Pre-ministerial press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

  • 11 May. 2015 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 11 May. 2015 21:16

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg previews Antalya meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers during a press conference given at NATO headquarters

Good afternoon.

The Foreign Ministerial Meeting of NATO which takes place in Antalya this week will take place during a very busy time for NATO because right now troops from across the Alliance are exercising together making sure that our collective defence is strong and ready

The North Sea ships and submarines from ten Allied countries are engaged in a large exercise to detect encounter submarines together with our good partner Sweden.

In Estonia, over 13,000 troops from eight NATO countries are taking part in a major land exercise.  

And over the Baltic states and Poland fighter jets for other Allies just started a new rotation providing air police around the clock.

These are just a few examples of how NATO provides deterrence, how we protect our nations against threats from any direction.

At sea, on land, and in the air.

Our activities are defensive.

They are proportionate.

And they are transparent.

They are also long term-planned.

But they are even more relevant in the changed security situation we face today.

The security of our Allies is NATO’s core task.

That is why we now are implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.

We will keep NATO strong and we will help keep our neighborhood stable. Because if our neighborhood is stable we will be more secure.

So when Foreign Ministers meet in Turkey we will also discuss what more we can do with our partners and for our partners.

Working with partners around the world enables NATO to project stability without projecting forces and enables our partners to  contribute to what we do.

This is good for NATO and it is good for our partners.

By working together we create greater stability and security for us all.

Ukraine is valued partner of NATO. And we  will hold a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council at this critical time when we meet in Antalya.

NATO is already working closely with Ukraine. We are supporting defence reforms. Helping to set up stronger command, control, and communications.

Effective cyber defence.

And to rehabilitate wounded soldiers. 

But in Eastern Ukraine we see more loss of life, a rise in ceasefire violations, obstruction of the monitors and continued Russian support for the separatists. This is a disturbing trend in the wrong direction.

The full implementation of the Minsk agreements is the best way forward to a peaceful solution.

And Russia has a special responsibility to make this happen. So we will also address the strategic implications of a more assertive Russia.

And we will asses with our international partners the extremism and turmoil on our southern borders.

For a decade NATO has played a key role in bringing stability to Afghanistan.

In Antalya we will discuss how to strengthen our partnership with this country for the future.

I expect we will decide to maintain a presence in Afghanistan even after the end of our current mission to train, advice and assist the Afghan security forces.

Afghan soldiers and police have been doing great job since they took responsibility for security at start of this year. But they will continue to need support and we will continue to stand with them.

And with that, I’m ready to take your questions.

OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson):  We'll go over here.  Introduce yourself and your outlet.

Q:  Secretary General, it's Erin McGregwood(?) from al Jazeera English.  So the issue of migration if I may.  Today, the European Union's foreign policy High Representative is seeking UN approval for the possible use of EU military action against the people's smugglers of Libya.  Is that something that NATO should be involved in?  Is this something that NATO has been consulted on?  And is there a strategy to deal with this issue?  Is this something that you think will work?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  The tragedy... the human tragedy, which is taking place in the Mediterranean, is about migration.  It's about border control.  And the European Union has taken the initiative to be able to provide a more comprehensive response to what we see in the Mediterranean.  And I fully support the efforts by the European Union.  I also support the dialogue and the consultations which take place between the European Union and the UN to try to establish a mandate for the planned EU operations.  And I also strongly support the efforts by the UN to try to reach a peaceful negotiated solution to the turmoil to the conflict in Libya, to try to establish a ceasefire and to establish a unity government.

There has been no request for a NATO military role in this planned operation by the European Union.  But I support efforts and I welcome the dialogue between the European Union and UN.

OANA LUNGESCU:  Associated Press.

