Pre-ministerial press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

  • 01 Dec. 2014 -
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  • Last updated: 01 Dec. 2014 20:45

Good morning.

The Foreign ministers are going to meet at a very decisive time for our security when they meet tomorrow.

2014 has been a year of aggression, crisis and conflict. But NATO stands strong.

Russia’s aggressive actions have undermined Euro-Atlantic security.  While efforts for lasting peace continue, we see a significant military build-up in and around Ukraine. Large transfers of Russian advanced weapons, equipment and military personnel to violent separatists. And a major increase in Russian military activity around Europe and beyond.

To the south, violence and extremism have spread across the Middle East and North Africa.  We welcome the broad coalition effort led by the United States against the terrorist group ISIL, which is actually already showing results.  All allies are playing their part in this coalition against ISIL.

At the Wales Summit, we agreed on a Readiness Action Plan  to deal with challenges from both east and south. We are committed to implementing the plan on time and in full.

Tomorrow, we will review our progress and discuss the next steps. 

We have already boosted our presence in the eastern part of our Alliance. We have five times more planes in the air. Our forces start an exercise every two days. And we have also increased the number of ships in the Baltic and the Black Seas. 

All Allies are contributing. Twenty-eight for twenty-eight.

We are also developing a Spearhead Force, able to respond within days. We are working to stand up this new force in 2016. 

In the meantime, we are enhancing what we have. I expect that early next year, a number of Allies will provide an interim force with a high level of readiness. This will make us even better prepared to deter and to defend against any crisis arising around our borders. 

In Wales, we also made clear our strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

Despite the challenges, the recent elections were a success. The people of Ukraine spoke loud and clear in favour of democracy, unity and European integration. And NATO will continue to support Ukraine on its chosen path. 

At the Summit, we agreed to set up several trust funds. On areas such as command and control; logistics; and cyber defence. And many Allies have been stepping forward to contribute.    

Finally, we agreed in Wales, we will open a new chapter in our partnership with Afghanistan, as our combat mission comes to a close.

We have done  what we set out to do. Our nations are safer, and Afghanistan is stronger.

The Afghan parliament has now ratified by an overwhelming majority the two security agreements with NATO and the United States. I warmly welcome the vote, which paves the way for the launch of our new mission. Resolute Support is going to be launched on the first of January 2015. This will be a non-combat mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.  It reflects the progress we have made together with great sacrifice. And it will enable Afghanistan to build on that progress. 

But the new mission is only one aspect of our support. We will also provide funding for the Afghan national security forces. And develop our long-term partnership with Afghanistan.    

I am very glad that later on today, I will meet with President Ghani and with Chief Executive Abdullah, who will join us at the ministerial tomorrow.

Their participation underlines the vital importance of our partnership. 

For Afghanistan, the region, and our own security.

So to sum up, I expect to see four concrete outcomes from this ministerial meeting:

An agreement on continuous NATO presence in the eastern part of our Alliance next year.  

The announcement of an interim Spearhead Force to enhance our readiness.

 Strong political and practical support for Ukraine. And the launch of a new mission in Afghanistan, the Resolute Support mission.

With that, I am ready to take your questions. 

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): And we'll start with our Georgian colleague in the first row.

Q: Thank you, (inaudible) Georgian Public Broadcaster. Mister Secretary General, Russia is going to sign a so-called treaty with South Ossetia after Abkhazia. We read your statement about this so-called treaty. How NATO, you are going to convince Russia that this treaty contradicts the principles of international law?

And, the second question, Russia wants a 100% guarantee from NATO that Ukraine won't join NATO. And they want to receive the same guarantee about Georgia. So we want to know your position about this also. Thank you very much.

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO and all the NATO Allies fully support the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Georgia. And we don't recognize in any way Abkhazia as some kind of independent state or nation. So therefore, we don't recognize the so-called treaty between Russia and Abkhazia; because Abkhazia is part of Georgia within Georgia's internationally recognized borders.

