Joint press conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić

  • 20 Nov. 2015 -
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  • Last updated: 20 Nov. 2015 17:57

(Complete transcript)

Let me start by thanking you Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić for hosting me and my delegation here in Belgrade.

I would like to commend you for your strong personal leadership in modernising Serbia on its way into Euro-Atlantic integration. But also commend you for your strong personal commitment to contributing to the stability of this whole region.

And for me to come to Belgrade is very much like coming home. Because as you know I lived here as a child in the 1960s. I have to be honest and say that I don’t remember so much, but I remember that I had my first ‘sladoled’ at Kalemegdan and that we were singing ‘ringe ringe raja došo čika Paja’ or something like that.

All this is fun memories from my childhood back in Belgrade in the 1960s. And I met actually this morning some of my old friends, my neighbours from where we lived in the 1960s.

So it’s really great to be back here. And I also have to tell you that my father is very honoured because he was awarded the position of being honorary citizen of Belgrade just a few weeks ago.

Today, Serbia plays an important role in building security in the Western Balkans, in Europe and around the world.

By hosting thousands of refugees.
By promoting peace and stability as the current OSCE Chairman.

And by contributing to international security through the troops for UN and EU missions.

And I commend your strong commitment to the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

This is important for all of us and we are very encouraged by your strong personal involvement.

Normalisation and dialogue is the only way forward.

I encourage both parties to continue on this path.

I also welcome the important steps you have taken to build relations with your Balkan neighbours.

To promote cooperation and integration. To look to the future, not the past.

It is actually several years since the last time a Secretary General of NATO visited Belgrade. And I know that there are strong feelings in Serbia and Belgrade about NATO.

I am also aware of the sensitivities in Serbia towards the Alliance. Our air campaign was never against the Serbian people.

It was about stopping unacceptable actions by the Milosevic government, which were condemned by the international community.

NATO’s intervention ended years of conflict in the Balkans.

During the NATO air campaign, we made every effort to prevent the loss of innocent lives.

Any loss of innocent lives in 1999 was a tragedy and I deeply regret it.

I offer my condolences to the families on both sides of the conflict and to all those who lost loved ones.

Today, I am here as a part of a fresh new start in relations between NATO and Serbia.
This is more important than ever, since we face many common security challenges.

Our cooperation benefits NATO, and it benefits Serbia.

In January we agreed the Individual Partnership Action Plan.
This offers us a new opportunity to strengthen our dialogue, understanding and cooperation.

We are about to launch a new Trust Fund to help Serbia safely dispose of up to 2,000 tonnes of surplus ammunition.

And I am pleased to announce that as of today KFOR will fully relax the air safety zone. This means that the restrictions that have been in place since 1999 are now lifted. And this is a very concrete expression of the improved relationship between NATO and Serbia, meaning that the restrictions that have been imposed on parts of Serbia’s airspace since 1999 have now been lifted.

This decision was taken following Serbia’s commitment to the normalisation of the Balkan airspace.

This is a significant step toward the full integration of the region into European airspace.
And we will continue the normalisation.

Cooperation is a win-win. Working together keeps Serbian people safe and it keeps people in Allied nations safe too.

Through my childhood I learned how close a relationship there is between people in Norway and people in Serbia and I felt a strong personal connection with Serbia.

As Secretary General of NATO, I strongly believe in the potential of NATO-Serbia relations, fully respecting your policy of neutrality.

And I welcome your efforts to become a member of the European Union.

Because Serbia is a member of the European family.

Prime Minister, I look forward to further develop our excellent relationships and to further develop both the political and the practical cooperation between NATO and Serbia.

Thank you.

Aleksandar Vučić (Prime Minister of Serbia):  [Speaking with Translator]. Distinguished Mr. Stoltenberg, ladies and gentlemen, journalists. First of all I would like to thank the Secretary General of NATO for coming to visit the Republic of Serbia, for visiting Belgrade. This is your own home as well, you have lived here and I would like to say to all the citizens of the Republic of Serbia that I could personally witness during the dinner last night how much Mr. Stoltenberg loves our country, how much he is dedicated to the development of good relations between Serbia and NATO and how much he wants even closer friendship between Serbia and all European and primarily of course the Norwegian nation. I always speak a little differently and I do not have the speeches well prepared in advance. I speak from my head and from my heart and sometimes this is not always desirable or it is usually not desirable. Of course the visit of the Secretary General of NATO to Serbia creates or gives ground to different attitudes or positions but this is important, this is good, this is very beneficial for the citizens of Serbia and our country as a whole and I’m very content that I had an opportunity to be the host to Mr. Stoltenberg. He has brought a great piece of news, after 16 years we have no restrictions whatsoever in the zone of 25 kilometres in the central Serbia either in the lower or the upper levels and we have managed to concede, to achieve this and the citizens of Serbia have managed to reach this thanks to the dialogue. So no bullet has been fired in order for us to get, nobody has been killed because of that.

