Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers session

  • 19 May. 2016 -
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  • Last updated: 19 May. 2016 22:37

Good evening.

We have just had a very useful and good meeting and discussion on one of the main themes of the Warsaw Summit, and that is how to project stability in NATO’s neighbourhood.

NATO has a long history of doing just that: through operations such as in Afghanistan or in the Balkans; through military training missions such as in Iraq; and capacity building for more than 40 different partners.  

We must retain our ability to deploy combat forces, when needed. But we must also do more to train up local forces, to secure their own territory, and push back against extremist groups.

NATO can make a real contribution.

We have the experience in doing large-scale training.

We have the political and military structures to run such missions.

We are actively engaging with partners in many parts of the world.

And we have the staying power – which matters for this kind of long-term challenges. 

We have increased our efforts since Foreign Ministers last time met in December.

Iraqi officers are now being trained in Jordan in areas such as countering Improvised Explosive Devices, military medicine and civil-military planning. Several hundred Iraqi officers will have completed training by the end of this year.

We are developing a number of projects with Jordan itself, including on cyber defence.

In Tunisia, we are providing assistance and expertise to develop special forces training and a national intelligence ‘fusion centre’.

We are also providing capacity-building support to Moldova and Georgia, and assisting Ukraine with its ongoing reforms.

Today, we discussed what more we should do.

On Iraq, we discussed the request by Prime Minister Al-Abadi to expand our training and capacity-building into Iraq itself.

We agreed to send an assessment team to Iraq as soon as possible. To explore the possibility of NATO training inside Iraq, and how to ensure that any such efforts would be complementary to what the Global Coalition is doing.

All Allies contribute to the Coalition in one way or another.  Today, we also discussed how NATO could further support the Coalition. 

Including by providing direct NATO support by AWACS aircraft operating in NATO territory and international airspace. And we will look into that possibility.

On Libya, we decided to continue our preparatory work with a view to helping build Libyans defence and security institutions.

NATO stands ready to support the Libyan authorities, based on their request, and as part of the UN-led efforts.  

We also agreed that the Alliance can do more in the Mediterranean Sea, in cooperation with the European Union and other actors.

We are now converting Operation Active Endeavour into a broader Maritime security operation.

We are still working on the details. But this would include seven different tasks. Such as supporting situational awareness, upholding freedom of navigation, conducting interdiction, supporting maritime counter-terrorism and contributing to capacity building. 

NATO is already doing a great deal with partners and for partners.

But we can and should do more.

Because projecting stability in our neighbourhood is also about preserving security here at home.

And, with that, I am ready to take your questions.

Moderator: Well start with (unintelligible) over here. No, behind. Thank you.

Q: Good evening, Secretary General. Just talking about Libya. Can you specify a little bit more in detail what eventually NATO could do for helping the government and what can be done together with Operation Sophia to stem the flow of migrant flow?

Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General): We have a clear mandate from our heads of state and government that we should stand ready to support a new government and now, we have a new government in Libya, the Government of National Accord, and I spoke with Prime Minister Sarraj some weeks ago and he will now send a team of experts from Tripoli to Brussels and they will sit down with our experts and look into what we can do to assist and help them.

We are not talking about the combat operation but we are taking about how NATO can assist and help, especially in the field of building institutions, structures, and I think its very easy to underestimate the importance of institutions, structures, security, defence planning because especially in a country like Libya, that is something they really need and when we work with the Libyans a couple of years ago or some years ago, it was exactly on these issues that we discussed the possibility or were starting to prepare NATO assistance, helping building Libyan institutions and if there's going to be training of Libyan forces and also provision of military equipment to Libya, that makes it even more important that we have the institutions.

So when we train forces, when equipment is provided and that was discussed and agreed at this meeting in Vienna a couple of days ago, then it is even more important that we have strong institutions making sure that equipment and the trained forces are used in a good way and are playing a concerted role in the process in Libya. So, the first thing we are looking into is capacity building, building institutions, making sure that when international communities starts to train and assist the Libyan armed forces, if that's going to happen, then that can take place in an organized and good framework with strong institutions.