This has been stated very clearly from me, from NATO Allies. And it's something which is a matter of principle; because the rule-based order we have been... we have based our security on for so many years is based on the fundamental principles of respecting borders, the territories, the integrity of independent nations. And therefore it is important, also, to be very clear that we don't recognize any violation of Georgia's territorial integrity.

When it comes to NATO membership, the whole idea of giving some kind of guarantee is also against the fundamental principles on which we are basing our security. And that is that it's up to... it's a decision which is a part of being an independent sovereign nation. It's up to each and every independent nation to decide itself what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of. So therefore there is no way we can guarantee. Or we don't want to deliver that kind of guarantees; because we are basing our policies on the open-door policy.

It has been a great success. And countries should decide themselves whether they want to become member of a military alliance as NATO or not. If a country applies, then we go into the normal processes; and assess whether the country fulfils the standards and adhere to the principles which are needed to become a member of NATO. But this is a relationship between NATO and the country that applies. And no third country outside NATO can veto the enlargement of NATO. That's a relationship between NATO and the aspirant country.

Oana Lungescu: Associated Press.

Q: Yes, Secretary General, could you speak a bit about the meeting that's going to take your... take place here on Wednesday? The ISIS Coalition Meeting or Anti-ISIS Coalition Meeting I guess I should call it: What is NATO's role beyond being the physical host of the meeting? And do you expect NATO's role in the struggle... in the fight against ISIS to be increased? Thank you!

Jens Stoltenberg: The last statement?

Q: Do you expect NATO's role in the fight against ISIS to be increased as a result of this meeting?

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO... The meeting is taking place here in the headquarters of NATO on Wednesday. And I'm going to welcome and give a short statement at the beginning of the meeting. But this is a coalition led by the United States. It's not a NATO coalition. It's a coalition of many countries led by the United States. And the meeting is taking place here.

There has been no request for a NATO role in this... a military role in the fight against ISIL in Syria. What we have said is that we are standing ready to provide help... assistance to the government of Iraq to help them enhance, strengthen their defence capacity. And if there is such a request then we will stand ready to consider how we could help the government of Iraq. There has not been such a request so far. But if it comes, then we will look into that related to the possibility of defence capacity in Iraq.

Oana Lungescu: Jane's...

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence, right in front of you. Hum, yes, I was wondering. Given, the very aggressive build-up of Russian military support around... around Ukraine and to the rebels, is it not time for NATO to consider organizing the Allies to provide support beyond the trust fund, i.e. weaponry? I know NATO doesn't provide per se; but isn't it time for NATO to act as a forum for that? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: First of all, NATO has supported and has expressed very strong support for Ukraine and the independence of Ukraine all the time since the crisis started.

Second, we have set up the trust funds and we are going to launch them to make them operational tomorrow.

Thirdly, as you said, NATO is not providing equipment, not possessing equipment which is possible to [inaudible] the nations including Ukraine; because we are not in that position.

Many Allies are providing different kind of help to Ukraine in addition to what they do to NATO. There are different kinds of economic programmes supporting Ukraine. And when it comes to the question of providing military equipment and what kind of military equipment, I think it's right of me to leave that to each Ally to decide in a bilateral agreement with Ukraine.

Oana Lungescu: Tolo TV.

Q: Thank you very much. I'm coming from Afghanistan. We are... the insecurity and Taliban attacks number is very high. In November, more than 200 people lost their lives. And more than 700 hundreds wounded in Taliban attacks. Can Afghan forces deal with these massive attacks alone?

Jens Stoltenberg: Afghan National Security Forces has...have in fact been responsible for security all over the country for several months already. And I'm very much aware that there have been... that there has been... that there have been attacks. And they also have seen casualties, but at the same time we have seen a strong and capable national security forces of Afghanistan, being able to be responsible for the security all over the country.

And I visited Afghanistan just a few weeks ago. And I was very impressed by what I saw: a strong capable, well-trained security force of 350,000 which is a big force. And I'm convinced that they are able to manage also the challenges they are going to face next year.

