by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission at the level of Defence Ministers
NATO is facing a changed security environment.
With serious challenges from the east and from the south.
And the worst refugee and migrant crisis since the end of World War Two.
Over the last two days, we have taken important decisions to respond to this new security environment.
We agreed on an enhanced multinational forward presence in the eastern part of our Alliance.
Improved our ability to recognize and to counter hybrid threats.
Made progress in connecting our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.
Set baseline requirements to increase the resilience of our Allies.
And signed a technical arrangement to enhance our cooperation with the European Union on cyber.
Looking to the south, we agreed to provide support to assist with the refugee and migrant crisis.
So we are directing one of our Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 to the Aegean sea to contribute critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking and criminal networks.
We have also decided to intensify intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at the Turkish-Syrian border.
And this is actually a complement to the existing assurance measures for Turkey.
And we agreed to step up our support for the international coalition to counter ISIL.
By using NATO AWACS planes to backfill national capabilities and increase the coalition’s ability to degrade and destroy this terrorist group.
Last night, we had a substantive discussion with the European Union, and our partners Australia, Finland, Georgia and Sweden.
We share the same security environment.
And our close cooperation is a powerful tool to keep all nations safe.
We have just had a good meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission.
Georgia is moving closer to NATO thanks to its reforms.
And to its significant contributions to our shared security.
And NATO is committed to helping Georgia move towards membership in the Alliance.
Today, we took stock of the achievements we have made together.
Our Substantial Package of assistance is strengthening Georgia’s defences.
And its ability to work side-by-side with NATO forces.
In May, our Joint Training Centre in Tbilisi will start training the first Georgian company.
This is good news.
We are also exploring new practical ways to intensify our joint efforts.
Georgia is committed to an ambitious reform path.
Today, Allies praised Georgia’s efforts to strengthen its democratic institutions.
But there is still more to do.
In key areas, including rule of law and independence of the judiciary.
All Allies fully support Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, within its internationally recognised borders.
We call on Russia to reverse its recognition of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia as independent states. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are part of Georgia.
Our commitment to Georgia is strong.
We help build Georgia’s defences.
We encourage its reforms;
And we support its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
So with that I’m ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO SPOKESPERSON]: We’ll go to Georgian media in the first row.
Q: Georgian Public Broadcaster. Mr. Secretary General you spoke today about the support from NATO to Georgia. We know that it’s early to speak about Warsaw Summit but still want to know more details. What kind of vision do you have, what should Warsaw Summit deliver for Georgia … for example open door policy and a strong statement about NATO aspirations? And also you said on Wednesday that NATO would continue adapting and building up its military capabilities in Black Sea region, what role can Georgia play? Thank you very much.
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): When it comes to the Black Sea region we have a regular exchange of information with Georgia and all the partners in the region including of course the situation in the Black Sea and NATO has increased its naval presence in the Black Sea and just last night at our dinner we had free flow of views and exchange also with the Georgia President regarding also the challenges we face in the Black Sea region.
Then when it comes to the Summit we haven’t decided yet on the formats but I’m certain that we will find ways at the Summit to recognize the progress which Georgia is making and I also expect that we are going to make decisions related to how we can move forward on our practical cooperation with Georgia. We have the substantial package, we have the annual national plan, we have the NATO-Georgia Commission and I’m certain that we will agree on how we can use these tools to move further when it comes to developing our cooperation with Georgia as a very close partner.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO SPOKESPERSON]: Okay we go to ANSA.
Q: Good morning Secretary General I just see on wire that President Erdogan said that without fly [sic] zone in Syria there’s no way to end the war in Syria. Is fly [sic] zone an option that can be discussed an extension of NATO action or do you think this should be a coalition affair?
JENS STOLTENBERG: All NATO allies contribute and support the efforts of the international coalition fighting ISIL but NATO as an alliance is not member of the coalition. We support the efforts of the coalition and today we agree that we will provide support by using or providing NATO AWACS airplanes back filling national capabilities and we also agreed that we will increase our surveillance of the Turkish Syrian border. So we are addressing the challenges we see to the south and also along the Turkish Syrian border. But when it comes to the activities of the coalition as such I think it is important that I leave that to the coalition to answer. We support the efforts of the coalition and we do that in different ways.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO SPOKESPERSON]: Radio Free Europe, second row.