Q: Secretary General, a follow-up on the question about the Mediterranean and Libya.  Is there...?  Do you think there's a role that NATO should be playing?  Perhaps the EU hasn't asked for it; but no one of course has more ships or planes than NATO does.  Does NATO and Europeans have a role to play in ending this humanitarian crisis, thank you?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  Partly again, I refer to what I just said:  That I support efforts by the European Union, by the UN.  And I think it's both important that the European Union is able to launch and to do more exactly as they're aiming at right now.  And also of course, very important, that UN succeeds in its efforts to try to reach a settlement, a peaceful solution, at least a unity government and a ceasefire in Libya. 

What we have stated from NATO is that we stand ready to assist, help the Libyan government when the situation permits that, when we have a security situation which permits us doing what we call "defence capacity building". 

We have been asked earlier by the Libyan government, the internationally recognized government to do so.  And we have stated that we stand ready to help them.  But then the security situation on the ground has to be another and better compared to what it is today. 

In addition, I would like to add that NATO is also doing a lot when it comes to addressing the root causes for the high number of people migrating over the Mediterranean Sea; because these are people coming from many different countries.  And for instance, what we have done for years in Afghanistan is about trying to stabilize Afghanistan.

We are now working together with Jordan:  help and assist Jordan in defence capacity building; building institutions, training, advising.  That's about supporting Jordan which is an island of stability in a sea of instability in the Middle East. 

We work with seven Mediterranean partners with them, helping them.  And all of this and also what we have done in fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa, all of this is about trying to stabilize, trying to help countries take more responsibility for their own security; and thereby also then addressing the root causes of the high number of people who are leaving their country.

OANA LUNGESCU:  We take one question from here. Then we go over there.  So NTB...

Q:  Agnes Pakir(?) from NTB...  Following up on that:  When you say you support the EU initiative in the UN, does that mean you think a military operation outside Libya would be a good idea?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  It means that I support the efforts by the European Union to try establish a more comprehensive response to the tragedy, to the crisis we see in the Mediterranean.  And this is... there are many different elements in the plans, in the decisions which the European Union now try to implement. 

Part of the efforts are dependent on the UN mandate.  And I support the dialogue now which takes place between the European Union and the UN to try to agree on such a mandate.  So what the European Union does is based on a clear UN mandate.

OANA LUNGESCU: Wall Street Journal over there.

Q:  Hi, you had mentioned the Minsk Agreements.  And I just wanted to ask you overall what your view is of how well they're being implemented and if there's really hope given the increase in violations that you cited for these agreements to be implemented fully and successfully.  Similarly, I wanted to ask you about what your current assessment is on the analysis of the Russian build-up on the border.  We've heard reasonable amount about that.  And of course there were comments made over the weekend by both the German and Russian leaders about the situation.  So anything you can tell about those situations in that landscape would be appreciated.

JENS STOLTENBERG:   The Minsk Agreement is the best possible way towards a peaceful negotiated solution to the fighting, to the crisis in Eastern Ukraine.  And therefore I support all efforts to implement the Agreement in full.  And of course, we are concerned when we see a high number of violations.

We see violations of the ceasefire.  And I call on both parties... both parties to respect the ceasefire.  But we also see that, for instance, when the Minsk Agreement states that all heavy weapons shall be withdrawn from the contact line that hasn't happened.  That's also a violation of the Minsk Agreement.

I think now the most important thing is that of course the ceasefire is respected; that heavy weapons are withdrawn.  But to obtain that it is of great importance that the OSCE monitors are given full access; are given the security guarantees they need; and are able to do the work to monitor the ceasefire.  So the full implementation of the ceasefire in the Minsk Agreement can take place.

We have seen over several weeks and months continued support from Russia to the separatists with heavy weapons, with artillery with advanced air defence systems, with training and also with the forces.  And this is also a blatant violation of the ceasefire in the Minsk Agreement. And therefore we call on Russia to stop its support for the separatists and to do whatever they can to make sure that the agreement is fully respected.  They have... In Eastern Ukraine, Russia and the separatists have capacity capabilities which enable them to launch new attacks with very little warning time.  So they have the capacity, what the intention is I will not speculate on. But of course it is of great concern that we have seen this steady build-up of a military presence, support for the separatists over such a long time.

