that.
So, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for your hospitality and for your leadership.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO Spokesperson]: We have time for a few questions. We will start with the BBC Damian Grammaticus over there.
DAMIAN GRAMMATICUS (BBC Reporter): Vice President, you’ve given your assurances today here in Brussels to European leaders that the U.S. is committed to working with Europe; President Trump has said very different things. He has said that the EU is a vehicle for Germany, that the U.K. was smart to get out and he expected other countries to follow. Who should European leaders listen to, you or President Trump and can they be certain that what you say, the assurances you give won’t be contradicted in a tweet or a statement at a press conference tomorrow? And Secretary General who do you listen to and are you concerned about differences in what you hear?
MICHAEL PENCE: Thank you for the question. Let me say that it was [sic] my great privilege to serve as Vice President for the 45th President of the United States and the President directed me to go to Munich and to come here to Brussels with a very specific message. To go to Munich, to the Munich Security Conference and make it very clear, as I do so again today here at NATO’s Headquarters that the United States is expressing strong support for NATO even as we challenge NATO and challenge our allies to evolve to the new and widening challenges and further meet their responsibilities in this ever changing, ever complicated world of threats. But with regard to the EU the President also directed me to come here to Brussels and I had the great privilege of meeting with leaders of the European Union throughout the morning and to express the desire of the United States to continue; continue cooperation and partnership with the European Union. We respect the determination of the people of Great Britain as manifested in Brexit and we respect the judgment of the peoples of Europe in the European Union and as I said today through many leaders we look forward to working across the channel with all parties in the years ahead on behalf of peace and prosperity.
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): I have heard exactly the same firm message from the President of the United States in two phone calls; from the Vice President in meetings today and in Munich and from Secretary Mattis, Tillerson and Kelly. They have all conveyed the same message, that the United States is firmly committed to the Trans-Atlantic Partnership and have an unwavering support for the NATO Alliance and I welcome that very much, both very clear statements from all the leaders in the new administration but also the fact that this is not only something we see in words but we also see it in deeds. For the first time in many years we see an increase of U.S. military presence in Europe and we are deploying new battle groups; the U.S. is deploying a new brigade and we see on the ground more U.S. presence in Europe so this is a commitment in words but also in deeds. When it comes to the European Union I would like to underline the importance of the enhanced cooperation between NATO and the European Union. We have actually been able to bring that to a new level, implementing many different issues or measures and we signed a joint declaration between President Tusk, President Juncker and me in Warsaw and we are now following up on implementing that. We are working closer on hybrid, on cyber, on addressing how to build the capacity in our neighborhood and how to stabilize our neighborhood are areas where we are working together with the European Union and I think actually the NATO-EU cooperation is even more important now because we lives in times with turmoil and unpredictability and then we need a strong cooperation between NATO and the European Union and I welcome the very strong U.S. support for that approach.
MODERATOR: Next question Ken Thomas from the Associated Press.
KEN THOMAS (Associated Press): Thank you Mister Vice President. I wanted to ask about the dismissal of General Flynn recently. Did you feel like you were misled by members of the Trump administration or were you frustrated that you were left out of the loop on this situation and what assurances have you received from President Trump that something like this will not happen again? And for Mister Secretary General both you and the Trump administration have talked about the need for additional funding for defence, what are the consequences for inaction by NATO members? Is there any scenario in which the … in which the Article 5 commitments might be considered conditional if NATO members do not fulfil their defence spending obligations?
MICHEAL PENCE: Let me say I’m very grateful for the close working relationship I have with the President of the United States. I would tell you that I was disappointed to learn that the facts that have been conveyed to me by General Flynn were inaccurate but we honour General Flynn’s long service to the United States of America and I fully support the President’s decision to ask for his resignation. It was the proper decision. It was handled properly and in a timely way and I have great confidence in the National Security Team of this administration going forward. The combination of Secretary Mattis, of Director Pompeo at the CIA, of Secretary Kelly at Homeland Security, I think it gives the American people great confidence that the team in this administration is providing the leadership and the direction to those agencies and also to the President of the United States to advance the security of our people.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Our collective defence clause, our collective defence commitment is unconditional, it’s absolute and it’s the core of the NATO Alliance and I welcome the very strong commitment of the United States to this Trans-Atlantic bond and to this collective defence clause. At the same time I fully support what has been underlined by President Trump and Vice President Pence today, the importance of burden sharing and I think that we have to remember that this is not only something that the U.S. is asking for, it’s actually something that 28 Allies agreed, the leaders from 28 NATO allied countries sat around the same table in 2014 and agreed to stop the cuts, to gradually increase defence spending and then to meet the 2% target within a decade and the good news is that we are moving in the right direction. After many years of decline, after many years of defence cuts across Europe and Canada we saw that in 2015 we stopped the cuts - the first year after we made the pitch - and then in 2016 we have a significant increase of 3.8% in real terms or $10 billion dollars. There is a long way to go and much remains to be done but at least we have turned the corner and we have started to move in the right direction. I am encouraged by that and I expect all allies to make good on the promise that they made in 2014 to increase defence spending and to make sure that we have a fairer burden sharing.
OANA LUNGESCU: Next question to Sűddeutsche Zeitung, Daniel Brȍssler.