NATO is going to be there with the Resolute Support Mission, with a substantial financial support for the Afghan national security forces. And in addition, we're going to establish a taskforce also tomorrow where we're going to look into how we can develop the long-term cooperation between NATO and Afghanistan. So there are... there's going to be violence... there's going to be attacks also next year. But the Afghan National Security Forces are capable. And the time has come to leave the responsibility for the security of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves.

Oana Lungescu: Bloomberg....Bloomberg over there

Q: Hi.... [inaudible]. I've got a question about the spearheads and the Interim Spearhead next year. I know that Norway, Netherlands and Germany want to set up. Are there more countries joining? And can you tell me a bit more about the developments, thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: The Interim Spearhead Force... or the Interim High Readiness Force is important. And it actually proves that we are implementing the Readiness Action Plan, actually faster than planned; because this interim solution was not in the decision we took at Wales. It is something that developed after. So we get more readiness sooner than expected by establishing the interim force which is going to be operational early next year. So in that way we are ahead of schedule when it comes to the establishment... establishing or following up the Readiness Action Plan and to make our forces more ready.

So far, there are three countries. And you mentioned them: it's Germany, the Netherlands and Norway. There are also dialogues with others. The thing is that we are basing this on the existing NATO Response Force. So what we are doing is that we have the NATO Response Force. And then we are taking part of the NATO Response and making that part more ready, more prepared, and in that way increasing our readiness.

So this is a bridge... This is an interim solution until we have the more permanent High Readiness Force or Spearhead Force.

Oana Lungescu: Bloomberg. Thank you.

Q: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. I'm right over here. Just a question about the increased Russian military training activity in the air and on the sea near NATO's borders. First, do these Russian actions violate any international treaties or agreements? And secondly, to reduce the risk of accidents, would you favour setting up a new notification or early-warning mechanism with Russia? Or perhaps reviving previous early-warning mechanisms?

Jens Stoltenberg: What we have seen is increased Russian military activity along NATO borders especially in the airspace. And in total, there has been more than 400 scrambles of NATO aircraft to intercept Russian aircraft so far this year. And that is 50% more than the total of last year.

And in the Baltic region, the increase has been even stronger. So we have seen a substantial increase in Russian military air activity close to NATO borders.

This Russian air... The Russian air activity is normally taking place in international airspace. And it's not in violation of international regulations. But they are conducted in a way which is sometimes quite aggressive. And of course sometimes they're also violating NATO airspace. And that's, of course, violating international agreements. But normally, they take place in international airspace. The challenge is partly the numbers. But also the part of the way they conduct the flights. They are approaching our borders. They are approaching NATO ships very close. And they are conducting the flights without filing their air... or the flight plans, without turning on the transponders and without communicating with civilian air traffic control. And this is a challenge. And therefore we would urge Russia to conduct those flights in a more responsible way; and everything that can contribute to more transparency, more predictability which will be of great importance; and will also reduce the risks of accidents and also the risk of incidents and accidents spiralling and coming out of control.

Oana Lungescu: Anyway we've got quite a few questions. We'll have NPR over here.

Q: Thank you, Teri Schultz with NPR and CBS. Mister Secretary General. Are you concerned that the US had to step up and leave more forces in Afghanistan for Resolute Support than they expected? With all your talk about... about Europe having to step up, spend more, provide more, isn't this disappointing? And also there are apparently Taliban fighting inside Camp Bastion. And I don't know how this plays into your assessment of the ANSF as a cap... strong and capable force. But does that not worry you at all? Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg: I think what we have seen is that Taliban is still able to conduct high-profile terrorist attacks. But they are much less capable of seizing and holding territory. And I also think that we are seeing many of these attacks now because this is an important week for Afghanistan. We have the foreign ministerial taking place here tomorrow with both Ghani and Abdullah being present: the President and the Chief Executive. And then in addition we have the London Conference later on this week which is important when it comes to mobilising the aid and the support for economic and social development in Afghanistan.

I welcome that United States has contributed forces to the Resolute Support. And it is the combination of a very substantial contribution from the United States; but also contribution from other NATO Allies and several partners that enable us to launch the Resolute Support Mission as planned, the 1st of January. And it's a new expression of NATO solidarity that we are able to do this together... together with several partners outside NATO.