Q: Thank you Secretary General my question is about Karabakh conflict. In his annual assessment of threats to the United States, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has concluded that Baku’s sustained military buildup coupled with … [inaudible] economic conditions in Azerbaijan are rising the potential that the conflict … Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will escalate in 2016. What is your assessment of this issue? Is there a possibility of escalation and also in your view how is it possible to prevent deaths on the border?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So we are of course following the developments in Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh very closely and both Azerbaijan and Armenia are partners of NATO and we value the partnership both with Armenia and with Azerbaijan very much. I think the important thing is to show restraint, calm and to avoid any escalation of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. So that’s what we are underlining: the importance of calm and de-escalation.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO SPOKESPERSON]: Lady in the second row.
Q: Thank you. Coming back to the NATO initiative in the Aegean Sea where you’re supporting Turkey and Greece in the refugee crisis, is there any option for a sort of an upgrade later on in the future that NATO would be involved more than in just surveillance monitoring and reconnaissance as it is now and probably in the near future? Is there a built-in option for a broader spectrum? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: We have now decided what we do - or what we’re going to do - and that is to move assets starting with the standing maritime group into the Aegean Sea. Then we have also other assets which can be used to provide critical information, surveillance monitoring and thereby help Turkey, Greece, the European Union to cope with the migrant and refugee crisis. We will start to do that immediately and then we will also get advice from our military planners and we will talk with the European Union and find out how we can work in the best possible way together.
And I think it would be wrong if I now, just after we have made this important decision, and also in the recognition of the importance that Greece and Turkey have agreed and they put forward a joint request together with Germany to the alliance and the alliance was able to respond very swiftly. I think it will be wrong if I then started to speculate. Now we are going to implement what we have agreed which also includes surveillance along the Turkish Syrian border, and then we will constantly assess constantly have consultations with Turkey, with Greece as allies, with the European Union as a partner, and with others and assess whether we should do more.
MODERATOR: Kabul Times, second row.
Q: Thank you Secretary. Lailuma Sadid from Kabul Times. As you mentioned earlier in the morning about Afghanistan I would like to ask how do you, NATO assess security situation in Afghanistan because President Ghani and also NATO Coalition Commander announced the security situation will be difficult and more challenging in the new year in Afghanistan. And as also the SIGAR also reported 30 percent of Afghanistan is under control of the Taliban and what’s your view about that? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: My view is that the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces are facing a challenging security environment in Afghanistan. And NATO has ended its combat mission but we continue to support them with training, assistance and advice. And the Afghan National Security Forces have taken over the full responsibility for the security in Afghanistan themselves. But the security forces have also made a lot of progress and they have proven that they are capable, that they are professional and that they’re able to respond to the attacks from Taliban and from others.
So we will continue to support them, we do not believe that this is an easy task. We are very realistic as to where we are, we know that there’s going to be violence and fighting and challenges also in 2016 but we trust the Afghan National Security Forces, and we will continue to support them both with training, assistance and advice but we will also continue to fund them because that is a very strong commitment from the alliance that we will provide support also with financial support to the Afghan National Security Forces.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO SPOKESPERSON]: Agence France Presse.
Q: Thank you very much. Bryan McManus, AFP. You described earlier that it’s a very important decision - the launching of the naval operation in the Aegean Sea. How do you reconcile such an important decision with the comments made this morning by President Erdogan threatening to send the millions of refugees in Turkey to Europe?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Turkey is a dear NATO ally most affected by the refugee crisis, and they host close to three million refugees and the important thing today is that we have decided and we have agreed - 28 NATO allies with Turkey, with Greece - that we will step up our efforts and that NATO will provide support with coping with the migrant and refugee crisis.
And what we’ll do is that we will support Turkey in their efforts to deal with this challenge both in their territorial waters, but also when it comes to monitoring the border between Syria and Turkey. So I think especially today we should welcome the fact that NATO and Turkey being an ally in NATO is stepping up our joint efforts to cope with and to manage a really serious situation; a human tragedy where we have to do more to be able to both counter human trafficking, criminal networks and to avoid that so many people lose their lives in the Aegean Sea.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO SPOKESPERSON]: Slovak media, third row.