OANA LUNGESCU: Question over there, a Japanese colleague.

Q:  Japanese daily, Mainichi, my name is Saito.  I've heard in this foreign ministry meeting that you might start cooperation with EU against hybrid attack.  Could you elaborate your scope or agenda of this cooperation?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  I think that's an area where there's great potential for closer cooperation between the European Union and NATO hybrid warfare and how we defend all Allies against hybrid warfare.  Because hybrid warfare is about the combination of a military and non-military means, it's about overt and covert operations; it's about deception; it's about using economic tools, communication, disinformation.  And we have to have a very comprehensive, a broad response to the hybrid threat or to hybrid warfare. 

And therefore we need military means.  And there, NATO has of course some unique capabilities and capacity and experience. But we also need a lot of other means to be able to protect our Allies against hybrid warfare related to economic measures, energy, cyber and so on. 

So this is an area where there is a great potential for the European Union and NATO working together.  I would just mention a few areas where NATO is already adapting to the increased threat of hybrid warfare. 

Higher readiness of our forces is a way to deter and also defend against hybrid attacks; because the warning time will be little. And therefore high readiness is important. 

Special Operation Forces is key when it comes to many types of hybrid warfare.  Better situational awareness understanding is key.  So intelligence or surveillance drones we are developing a new capability for surveillance drones which we want to deploy in Sicily.  And everything which is ready to situational awareness is key for deferring.... or defending against hybrid attacks. 

And the last thing I will mention is of course strategic communication and to be prepared and able to counter all the disinformation we see in connection with the hybrid attacks.

OANA LUNGESCU:  Swiss Media over there... (Inaudible)

Q:  Swiss Television, (Inaudible), you expressed grave concern for Macedonia yesterday.  I was wondering whether NATO is getting involved at any level, at least with monitoring the situation or anything.  And although you already have a lot on your plates, could this possibly become be mentioned among the foreign ministers?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  I expected this to be discussed among the foreign ministers that when we address the challenges and the... the challenges we are facing of course, the situation in Western Balkans, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is an issue which I expect that will addressed, discussed also... among the foreign ministers when they meet in Antalya later on this week. 

But I will start by underlining how much I regret the loss of lives.  And my thought goes to the families of those who lost their loved ones.  And I'm actually encouraged by the fact that all elected political leaders have so clearly condemned the violence; and called for all to stay calm and that we avoid an escalation of the situation. 

And actually the police was able to manage; to handle the situation.  Unfortunately, several lives were lost.  But the police proved they were able to manage the situation.  We will follow the situation very closely.  We have a liaison office... NATO liaison office in Skopje.  And there's going to be a meeting there in a few days.  That's part of the regular cooperation we have.  But of course, then, they will be updated on the current situation and how that is handled. 

I also very much believe it's important to have a very close contact between Skopje and Pristina.  And I call for a transparent investigation into what happened and how it could happen.  So we can do whatever we can to prevent something similar to happen again; to prevent more use of violence and to continue to work with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, within the framework of the Membership Action Plan which we have established and which we are proceeding. 

OANA LUNGESCU:  Now, over here...

Q:  Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency KUNA.  So what will be the message of the NATO foreign ministers on developments in the region:  I mean Syria, Iraq, the fight against DAESH.  And my second question: What is the NATO's position on developments in Yemen?  Thank you, Sir.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  Let me start by Yemen.  So we support the UN efforts to find a political solution to stop the violence and to improve and help the humanitarian situation and help the people which are in Yemen, which are now suffering because of the fighting and the violence that takes place. 

As you know, all NATO Allies are in one way or another participating in the Coalition against ISIL.  Some participated in the air strikes; other countries participate in other ways. 