Oana Lungescu: Deutsch Welle.

Q: Yes, because we're approaching the end of the year, do you feel like this was a good year for NATO in spite of all the activity in Ukraine; but because it put NATO back on the radar for some people?

Jens Stoltenberg: I think it's very dangerous to start to measure the success of NATO related to how high on the radar NATO is. Because the fundamental purpose of NATO is to protect and defend all Allies against any threats.

And the reason why it has been more focussed on NATO is that we have seen a more dangerous world. And of course, I never welcome a more dangerous world. That's... that's... But the increased focus on NATO reflects that we, once again, see how important NATO is; that we need a strong Alliance being able to protect and defend all Allies.

And the uncertainty is creeping closer to our borders. We have seen ISIL... we have crisis in Iraq and Syria at the borders of a NATO Ally: Turkey. And we have seen the use of force to change borders in Europe, the aggressive actions of Russia in Ukraine. And these, of course, have reminded many people of the importance of having a strong NATO. And that's also why... at my first day in office said that my main priority is to keep NATO strong; because that's the way we can defend and protect all Allies also in the future.

Oana Lungescu: Gentleman, in the front row there, yes.

Q: Jacques Hubert, Les chos. I have a question; but it's a little long-term question. If the situations in the East of Ukraine improve in a good way, will you be ready to restart the NATO-Russia Council, even if Crimea would stay... still annexed to Russia?

Jens Stoltenberg: So NATO Allies and NATO do not recognize the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea. And we call on Russia to respect international law; to respect its international obligations; and to withdraw all forces from Ukraine. And we have decided to suspend all practical cooperation but to keep channels for political dialogue open. But we will never compromise on the principles which our security is based. And that is the respect of the independence and the territorial integrity of all nations including of course Ukraine.

Q: Thanks, Sec Gen, Adrian Croft from Reuters. Two questions: one on Ukraine. Do you have any reaction to another humanitarian convoy entering into eastern Ukraine from Russia yesterday without the Ukrainian government's permission? And secondly, on Afghanistan, on Resolute Support, how long do you expect the sort of hub and spokes plan to continue for the regional bases in Herat and Mazar? There are in some reports, this may last six months. Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: The best way of improving the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine is to stop the violation of the Minsk Agreement; is to respect the ceasefire. And we have seen that the separatists and Russia is (sic) not doing that. Russia is fuelling the conflict by providing support, equipment and other kinds of support for the separatists and thereby undermining and violating the ceasefire and also the efforts to create a peaceful and negotiated solution. So the best way of improving the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine is to respect the ceasefire. The different convoys which we have seen crossing the border between Russia and Ukraine is actually reminding of... on... it reminds us of how this border is not respected.

And a part of the Minsk Agreement was to respect and to monitor the international border between Ukraine and Russia. And the passing of both military equipment, trucks which are at least said to be humanitarian... trucks with humanitarian aid are passing this border without the acceptance of the legal government, the Ukrainian government. So it's an example that this border is not the border which is respected in a way that it should be respected.

Your last question....?

Q: .... (Inaudible)

Jens Stoltenberg: Yes, our focus now is to end the ISAF mission. It has been the biggest and the most challenging NATO mission ever; and to launch the Resolute Support Mission on the first of January. And that will be decided tomorrow when we are adopting the execution directive which is launching the Resolute Support Mission. And then there has not been any decision taken within NATO when it comes to the duration of the Resolute Support Mission, including the question of the 4 spokes.

Oana Lungescu: The lady here...

Q: One question about Ukraine... And Ukraine will become a member of North Atlantic Alliance. They're wanting. And the others thing: "No, you know, the minister in Germany said about.... not... not... Ukrainians will not to be at the North Atlantic Alliance." Who is right? And about these things in the new Parliament in Ukraine? Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg: My main message is that I respect the decisions taken by the Ukrainians. And Ukraine decided some years ago to be a non-bloc nation. And then I respected that.

