by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the joint press point with the President of the Council of Ministers of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni
Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you very much Prime Minister Gentiloni, Paolo. We have met many times before, but this is the first time we meet formally in your new capacity as Prime Minister and I really appreciate this opportunity to meet with you, to discuss a wide range of security challenges we face together in NATO. But especially to focus on the preparations for the meeting in May in Brussels, where NATO leaders, heads of state and government, are going to meet. The new US President, the new President of France, but also Montenegro, which is going to be at the next or the new member of NATO – we will all be together there and showing the strength and the solidarity of the alliance through being together in Brussels at the leaders meeting.
Let me also thank Italy for being such a vital and highly valued NATO ally. You are contributing to NATO missions, operations, activities in many different ways and that is of great importance for our shared security, for our collective defence and for the strength of the alliance. You are on the top when it comes to contributing forces to our mission in Afghanistan. You are in Afghanistan with forces which are of great importance for the mission. I have met them myself in Herat and they are there helping to stabilize Afghanistan and also helping to fight international terrorism in Afghanistan and we thank you for your presence in Afghanistan. You are also present in the Balkans, helping to keep the Balkans stable and to also address the challenges posed by foreign fighters in that part of Europe and we also thank you for being the lead nation, having the leadership in our KFOR mission in Kosovo.
Let me also thank you for your contribution later this year to a Canadian-led battle group in Latvia, being part of our enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of the alliance. And Italy will next year lead our High Readiness Joint Task Force or Spearhead Force which is of great importance for the readiness of the alliance and the ability of the Alliance to reinforce if needed.
So you are participating and contributing in many different ways to the strength of the alliance. In particular I would like to thank Italy for being the driving force for developing NATO’s strategy towards the south. We are now in the process of establishing a Hub for the south in our Joint Force Command in Naples. This will be an important tool in strengthening, enhancing NATO’s ability to address the challenges we see emanating from the south, improve our situational awareness and improve our ability to react and to deal with the threats, including working with partners in the south.
NATO has been at the forefront of fighting terrorism for many, many years and our biggest military operation ever is in Afghanistan and we have to remember that the reason why we are in Afghanistan is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists once again. NATO is also contributing to the fight against terrorism in many other ways. We have established a new division for intelligence. Sharing intelligence is key when it comes to addressing the terrorist threat. NATO is also providing support for the Counter-ISIL coalition, training Iraqi officers and providing AWACS surveillance plane support to the Coalition and you are really an important contributor to the Counter-ISIL Coalition and this is important for all of us. We are stepping up our support for Iraq and we have recently included military medicine, courses and training and also stepping up our counter-IED activities when it comes to helping Iraq stabilize their own country and fight, and fight terrorism.
NATO is also prepared to help Libya. I spoke with Prime Minister al-Sarraj last week. A NATO expert team will meet with the Libyan authorities in the coming weeks to discuss how NATO can help Libya build institutions, including a modern ministry of defence, joint chief of staff and intelligence services…help to build institutions which are crucial to stabilize Libya. And Italy is once again being a highly valued ally because you are really present, you are really helping to solve the crisis, the problems in Libya through the political process, but also through your presence in Libya. And we all are grateful for what you do there.
Let me also underline that NATO and the European Union have stepped up our cooperation which is also important for Italy, being a member of both the European Union and NATO. And we have the NATO maritime security operation in the Mediterranean, Sea Guardian, and we have, currently we have four ships, three maritime patrol aircrafts and some other assets providing direct support to the EU’s Operation Sophia, showing how NATO can help support the European Union addressing the challenges, the migrant and the refugee crisis we see in the central Mediterranean and we are also present in the Aegean Sea dealing with the migrant and refugee crisis.
As you mentioned we will also address burden sharing at the meeting in May with heads of state and government. Burden sharing is about defence spending and of course when tensions are going up we have to increase our investment in defence. I welcome that Italy has increased. Last year, Italy increased defence spending. And we are following up on the pledge we made together in 2014 to stop the cuts, to gradually increase defence spending and then move towards spending 2 % of GDP on defence within a decade. But burden sharing is about more than spending. Burden sharing is also about the capabilities we are developing and Italy again is contributing with many important capabilities to NATO, to the alliance and the contributions to NATO activities, missions and operations in Kosovo, in Afghanistan but also when it comes to our presence in the eastern part of the alliance.
So once again thank you so much for an excellent meeting. Thank you for everything Italy is doing for our alliance and I’m looking forward to seeing you again in Brussels on the 25th of May together with all the other leaders showing the strength and the unity of the alliance. Thank you.