And one reason why the Coalition can work as it does is because so many NATO Allies and NATO partners have over years also for instance in Afghanistan developed a very high degree of interoperability.  So NATO forces... but also NATO forces together with partner countries have now reached a level of interoperability meaning that they can work closer together in coalitions like the Coalition against ISIL.  And therefore even though the operation as such is not a NATO-led operation, NATO Allies participate; NATO Allies contribute. And it's very much because of the interoperability which we have developed through the Alliance that the Coalition is able to reach the results and to work the way it does. 

NATO's main responsibility is to protect and defend all Allies.  And that's the reason why we have deployed Patriot missile defence system in Turkey to augment Turkish air defences. 

That's also the reason why we are increasing the readiness and the preparedness of our forces; because we have to be able to deploy to respond on very short notice.  And that's also the reason why for instance we are increasing our capacity to have better situational understanding awareness, because we have to follow and to understand the developments close to our borders not only in the East; but also in the South. 

Then we stand ready... or actually more than that, we are now assessing a request from the Government of Iraq to establish a defence capacity cooperation with them.  That's about reform of the defence institution.  It's about training, advising, education. And we are looking into that.  And hopefully we're able to reach a conclusion within not too many weeks or months.


Q:  I think Mister Secretary does know...  Hum, since we've last seen you here I think there have been more incidents of for example submarines...  the Finns have fired depth charges of what they think may be a Russian submarine.  There's a new story in the New York Times today about an older incident about a sub possibly in UK waters.  And the flight incidents have also not decreased at all.  The EU has asked EASA, the Aviation Safety Agency, to prepare a report on how dangerous these near misses are and what could be done about it.  The report, interestingly, doesn't mention Russia.  But I'm... But it did mention that information exchanged needs to be improved.  Should NATO take that advice as well? Why are you not calling for more information from Russia about these flights?  And are there any...  along the same lines are there any plans for more communication now with the Russians.  There have been some talks about reopening lines of communication that may have just been sort of diminished in the conflict with Ukraine.  Thank you. 

JENS STOLTENBERG:  I think that the report from the European Aviation Security Agency is a very important report; because it addresses the risks which increased military air activity poses to civilian air traffic.  And this is an issue which has been addressed by NATO several times.

And we have... First of all, we have called on Russia to make sure that when they are exercising and they are in the full right of exercising their military planes as all other nations are.  But they should do that in due regard to civilian air traffic.  And in this report, actually, NATO, we're commended for the way we are conducting our flights; because we do it in due regard to civilian air traffic.

We will, of course, go through our routines.  We're looking into how we can be even more sure that we do this in the best possible way. So we avoid conflicts between civilian air traffic and military air traffic.  And of course, we call on all other nations to do the same and to make sure that when they conduct exercises they do it; or when they fly military planes, they do that in a way which is not posing a risk on civilian air traffic. 

So I think the report shall be very thoroughly studied; and followed up in a way that we should make sure that we reduce the risks for any incidents, accidents as much as possible. 

There are lines of communications. And we will keep them open between NATO and Russia...Russian military authorities.  And both SACEUR and the chairman of the Military Committee... the NATO Military Committee have the mandate to directly contact their counterparts in Russia.  In addition, there are also some bilateral contacts between NATO Allies and Russia.  And I think that to have these lines of communication military-to-military open and make sure that they are functioning and they are functioning 24/7 that they are there all the time has always been important.  But it's perhaps even more important now; because we are seeing more air traffic, more Russian planes in the air.  So of course, the risk and the need for having these lines of communication in place is more important; because we have to make sure that incidents, accidents first of all do not happen; but if they happen that they don't spiral out of control and create even more dangerous situations.