Now, I have seen that the new government is announcing that they will change that. And if they do, then of course, I respect that too. And as I said, then we are in a situation where we have to assess whether Ukraine fulfils the standards which are needed to become a member. And that's something we then will put on the agenda if Ukraine applies. That's something which we have to wait until they eventually do.

Oana Lungescu: Question over there. A Russian colleague... Thank you.

Q: Thank you, but not Russian, Ukrainian. [Inaudible]. Secretary General, in August, your predecessor, Mister Rasmussen being in Ukraine announced an opportunity to increase joint exercises between NATO and Ukraine. In this respect, is there is any development on this issue? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: So we are going to do what we said we were going to do. And that is to enhance the cooperation with Ukraine. We are launching the four trust funds... or the trust funds tomorrow. And in addition we are working with Ukraine on defence-capacity building measures. And we will continue to do so. So we will do what we said that we want to do.

Oana Lungescu: Slovak colleague, in the front row.

Q: Thank you, Andrei Mach(?), Slovakia Pravda, Mister Secretary General, you've just said that one of the conclusions at the Ministerial Meeting will be... should be a strong political and practical support for Ukraine. So could you have already a bit on this? With support, you will be satisfied. What kind of political and what kind of practical support would you be satisfied? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: We are going to have a meeting in the NATO-Ukraine Commission. So we are going to have a separate meeting addressing the challenges in Ukraine with the Ukrainians present. And that's, in itself, an important sign of support that we are having a meeting in the NATO-Ukraine Commission. In addition, as I said, we are going to announce that the trust funds are now becoming operational.

And then, I would also like to add that in addition to the aid and the support which is provided by NATO as an Alliance, many Allies have different kinds of bilateral support for Ukraine. And in addition to that, many Allies of course support Ukraine through the European Union.

So our support for Ukraine is coming in many different ways, partly through the NATO Alliance. But also many Allies are supporting Ukraine on a more bilateral basis and through the European Union.

Oana Lungescu: Question from the Turkish media third row.

Q: [Inaudible]. My question is in an era where the Western world is actually in general making starting with economic sanctions, especially to Russia, the Russian President Putin is visiting Turkey now. And Turkey is looking to boost its economic relations with Russia to triple it by 2020. How does NATO evaluate this visit and these ambitious goals? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: I believe that the economic sanctions are of great importance. They are not something which is decided by NATO. They are decided by the European Union, United States and several other countries. But I welcome the sanctions. Because I believe that it has to have a consequence when a country is responsible for the kind of aggressive actions we have seen in Ukraine by Russia.

And of course, I would like to see as many countries as possible to be part of this... or to support all sanctions. Because it is important that it has an effect... it has consequences when a country violates international law.

Oana Lungescu: One last question: the lady over there.

Q: Thank you, first I would like to ask you if NATO has a vision, a plan regarding the future relationship with Russia, I mean a long-term relationship from now on. What is your plan?

And secondly, because I'm a Romanian journalist, if you have a message for your reliable partner Romania? It's our national day today so it will be great... (LAUGHTER)

Jens Stoltenberg: I really congratulate Romania on its national day and then I would like to underline that... when it comes to Russia we... Russia has the choice. Russia can either continue to violate international law and not to respect the integrity and the sovereignty of sovereign nations; and thereby become more and more isolated.

Or Russia can choose to respect its international obligations to respect international law and once again try to engage with NATO and NATO Allies in a more cooperative and constructive relationship. And I very much believe that the relations between countries and also between NATO and Russia is not a zero-sum gain. Cooperation is an advantage of both of us. It's a mutual benefit: economic cooperation, trade, political. That is a benefit both for Russia and NATO. And that's the reason why I so clearly state that it would be to the advantage for Russia but also to the advantage for NATO if Russia chooses another path and starts to respect international law and the sovereignty of all nations and the rule-based system of security we have tried to establish for so many years in Europe.

Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. We hope to see you later this afternoon, when the Secretary General and President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah will have a short press statement and of course tomorrow at the ministerial. Thank you!