Joint press point
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović
Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon, thank you very much for coming. We'll start with short opening remarks by the Secretary General and the President. And then we'll have time for a couple of questions. Secretary General.
Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General): Madam President, Dear Kolinda, Happy Birthday!
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (President of Croatia): Thank you!
Jens Stoltenberg: And welcome back to NATO headquarters! You have shown a deep strength and dedication to this Alliance for many years. And it's great to have you back here now in a new capacity as the President of Croatia. Croatia is a staunch Ally. And I really appreciate it to meet with you today.
And I also appreciate the contribution that Croatia provides to our Alliance. Your troops are doing very important work in Kosovo and in Afghanistan. And you also participate in different SMART defence projects which helps keep NATO strong.
So you work together with other Allies in providing collective defence and to manage and tackle crises in many places in the world.
I also appreciate that Croatia is showing leadership in South Eastern Europe. And your experience, and your leadership, is important for many of your neighbours.
I appreciate your very strong position on many different challenges we face together. We addressed the situation in Ukraine. And the Minsk Agreement is the foundation for a peaceful negotiated political solution to the crisis in Ukraine. It is important that a ceasefire is respected and that Russia stops supporting the separatists and withdraw its forces from Eastern Ukraine.
We also face challenges and threats to the South with the turmoil, violence spreading across the Middle East and North Africa affecting NATO Allies. And also it's a challenge because some of the terrorist attacks we see in our streets are connected to the turmoil we see in North Africa and the Middle East.
NATO is responding by making our forces more ready, more prepared. We are establishing an enhanced NATO Response Force, doubling the size from the present level of 13,000 to a level of 30,000 troops. And the centrepiece of this enhanced NATO Response Force is a very High Joint Readiness Force, a Spearhead Force, which is able to.... where lead elements are able to deploy within as little as 48 hours.
We're also establishing command units in six Eastern Allied countries. And we are maintaining increased military presence in the Baltic, in the Eastern part of the Alliance as a response to the aggressive actions we have seen of Russia in Ukraine.
We also discussed defence spending. And I underlined the importance of... that we are implementing the pledge we all made together in Wales to stop the cuts; to gradually increase defence spending as our economies grow; and to aim at 2%.
And I welcome the fact that Croatia now has stopped the cuts of defence spending; and also announced that you're going to increase. This is important; because it contributes to our collective defence to a strong Alliance. And this is something we have to provide together, all 28 Allies.
So once again, welcome, it's great to have you here; and great to have the opportunity to meet with you at the NATO headquarters!
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović: Thank you very much, Mister Secretary General, dear Jens. Thank you for the warm welcome here to NATO Headquarters! It really is great to be back. I'm actually very excited. It's great to be here among the people that I've worked with for a few years and whom I'd like to thank and use this opportunity to thank for all of your cooperation and everything that was done together to move the Alliance forward.
Croatia will remain a committed Ally. We're very much aware of the privileges of membership of NATO; but also of our commitments and responsibilities for our defence, for the security of the Trans-Atlantic community; but also for global peace and security and whatever contribution we can make to achieving a stable situation in the world.
You’ve rightly noted that Croatia has stopped and will not further decrease defence spending. As a matter of fact, we will start increasing until we have reached the recommended 2% of the GDP. But what is also important as a structure of that spending and that is investment into technology, into development.
Looking at defence spending, I don't consider it only as spending. It truly is an investment into the security of our own country, into the security of the Alliance; but also it's an investment into innovation, into technological development. And of course many of the technologies that we produce find very good use in situations of emergencies, of national disasters and of course in the civilian sector, especially in search and rescue.
When it comes to our ambitions, of course, we're very much looking forward to the Warsaw Summit next year and the full implementation of the conclusions from Wales, of continuing for the Alliance to be ready and able to face all the challenges of the 21st Century; to continue to be the most successful military, political and security alliance in the history of the world.
And we will make a strong contribution to that in every respect. Croatia is also particularly interested in the open-door policy and enlargement. We believe that it is a political process and also a process of reforms. That's very important for the aspiring countries and serves as a catalyst for their reforms. But it's also very important for the Alliance because it strengthens the Alliance and expands the area of peace, security and stability.
We are very supportive, especially of the accession of our neighbouring countries in South-East Europe into NATO. And of course, each and every one of them are at different stages. And we support sending strong signals. We'd like to see Bosnia and Herzegovina enter MAP fully as soon as possible. And of course we'd like to see an invitation extended to Montenegro certainly before the end of this year to join NATO. I believe those would be very strong signals to other countries in the region as well. And of course, we hope for the resolution of the main issue between Skopje and Athens.
Croatia will also continue to follow our international commitments. We are... we share our concern for the security in the MENA region, Middle East and North Africa, and the threats that come from the area, from the military threats, from the returning fighters that join ISIL and that also come from the neighbouring countries of Croatia; but also the illegal migrations, the trafficking in arms and human beings etc. And we're particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation both in the Mediterranean in terms of the plight of people who have been leaving the North African region and escaped to Europe to safety and actually find... many of them find death in the Mediterranean; but also the situation... the humanitarian situation in Syria which has been going on for a few years now and which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of lost lives and lost futures.