Q:  Secretary General, Adrian Croft from Reuters.  Two Ukraine related questions.  General Breedlove told US Congress, at the end of April, that the Russian military may be taking advantage of the low level fighting to prepare for a new military offensive.  Do you think that is possible?  And likely, what's your view on that?  And then secondly, Foreign Minister Lavrov and US Secretary of State Kerry are meeting tomorrow in Sochi to discuss Ukraine among other things.  Do you have any hopes of a breakthrough from this meeting on Ukraine? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  I said in my introduction and also in some of the previous answers I underlined the following.  That is that... there has been a Russian build-up, both along the borders between Russia and Ukraine; but also inside Eastern Ukraine.... with a steady flow of heavy equipment, tanks, artillery, ammunition, air defence systems and a lot of training.

So they have the capacity, the capability to launch new attacks with very little warning time.  But of course, no one can ... [inaudible] with certainty about the intention. 

But anyway we are calling for Russia to withdraw its support for the separatists; because it is in violation of the Minsk Agreement; and to stop supporting the separatists and to respect the border between Russia and Ukraine, and to use all its influence on the separatists to make sure that also the separatists fully respect and implement the Minsk Agreement.

And of course, just the existence of these forces along the border; but also inside the Eastern Ukraine is in itself also a violation of the Minsk Agreement.  But it's also intimidating and putting pressure on Kiev and Ukraine.  So it is a problem in itself. 

Then, the meeting between Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry that's part of ongoing consultations, political contact and dialogue which takes place between United States and Russia; but also between several Allies and Russia.  There are several NATO Allies which have had and are going to have different kinds of political meetings with political leaders from Russia, different Russian political leaders. And that is also in line with what NATO has decided. We decided to suspend all practical cooperation.  But we keep the channels for political contact open.  So this is part of an ongoing political consultation which takes place between NATO Allies and Russia and also between NATO as an Alliance and Russia. 

And I welcome contacts.  I welcome political engagement.  But as I have underlined several times, there is no contradiction between strong defence and dialogue.  Actually, I think a strong defence, predictability, a firm approach is a precondition for political dialogue.

OANA LUNGESCU:  We have time for just a couple more questions.  And the gentleman over there, very patiently waiting up on that.

Q:  Jin Namata(?) from Japanese News Agency Kyoto News.  I have questions on Afghanistan.  So you are going to discuss need for a new support beyond the Resolute Support Mission.  So could you elaborate a little more about NATO's analysis which brought you to this discussion?  And what will be the prospect of duration for a possible new support beyond Resolute Support?  And in Antalya, are you discussing also about the need for extension of financial support to Afghan Security Forces, including from partner countries?  Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  Let me start by thanking Japan for its strong contribution to NATO's efforts in Afghanistan and Japan's strong commitment and support for the Afghan National Security Forces.  You have really provided substantial support. And we thank you for the strong support you have provided.

There are, actually, at least three elements which we have to address.  One is the duration of the Resolute Support.  Because we have not decided formally how long the Resolute Support Mission will last.  The United States has announced clearly that they will end its participation in the Resolute Support by the end of 2016.  So of course, then NATO has to take that into account when we take our final and formal decision on the duration of the Resolute Support. 

Then there are two other issues which we are going to discuss in Antalya. And that is: What do we do after we have ended the Resolute Support mission?  And we have made decisions before about what we will then establish what we call the Enduring Partnership, the long-term partnership. 

But we haven't said so very much about the content of this partnership.  So now we have to start the work of discussing what shall be the content of the partnership, the long-term partnership with Afghanistan. 

And as you know, partnerships... NATO partnerships with other countries is very much different things in different countries.  In some countries, it's just some kind of political partnership, political dialogue.  In other countries, partnership can really be some more substance, some civilian-military presence.  So we have to make decisions, to start developing guidelines related to the content. How big, how strong shall the Enduring Partnership with Afghanistan be? 

I don't foresee final decisions on this issue in Antalya; but perhaps on what I say some guidelines. And then that we're going to make the final decisions on the scope, the design of the Enduring Partnership at our NATO Summit in July next year in Warsaw.