Today we have, as the Secretary General NATO has announced, we have no restrictions whatsoever in this area of central Serbia. In order for people to understand the significance we have started with the discussions and we believe that in the days and weeks to come, not months and years to come, after 16 years we are going to start with a discussion, we are going to start with a discussion with full respect to all the operational, tactical and technical issues and we believe that we are going to be in a situation to place all our gauging instruments and radars and that after 16 years we are going to have the entire airspace of the Republic of Serbia under our control which I would like to say that, I would like to say that for 16 years now we do not see Vrania (sp?), We do not see Leskovatz (sp?), nobody has known this, we do not see them on our radars. Precisely because of everything I have been talking about and placing of these radars and the agreements we are going to reach I’m sure, I’m fully, I’m completely sure that we are going to have much better police and military protection of our skies, I needn’t say that this is of key importance for the protection of our country and sovereignty of the Republic of Serbia.

Of course these two things are not mutually connected but they both have huge impact and significance for us and I would like to thank you greatly Mr. Stoltenberg for coming to Serbia with this piece of news, this is a huge and important piece of news for our country and for everybody who loves our country. I would also like to say that we have signed IPAP in January, we signed it and of course this area has too filled with significant contents, primarily with a political dialogue, secondly it has to be filled out with concrete things. First I’m going to talk about the concrete things and then I’m going to move onto the politics. Today we spoke how NATO can help us with the migrant crisis in terms of human resources, technical and other resources. We do not actually need people but we need technical resources and in the time to come I’m going to send a letter to Mr. Stoltenberg asking him to help us, starting with tents and other technical support because 60 years, because NATO has more than 28 countries involved and we want to have more significant training of our officers and soldiers and I’ve asked if we could not pay for that because there is a very expensive trainings, the associates of Mr. Stoltenberg have already agreed that we pay only 20-30 %. You know Mr. Stoltenberg each dinar counts here and I’m sorry that I insist on this, maybe it is not important for you but for us it is. So we have managed to have 70-80 % of these trainings paid which is very important for better functionality and operability of our forces and I’m sure that in this regard we will manage to succeed.

What is also important is the behaviour of NATO in Kosovo Metohija and we are talking from two points of view. One is the presence of KFOR which is the guarantor of security of our monks and the guarantor of preservation of our churches and monasteries south of the Ibar River but what is also important for us, the NATO is guarantor for the lack of presence or absence of presence of NATO forces in the north of Kosovo. [Inaudible], of import, okay, now the municipalities this is of huge importance for Serbia and we are greatly, we are grateful to NATO and Mr. Stoltenberg. We are going to continue with our discussions with regards to the relieving of tensions in the lower, so called the lower level of air space above Kosovo Metohija. We are going to continue to talk about this at different levels because our interest is that the planes from Belgrade land in Pristina and I’m sure that we are going to have this talk also within the scope of the Brussels Agreement but also between and the discussions between different airline associations and with NATO. What is also very important for us is the, is the destruction of the surplus ammunition. This is a huge program that we go through together and we also have important programs building of integrity and in particular when it comes to training of staff and people who should fight corruption and we are going to use these programs not only through the Ministry of Defence but also through the Ministry of Interior. So everything I’ve said you could see there are a lot of concrete things … that have undoubt, that are undoubtedly in the interest of the citizens of the Republic of Serbia and our country.

We have managed to agree them and I wouldn’t, within the scope of the political dialogue I would like to say that we have invited, we’re very proud of the fact that Jens Stoltenberg is in Belgrade today, I have also been invited to visit Brussels in June next year and the seat of headquarters of NATO and to address the NATO member states and no question if I’m Prime Minister at the time I will certainly accept this invitation because I think this is very important for our country and I would like to say in order not to have different interpretations and you know that I speak in the same way whether I’m in Moscow, Washington or Brussels, Serbia is militarily neutral, it has good cooperation with NATO and it will continue with this cooperation, it will work on deepening it, they of course adhere to the assembly, we are going to speak to the assembly decisions with regards to the military neutrality but we want to improve our cooperation which contributes both to the fight against terrorism but also our support in a migrant crisis providing for the regional stability, better training of our soldiers and policemen, police officers and let alone that this contributes to better safety and security of our people in Kosovo Metohija which is one of the key issues.