Croatia will also continue our commitment when it comes to Resolute Support in Afghanistan. I believe that the success that NATO and our partners have achieved in Afghanistan needs to be supported and that we need to continue to assist the government of Afghanistan and Afghan National Security Forces to take care of the security situation in their country and to further... to continue the process of their training and education in the areas that are necessary to fill the gaps that we still currently see.
We remain … [inaudible] of the situation in Ukraine and fully support what you've said, Secretary General, about implementing the Minsk Agreement; but also fully supporting and respecting the principles of international law from state sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and the right of every country to choose their own future.
And last but not least, we also support cooperation, extending cooperation with all of our partners in different domains through Partnership for Peace; but also other partnership areas and individual partnerships and strengthening some of our partners to be able to counter the security threats within their own communities and within their own societies. Thank you very much!
Oana Lungescu: So we have time for a couple of questions. As you do, excellent, you put up your hands. Please introduce yourself and your outlet.
Q: Tomas Lundcrasnes(?) from VHN(?) News Daily. Madam President and Mister Stoltenberg, I have a question, among new kind of threats that NATO members are faced with is also radicalisation of young population in some countries and who turn into foreign fighters or are plotting terrorist attacks. And we’ve seen a couple of days ago one such event in Bosnia. How big the danger do you think this could pose to Bosnia itself and to NATO members... neighbouring NATO members like Croatia? Thank you.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović: Yes, we are aware of the potential threats of returning fighters or some other radical elements within Bosnia and Herzegovina. And it's one of Croatia's highest security interests to monitor the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and exchange information; work together with Bosnian forces and their intelligence sector in exchanging information on any fighters that return from Syria or Iraq; and of course to monitor where they're going and for the full implementation of the legislation that they have enacted in terms of keeping these fighters under control.
It is a threat that's on the increase. Of course, we need to remain vigilant. But there is no need for concerns in terms of general public. I believe that our security forces and our intelligence sector are doing a great job in keeping our country safe, our society safe.
But definitely this issue does require strengthened cooperation among all of us in terms of exchange of information and monitoring the processes so that we can prevent any potential threats to our own societies.
Jens Stoltenberg: Let me just underline that extremism is a threat... a global threat which knows no border and doesn't respect the fundamental right of people to live in peace and security. And as you mentioned in your question, we saw an example in Bosnia-Herzegovina when the police station was attacked a few days ago and a police officer was killed. And I condemn this attack; because this is an act of terrorism, an act of violence which just undermines the efforts to try to maintain and create stability and peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
NATO has an important role to play when it comes to counter terror and violent extremism. We are doing that partly by working with Allies, exchanging information related to the threats connected to the returning foreign fighters. And we decided last fall to increase this exchange of information.
But perhaps even more important is that NATO in so many different ways is aiming at and working for stabilizing our neighbourhood. That's what we are doing in Kosovo. That's what we have done for many years in Afghanistan. And that's also the reason why we are working with partner nations both in the Middle East and North Africa to enhance their ability, their capacity to stabilize their own countries.
We work, for instance, with Jordan, an island of stability in a sea of instability in the Middle East to increase Jordan's ability to protect itself; but also to stabilize the region. And this partnership we have with many countries is a way of trying to stabilize our neighbourhood. If they're more stable we are more secure. And that's also a way of fighting extremism.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović: Can I just add one sentence for that? Because I've repeated it so many times when I was here and I continue to repeat it: NATO is not just a military and political Alliance. It's an Alliance of values as well. And it's very important to keep promoting those values within the Alliance and with our partners; because with education, with information and with promoting those values, those are the best ways to fight extremism and the development of radical ideas.
Oana Lungescu: Second quick question. Military List(?).
Q: Yes, thank Oana. I am Augustin List from Military List(?). I have a question for Secretary General. We heard Croatian President say that Croatia expects NATO to send invitation to Montenegro before the end of this year. But we hear from some diplomats from member States that they are not in the mood for enlargement at this moment. And some have some considerations on the position of the countries outside NATO. So are you, as the Secretary General, working to build a consensus within the Alliance to invite Montenegro to join NATO to prove that no-one outside NATO has a right of veto on enlargement?
Jens Stoltenberg: So NATO's position remains the same. And that is that we decided last fall to go into focussed and intensified talks with Montenegro. That's exactly what we are doing. I'm going to visit Montenegro myself. The prime minister of Montenegro visited NATO headquarters not so long ago. And we are conducting these focussed talks with Montenegro now. And Montenegro is making progress both when it comes to the rule of law; when it comes to reforming their intelligence sector; and also when it comes to, for instance, defence spending. We are going, as we stated last fall, to make an assessment and a decision by the end of this year.
I think it is very important to underline that the decision is going to be taken by 28 Allies. And no-one else has the right to intervene, the right to try to veto a process among 28 democratic nations within the Alliance. So whether Montenegro is going to be invited is a question which is only decided by Montenegro and the Alliance. Every nation has the right to decide its own path. And every nation, of course, that also includes Montenegro has the right also to decide what kind of security arrangement it wants to be part of. And then it's up to the Alliance and Montenegro to make the final decision. So we are in the process. We will make a decision by the end of year.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much indeed! That’s all the time for today. Thank you!
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović: Thank you!