And the third element is the financial support for the Afghan National Security Forces.  The Afghan National Security Forces is now really taking responsibility for the security in Afghanistan.  They are proving that they are very capable forces; but they are also taking heavy losses.  And it's a very challenging and difficult situation in Afghanistan.  So they will be dependent also after 2017 for our economic support. And then of course we have to discuss how we challenge... how we meet that challenge.  I don't foresee any decisions there in Antalya.  But again, we have to start discussion to discuss different alternatives; and then end at the conclusion at the Summit in Wales... and in Warsaw in July next year.

OANA LUNGESCU:  We have Europa Press.  I'm not sure if the question is still valid.  If not...

Q:  Thank you Secretary General, over here, Ana Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency, Europa Press.  Two quick questions, if I may, concerning Libya.  When you're expressly saying that, you know, we need a better security situation on the ground, is that because we're actively contemplating the possibility to launch a training mission on the ground there, which I thought was not actually the case before with the previous government?

And the second question is concerning the Spearhead Force.  Is there any kind of scenario that you would contemplate its use in the South?  I mean, eventually, could we see NATO Allies take on board the fight against DAESH with this kind of force, given that we've done something similar in Afghanistan against the terrorist threat?  Thank you so much.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  First of all we have to be very clear on the following: that the Spearhead Force, the Enhanced NATO Response Force... And the Spearhead Force is part of that.  But the Spearhead Force is only one element in the increased readiness and preparedness of our forces.  We are doubling the size of our NATO Response Force. And part of that will be the Spearhead Force and the Very High Readiness.  It's something which we will use against any threat from any direction.  So we are prepared to use it to defend Allies in the East or in the South or wherever there is a threat against NATO.

But there is a difference between defending NATO territory; defending NATO Allies and going out of area.  And NATO's main responsibility, our core task is to defend all Allies against any threat. And that's the reason why we are developing these forces, increasing the readiness; of course also to defend Allies in the South. 

And we're going to have a big exercise... the biggest exercise for many, many years which will actually exercise at this part of the interim Spearhead Force later on this year.  And that exercise is going to take place in Spain, Italy and Portugal.  I'm just underling that these forces are forces which can be used both in the East and in the South of the Alliance. 

Then when it comes to the mission in Libya, what NATO has stated is that we stand ready to do defence capacity building, meaning training, advising, assisting defence reform institution building.  There are different things which we can foresee that we can do. But of course, this is something we have to come back when the situation allows; and when we can sit down to discuss different elements in such a defence capacity building package for Libya. 

But as the security situation is now, it's not something we will do. So that's the reason why we so strongly support the efforts by the United Nations, by Mr.  Leon(?) to try to reach a peaceful negotiated solution which then can enable the international community, including NATO to help stabilize Libya and to help Libya move forward. 

OANA LUNGESCU:  One very last quick follow-up from Reuters.

Q:  Quick follow-up, if I may, Secretary General, on the Afghan question.  You said that partnerships can be political or military.  Is it your view that there needs to be a continued NATO military presence in Afghanistan after the end of the Resolute Support mission?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  So I think I can answer that question much more precisely after the Foreign Ministerial Meeting.  So that's one of the issues we have to discuss at our Foreign Ministerial Meeting, based on the report we have received and some recommendations. And then we will hopefully be able to decide some guidelines at our Foreign Ministerial Meeting, later on this week, for the further development of the Enduring Partnership, the long-term partnership with Afghanistan.  And one of those issues we'll then have to decide, related to the guidelines of the future relationship with Afghanistan, is whether it's going to be both military and civilian or only civilian; and whether it's going to a civilian-led or a military-led.  But these are questions which we are going to then discuss at our meeting.  And hopefully, I will be able to give a more precise answer later on this week.

OANA LUNGESCU:  Thank you very much.  And we'll see you in Antalya hopefully.