Moderator: Publico from Portugal, fifth row there.

Q: Thank you. My name is Clara Barata from Publico, Portugal and I would like you to tell me how important is Libya in NATOs policy for the south considering the terrorism and immigration policy and all that and how are you planning to cooperate with European Union in establishing this policy and further, can you give me a little bit more details how is NATO preparing to respond to Prime Minister al-Abadi to train Iraqi officers in Iraq? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: We agreed to send an assessment team meaning that we will send a team to Iraq and then, sit down with Iraqis and go through what kind of requirements they have, what are their needs and how NATO can help them and then, based on that, we will come back to Brussels and then, look into what more we can do inside Iraq to help Iraq strengthen their capacity to fight ISIL and to stabilize their own country. So this is part of the NATO efforts to support the efforts of the U.S. led coalition fighting ISIL. I think its extremely important that we build local forces because we need local forces, local capacity, to be able both to defeat ISIL but also to stabilize and hold the territory after ISIL is defeated.

Then, on Libya and the Mediterranean, I think that I said what we are going to do regarding Libya but again, we have not taken any decisions and of course, we will only act if we are asked by the Libyan government to act. So its based on a request from the Libyan government if they're going to do anything in Libya. When it comes to the Mediterranean, that's of course something which we are now discussing with the European Union. It was an issue I discussed with the European Union defence ministers a couple of weeks ago and we are looking into how NATO can provide support for the EU efforts and also do more in the Mediterranean. I think that the lesson we have learned from the Aegean is that NATO can add value. NATO can add value in many different ways.

We can add value because NATO adds capacities and capabilities which the European Union does not possess. For instance, ships from Turkey, ships from Canada, which has been part of the Aegean activity, coming from countries outside the European Union and I also welcomed announcement by the United States that they will offer a ship to our Aegean activity. So, NATO adds value just by the fact that there are nations which are members of NATO but not a member of the European Union and they can assets which are not part of European Union efforts, so we can support the European Union in that sense.

The other way NATO can add value is that we create a political platform for better cooperation, for a more coherent approach and we saw that in the Aegean because NATO was the framework bringing Turkey, a non-EU member, closer into cooperation with Greece and Frontex, the EU border agency, so just that political platform was important and on the NATO flagship, we have a Greek liaison officer and a Turkish liaison officer and you have to remember that when boats were intercepted by Frontex or by the Greek Coast Guard, the boats were taken to Greece but when the boats are intercepted by the Turkish Navy or the Turkish Coast Guard, then the boats are taken back to Turkey. So it makes a big difference to have NATO contributing to these efforts and I think we can also add value when it comes to the central parts of the Mediterranean.

Moderator: Wall Street Journal.

Q: Mr. Secretary General, what is the time table for that central Mediterranean mission? How quickly would you like NATO to take a role of supporting Operation Sophia and specifically, do you see the initial steps in support for Sophia to be a monitoring one, which goes to the last query to you, which is Secretary Kerry talked about NATO providing intelligence in Libya or Syria. Is this merely the AWACS or was there a broader discussion today about intelligence support that NATO can do for the counter-ISIL coalition and in Libya?

Jens Stoltenberg: What we discussed today was AWACS, direct AWACS support, but based on that, the AWACS can operate in NATO territory meaning over Turkey but also in international airspace over the Mediterranean looking into the airspace over Syria and if needed also over Iraq but these details are exactly the details were now going to look into and to define the exact requirements and needs but there are ways that NATO can provide direct support without having NATO planes in Syrian airspace and of course AWACS is a very, as I say, important tool to collect information and then share this information with the coalition which will improve the way the coalition is working and enhance the capabilities and the capacity of the coalition to fight ISIL. So this sharing of information, providing information, from NATO assets to the coalition is the reason why we are now again looking into the possibility of NATO providing direct AWACS support.

Moderator: James.