These are the things that I wanted to talk and I would like to say that today we do not have to agree about some things from the past, but I’m sure that we see a good future between, in the relations between Serbia and NATO ahead of us and I have no illusions whatsoever when it comes to Mr. Stoltenberg and NATO that we have no animosities and Serbia does not want to turn friends into enemies. And we used to be experts in those, in this regard in the past although I do not think that Serbia was to blame in what happened in 1999 in any form whatsoever or its leadership but these are different assessments of the past events. We want to modernize our country, we would like to, we want to learn a lot from UN, we are going to be fully open in this regard and we want to retain our sovereignty, the independence of our country and its neutrality. And we see NATO as a partner in the true meaning of its word and we are going to behave in this way and we are going to be a reliable partner and you Mr. Stoltenberg know when Serbs say that they’re reliable partner that is really means that, not only in the easy times but also when the going gets tough. I hope that you feel and that you will always feel at home in Serbia and last night when those children waited for you with pogacha (sp?) and salt, although I expected a lot of negative comments, you know how it can happen here, but actually everybody was very proud and happy that we have shown, shown our hospitality and that we’re doing have shown if nothing else that we can change our habits and ourselves. Thank you very much.

TRANSLATOR:  Now we are going to move to questions. [Inaudible], yes question for Prime Minister. You have spoken with the first man of the NATO alliance, what is the position of the NATO alliance with regards to the relationship between Serbia and Russia? And another question, when we can expect some information from you with regards to telecom?

Aleksandar Vučić:  [Speaking with translator]. Second question was with regards to telecom, I cannot answer to it right now. I think I’m going to talk about it tomorrow morning. As far as the first question is concerned Serbia, sovereign independent countries, Serbia does not endanger anybody anywhere, Serbia has traditionally good relations with the Russian Federation but Serbia is not a member of ODKB and it is not a member of NATO. Serbia has good relations with NATO, wants to improve them and to continue to work in this regard and we are going to work very hard. This framework that has, you’ve heard of today and this wonderful piece of news conveyed to us by Mr. Stoltenberg show that through rational, smart and serious responsible approach through a desire to modernize one’s own country and behave rationally you can really reach good and serious results. I do not believe that this is the time for emotions in, no matter how much somebody held it against me, but I believe that Mr. Stoltenberg and all other people we have talked with are our friends and after all most likely they could also tell something to us as well. We never start from the position what it is that others could tell us, I start from this position and I firmly believe I have put ourselves into our shoes and their shoes and that I have calculated well as a Prime Minister that the future of Serbia lies in cooperation, good relations and improvement of our relations and not in disturbing our, these relations and creating some bad atmosphere. And my job is not to work for the political party I lead and for some percentages but rather for the citizens of Serbia so that their children are safe and peaceful, that our country can preserve and defend its neutrality and safety and that nobody endangers our children or future and that we do that by anybody else. Thank you.

Q:  [Translator]. [Inaudible] with Al Jazeera. Question for Mr. Stoltenberg. Today you’re in Belgrade but it concerns Montenegro. Will NATO, will Montenegro get an invitation for NATO? And what is, how do you see the position of Russia? Duma is today supposed to take the decision of opposing the NATO membership on Montenegro. Question for Mr. Vučić, you have said that the relations between Serbia and NATO are getting deeper, could you imagine a year or two ago this close cooperation between Serbia and NATO? And what is the future in five or ten years?

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General):  First on the question about Montenegro’s aspirations to become a member of NATO. I think it’s extremely important to underline that the aspirations of Montenegro to become a member of NATO is something which is up to Montenegro and NATO to decide. No one else has the right to intervene or try to interfere with that decision because  Montenegro is a sovereign independent state and every sovereign state has its right to decide its own path including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of. And these are some fundamental principles which all countries in Europe including Russia has signed to, for instance in the Helsinki Final Act. So I think we all should respect the decision by the government and the parliament of Montenegro to apply for membership and then the 28 NATO allies are going to decide whether Montenegro is going to be invited. We will make such a decision at our Foreign Ministerial Meeting the first and the second of December, so it’s actually within a few days NATO will decide on the question of inviting Montenegro to become a member but the important thing is that no third country has any right to try to intervene into that process. And if any effect, Russian interference more likely will reinforce our interests to invite Montenegro to become a full member of the alliance. Let me also add that for NATO it is a fundamental principle that we respect decisions by individual sovereign states, meaning that for instance if a nation decides to not apply for membership we of course fully also accept that. So when Serbia has decided not to aspire for NATO membership we fully accept that. We accept that Serbia has decided to be a neutral country but there is no conflict or no contradiction between Serbia being a neutral country and developing a close and good relationship with NATO because NATO has an excellent relationship with Sweden, with Finland, with Austria, with Switzerland and with other neutral countries in Europe. So I respect the decision by Serbia, no country has ever been forced into NATO, we respect that Serbia wants to stay a neutral country but based on that there is a huge potential for developing closer cooperationship between Serbia and NATO and I think we have made some important step forward on that path today.