Q: Thank you. Andrej Matisak, Slovakia PRAVDA. Mr. Secretary General, talking about Aegean operation or mission. So NATO has responded to the request from allies but you are sending some military capabilities. So does it also mean that NATO now see refugee crisis as a clear and present security danger for NATO allies? And maybe a connected question - there was a report, I think two weeks ago, that ISIL might seek some maritime capabilities. Will NATO look also at the possible risks if you are sending ships let’s say closer to ISIL that ISIL might cause some trouble? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Human trafficking, criminal networks is something which we have also addressed in our strategic concept so that is nothing new that we are concerned about the refugee and migrant crisis we see. And we have over a long time discussed how NATO can contribute to meet the challenges which we all see related to the migrant and refugee crisis.
So far NATO has been mainly focused on how we can address the root causes to try to stabilize the countries where many of the refugees are coming from. So when we are continuing our efforts in Afghanistan, cooperating and supporting the Afghan National Security and Defence Forces, that’s also because we believe that’s an important contribution to help Afghanistan being a stable country and thereby also addressing the root causes of some of the migrants and refugees coming into Europe. When we work with Tunisia, Jordan and when we have Iraq as a partner that’s also about trying to stabilize, to address the root causes of the refugee and migrant crisis.
So it’s nothing new that NATO is concerned and NATO is addressing the refugee and the migrant crisis and we also have of course our assurance measures in Turkey already in place for quite a long time but the new thing now is that we are stepping up and that we are providing different kinds of military capabilities starting with standing maritime group to provide direct help, direct support to the Turkish authorities, to Greek authorities and to the European Union in their efforts. So that’s something we of course decided today and we will now start to implement.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO SPOKESPERSON]: Bloomberg at the back.
Q: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. Just one final question about the AWACS back filling. Can you tell us to which geographic location the NATO AWACS will be sent, to the Middle East or somewhere else?
JENS STOLTENBERG: What we have done today is to decide in principle that we are ready to provide NATO AWACS surveillance planes as back filling so we can make national AWACS capabilities available for the coalition. Then we have to sit down with all the NATO allies, with our military planners and find out exactly how and where we’re going to do that. So this is ... how should I say - a decision in principle. So we have the political support by Defence Ministers, but then of course it has to be sorted out exactly how and where this is going to be done. We stand ready to provide AWACS planes to allies which want us to help them.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO SPOKESPERSON]: Stuttgarter Zeitung.
Q: Mr. Secretary General two questions if I may. The standing maritime group that will be moved into the Aegean Sea - will it be replaced because it’s now in place as a reassurance measure for Turkey, so will there be new units going there? And the second question: there’s some people arguing that Russia has an … might have an interest in a weak Europe and a weak Turkey and therefore perhaps not the biggest interest in solving the situation in Syria. So to what extent would you say that this operation in the Aegean and helping Turkey is also perhaps a sign towards Russia, or would you see no connection in this?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We are deciding, or SACEUR, our top military commander, has decided to move the standing maritime group into the Aegean and that will start without any delay. At the same time several allies announced or indicated that they are ready to then also provide additional ships and assets to the standing maritime group.
Then we will now start also the work with our military planners, our military authorities to exactly find out how we’re going to both address the assurance measures for Turkey and the efforts – or the support for dealing with the migrant and refugee crisis. You know this is very much in the same area. It’s close to Turkey; it’s also partly in Turkish territorial waters and some of these ships have a lot of capabilities and capacities to provide many kinds of information.
So we will find out ways to both make sure that we have the necessary tools for assurance measures for Turkey, and at the same time providing support to deal with the migrant and refugee crisis. I speak about both maritime assets, ships but also about maritime patrol aircrafts, air policing, AWACS planes which are already there for assurance measures so I’m certain we’ll find ways to use these different kinds of capabilities so we’re able to do both assurance measures and support the efforts with the migrants and the refugees.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO SPOKESPERSON]: Thank you very much this concludes this press conference and the Ministerial. Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much.