Jens Stoltenberg: Sophia, I'm very careful about timelines but within weeks or within the summit, we will have finished the transformation of the present Article 5 active endeavour into broader maritime security operation and then, they are created in a way to form a platform for conducting many different tasks. Of course, we have to make decisions, in a way, execute or to do that but then, at least we have the framework with a new broader maritime security operation and we have made a difference, are making a difference in the Aegean. We have seen the numbers of arrivals going down, significantly down, and I think also that NATO can add value in the central part of the Mediterranean with surveillance, perhaps also with other tasks but I think its a bit too early to speculate exactly on what kind of tasks. We will do this in close coordination with the European Union and I also discussed with the Italian Defence Minister setting up a coordination mechanism so we coordinate our efforts in the Mediterranean because NATO is there, NATO is in the Mediterranean. The question is how we coordinate our efforts with the European Union and the wider international community.

Moderator: James.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. Sorry, Mr. Stoltenberg, to drag you back into the Mediterranean, an active endeavour, but this raises all kinds of operational questions, in my mind, mainly counter-terrorism. Is it logical to assume that as the Balkan, the Eastern end, is shut down that the illegal immigrants are going to mass now along the Libyan and North African shore? So, Frontex does not have vessels and how are NATO and the EU going to filter potential terrorists from all of those masses of illegal immigrants that you pick up at sea? They either have to be vetted on board or on the Libyan shore. So what's the thinking there? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: That's exactly that kind of issues we have to look much closer into before we start to have any active role in the central part of the Mediterranean. In the Aegean, we were able to add value and play a key role not least because we had Greece, an EU and NATO member, but Turkey, not an EU member but a NATO member and therefore, we could make the decision or we were able to make the decision back in February that we could return people to Turkey. That will not be the same situation in the sea between Libya and Europe or Italy, the southern part of Europe. So that's exactly some of the important and difficult issues we have to look into if NATO is going to have more presence in this part of the Mediterranean. But again, there aren't many ways of providing support. It may be with ships but it also may be surveillance, reconnaissance, with different kinds of assets. I think its too early to speculate. I think we just have to sit down with our European friends and then, look into how NATO can best add value to efforts we all have to do in the Mediterranean.

Moderator: (unintelligible), Ukraine, in the middle.

Q: (unintelligible), Ukrainian News Agency UNIAN. Secretary General, what NATO is looking here so far for NATO-Ukraine Commission in the frame of NATO summit in Warsaw? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: We have decided to convene a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission in Warsaw as part of the summit and that will be the second summit where we have NATO-Ukraine commission meeting and I think that will be a very strong expression of our political support to the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine and it will also provide a basis for us discussing how we can provide practical support for Ukraine and NATO asked the alliance and NATO allies are providing strong political support for Ukraine and also practical support through our trust funds, to practical cooperation, institution building, training and we will continue to do that and I think the NATO-Ukraine commission meeting will be an important platform for expressing political support and developing our practical support for Ukraine.

Moderator: Lady over there in the back.

Q: Hi, (unintelligible). Could you elaborate further concerning the American vessels in the Aegean, perhaps what types of ships they are and if they're going to join SNMG2 or its going to be a separate mission?

Jens Stoltenberg: The only thing I can say is that the U.S. has, the U.S. informed me some weeks ago that they were looking into the possibility of providing a U.S. ship supporting the NATO activity in the Aegean and Secretary Carter confirmed that today that they are ready to offer a ship. Sorry, Secretary Kerry confirmed today that they are ready to offer a ship to the NATO Aegean activity. Exactly what kind of ship and exactly how this is going to be organized, well I think its too early to say but I think it, once again, confirms that the U.S. is contributing to the security of Europe and also contributing to helping Europe dealing with the challenges related to illegal smuggling of people over the Aegean sea.

Moderator: Thank you very much. That's all we have time for right now but I just wanted to remind you that tomorrow, the Secretary General will be at the main entrance together with the EU High Representative, vice-president of the commission for (unintelligible) at 8:30. So well see you there.

Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you.