Aleksandar Vučić:  [Speaking with translator]. I’m going to respond briefly. Three years ago we established a Ministry of Defence and we have established contacts and we’ve had no problems with NATO so far and this piece of news shared with us by Mr. Stoltenberg is much more important than anybody would think at first glance. Whoever is dealing with the security of a country knows how much, how important this is of mutual trust and neutral cooperation and development of a good rational partnership. I believe that we are going to have more benefits in the future that are going to come from this cooperation, that NATO is going to benefit from that and I believe that we mutually have many more, much more work to do. I have just mentioned a few things that we want to do, this is the global or regional, the fight against terrorism, second is the security in the region and the third is migrant crisis let alone these other important issues that we have tackled and these are huge things only these three. And I’ve had no problem to talk about it today or Mr. Stoltenberg or Mr. Stoltenberg spoke about the neutrality of Serbia, we are not hiding anything in our open relations and frank relation is the pledge for future trust and for this type of partnership.

Q: [Translator]. Thank you very much and the last question B92, question both for the Secretary General and Prime Minister. We suppose that we, you have spoken about a future of the KFOR mission, over the years NATO has been reducing its presence, is there a plan for full withdrawal of NATO from Kosovo? And the second question for the Secretary General, has France asked for any kind of assistance of NATO and whether Article Five is being considered for activation?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  No request for invocation of Article Five. And I think we have to remember that this Article has been invoked only once and that is after the 9/11 attacks in Washington and New York where several thousands of people were killed. The Article Five was not invoked after for instance the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid where also many people were killed and it has not been invoked after other terrorist attacks which we have seen in Europe. But there are many ways NATO can support an ally and of course all NATO allies stand in full solidarity with France and several NATO allies have offered and are assisting and helping France in fighting ISIL. And our biggest ally, the United States, is the lead nation in the international coalition fighting ISIL and all NATO allies contribute, are part of the coalition fighting ISIL. So NATO and NATO countries are playing their part in the fight against ISIL. We assist and help France, NATO allies do that in many different ways, we share information, we share intelligence and we will continue to do so. Moreover NATO is playing an important part when it comes to trying to stabilize the countries where we see that a lot of the turmoil, a lot of the violence which also spreads into our own streets originates from. That’s the reason why we are in Afghanistan, our largest combat operation ever has as its main objective to fight terrorism, to prevent that Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists. That’s the reason why we do defence capacity building as we call it in, in Iraq and Jordan, to enable those countries to better protect and defend themselves and to stabilize their own countries and the region. And that’s also the reason why we are working with countries in North Africa like Tunisia and others to help and assist them. Because we believe in the long run that the only way to stabilize those regions and to really fight the root causes of terrorism is to be able to enable countries in the region to fight terrorism and to stabilize the whole region. And we have to remember that this is not a fight between the west and the Muslim world, actually Muslims are on the front line fighting terrorism and Muslims are the main victims of terrorism and therefore we have to support them, help them in fighting criminals, extremists, terrorists as we have seen in ISIL and all NATO allies are doing that in different ways. Then we have received reports just recently about a new terrorist attack on Mali and that just underlines the importance of fighting terrorism, fighting extremism and fighting ISIL and all NATO allies do that in different ways and all NATO allies are part of the coalition fighting ISIL and I think what we have seen recently just underlines the importance of doing that. Then briefly about KFOR. KFOR, NATO’s presence in Kosovo is our longest lasting military operation ever and I think that shows strong commitment of NATO to the security, to the safety, to the stability of the whole region. And this is what we call a condition based operation so we will stay there based on the conditions, of course we are working towards a situation where KFOR is no longer needed but we are also very clear on the message that we will not do anything which undermines the security and the stability and we know that KFOR is very important for the stability and for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Actually the presence of KFOR has been key to facilitate and to provide the necessary guarantees for the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue and we strongly support the dialogue because we need that kind of normalization to create the situation in Kosovo where KFOR is no longer needed. But we will stay and we will continue to provide security and this is a condition based operation.

Aleksandar Vučić:  [Speaking with translator]. We wish that KFOR will stay for as much as possible, as long as possible. Of course nobody can wish for that to last forever, there are NATO countries present but partner countries as well such as Austria and I believe that they have provided a key contribution to protection of our churches and monasteries south of the Ibar River. However today they are key, key to stability for the north of Kosovo Metohija because of the agreement signed in Brussels and we would like their presence and in Metohija, Kosovo Metohija not to be jeopardized and of course it does not depend on us, on our decision, but as far as we can plea or say or insist we do that because security of our people in Kosovo Metohija is of primary importance.