DANIEL BRȌSSLER: A question to the Vice President and the Secretary General. The German Foreign Minister has called to the 2% goal too ambitious and said that more spending would not necessarily lead to more security. Are you disappointed by that and what would be the consequence if a country like Germany would not hold up to the 2% goal? And a question for the Vice President, if I may. President Trump has repeatedly talked about his war with the press. Since NATO is an alliance of values can you assure the allies that the freedom of the press is not under threat from the Unites States? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: All allies have committed to the defence investment pitch meaning to stop the cuts and to start to increase and that also includes Germany and it has also been clearly expressed from Germany that they are committed to the defence investment pitch we made together in 2014. The good thing is that Germany has started to increase defence spending. In 2017 there will be a significant increase in German defence spending, around 8%, so of course Germany as many other allies have a long way to go and some allies will meet the 2% target within a year or two. Romania declared last week that they will meet the 2% target this year. Lithuania and Latvia will soon be able to meet the 2% target also within a year or two. So we are really making progress, Germany has started to increase defence spending and again I expect all allies to keep the pledge they made together as leaders in 2014.
MICHAEL PENCE: Let me say again, the President and I and our administration are very grateful for the Secretary General’s focus on burden sharing and for our NATO Allies, whether it be Germany or other countries, to meet the commitment that treaty allies made to one another. I think it’s a demonstration of President Trump’s leadership that before taking office he was speaking about the fact that the United States provides more than 70% of the costs of NATO today and we are committed to continue to do our part but the time has come for our NATO Allies to step forward and the Secretary General’s strong message on this is in all of our collective interests. I will tell you that I had very productive discussions with Chancellor Merkel. We spoke about just this issue and we look forward to continued dialogue. Our hope is that we will have a date very soon where Chancellor Merkel will come to the White House. I expect the President will talk with her about it as well; this is simply about all of us doing what we all said that we would do. To provide for our common defence and in the ever changing threat environment in which we live, that’s more important now than ever. Now with regards to your second question rest assured both the President and I strongly support a free and independent press but you can anticipate that the President and all of us will continue to call out the media when they play fast and loose with the facts. The truth is that we have in President Trump someone who has a unique ability to speak directly to the American people and when the media gets it wrong I promise you President Trump will take his case straight to the American people to set the record straight.
MODERATOR: Next question Julian Barnes with the Wall Street Journal.
JULIAN BARNES (Reporter Wall Street Journal): Mister Vice President, you said the U.S. commitment to the EU was steadfast and enduring. Is the administration opposed to further disintegration of the EU, further countries exiting; and on NATO what is the “or else”? If there isn’t more defence spending this year would you recommend cutting the European Reassurance Initiative? Would you cut back on exercises? What’s the “or else”?
MICHAEL PENCE: I think your second question is a very fair one. What is the “or else”? I think when Secretary Mattis was here he spoke very plainly here at NATO’s Headquarters about the frustration of the American people that as our country continues to make investments in Europe’s security we see European countries falling behind. The President really put this issue front and centre before the American people in his campaign for President and frankly it struck a very resonant cord and so I don’t know what the answer is to “or else” but I know that the patience of the American people will not endure forever. The commitment that we have made to one another, that the American people are keeping with the people of Europe and NATO is a commitment that the President of the United States and the American people expect our allies in Europe to keep as well. But failing that, questions about the future we will just leave in the future. It’s hypothetical but I have to tell you that with the Secretary General’s strong leadership having made the issue of burden sharing his top priority, having a partnership with so many countries across NATO who in my meetings over this weekend have expressed a desire to step forward and keep their word. I am very encouraged about the progress. What you see happening here is in a very real sense the result of American leadership in President Trump; we have a President who is stepping forward, he is expressing American leadership not just on the issue of funding but also on his call last year that NATO should evolve to widen … widen its tactics to include counterterrorism as a major focus and NATO has begun to do that. The United States looks forward to supporting that. With regard to the European Union my message very simply was that the United States is committed to continuing our partnership with the European Union and I wanted to make that very clear. We understand the relationship between our economies; we understand the deep heritage of member states in the European Union with people in the United States of America and looking for ways that we could reassure this weekend leaders of the European Union of our commitment to ongoing cooperation and maintaining that partnership in the years ahead. It’s hopefully a resonant message that came through and it’s my great privilege to be here to deliver it.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Let me just add that the focus of the alliance is on how can we make sure that we succeed in delivering on what we agreed about fairer burden sharing and increased defence spending and therefore I will not speculate so much about “or else” - what will happen if we don’t succeed. But we’ve heard a firm and clear message from the United States. We have heard from the President. We have heard it from the Vice President and from Secretary Mattis at the Defence Ministerial meeting. So I think that just underlines the importance of making sure that we move, that we succeed in increasing defence spending across Europe and Canada and the good thing is that we have started, 3.8% real increase in 2016 is a significant step but it’s only one step in the right direction, we need much more. Let me also add that we need both to spend more but we also need to spend better. So the focus of the alliance, the focus of the Defence Ministers but also in our cooperation with the European Union is how can we increase efficiency? How can we develop cooperation? How can we make sure that we address the fragmentation of especially the European defence industry so we can reduce costs and get more out of the money that we invest in our defence? But there is no way to choose between either spend more or better. We need to spend both more and better so what we committed to in 2014 was not either to spend more or to spend better but it was to spend 2% of GDP in a better way and we are realizing both things and we are moving forward on both tracks.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. Thank you.