by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers session
We have just finished a substantive meeting with our Resolute Support partners, including the Afghan Foreign Minister Rabbani. As well as the United Nations, the European Union, Japan and the Republic of Korea.
Together, we assessed the current situation in Afghanistan, and addressed the future of NATO’s support.
The Afghan forces are showing real courage, determination, and professionalism. And they are benefitting from our training, advice and assistance. But Afghanistan continues to face serious security challenges.
That is why today, ministers agreed to sustain the Resolute Support mission beyond 2016. Our military authorities will now address the details of the mission beyond 2016, including in the regions of Afghanistan. We also reviewed the financial support for the Afghan security forces. Total contributions to the Afghan National Army Trust Fund now exceed 1.4 billion US dollars.
I welcome the financial commitments made today by many Allies and partners, and I am confident that we will be able to announce at the Warsaw Summit firm commitments to continue funding for the Afghan forces throughout the year 2020. This is critical for Afghanistan’s ability to build sustainable security forces and ensure Afghanistan’s lasting security. Ministers also reaffirmed our long-term ambition for a strong political partnership and practical cooperation with Afghanistan.
I expect our Heads of State and Government to reiterate this commitment at the highest level in Warsaw. Foreign Minister Rabbani expressed Afghanistan’s appreciation for our support, and briefed ministers on the government’s continued reforms.
These include initiatives to fight corruption, protect human rights, including the rights of women, and advance the peace process.
NATO Allies and our partners have been working side-by-side with Afghanistan for more than a decade. Together, we have made our nations safer, and Afghanistan more secure. And as ministers made clear today, our political, military, and financial support will endure.
And with this, I’m ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): We’ll go the front row first, our Afghan colleague.
Q: I’m Parwiz Kawa from Afghanistan. Yesterday you outlined the importance of political solutions for Afghanistan peace and you know Ashraf Ghani, President Ashraf Ghani, has made several trips to Pakistan at the beginning of his administration to address, to start talks with Pakistani officials on Afghanistan conflict. And you know now we have first level engagement for … that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, United States and China to deal with the peace of Afghanistan. How do you assess the rule of Pakistan and what’s NATO going to do about to put pressure on Pakistan to be more engaged in Afghanistan peace?
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): So we have always stated very clearly that there can only be a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and therefore we welcome all efforts to try to find a political solution including the outreach of the Afghan Unity Government to countries in the region and of course also the contact with Pakistan. And I welcome all efforts to try to make Afghanistan …working more closely with neighbours, also Pakistan and I think that Pakistan can contribute and has a key role to play when it comes to the political process trying to find a political solution. And NATO has expressed strong support to the efforts to find a political solution including the engagement with Pakistan.
OANA LUNGESCU: Wall Street Journal.
Q: Mr. Secretary General I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the meeting last night on Russia. Do you have more commitments from nations to provide, to be framework nations for the battalions in the east? And is your announcement of a request for a NATO Russia Council, do you think it’s particularly important to talk with Russia about what NATO’s intentions in the east are?
JENS STOLTENBERG: One of the reasons why we so strongly convey this message of defence and dialogue is that especially when tensions are high as they are now it is important to have transparency and predictability and one of the reasons why we think it’s useful to have the NATO Russia Council is that we can use this council to be transparent about what we are doing and also of course ask Russia to be the same to us in a reciprocal way. And therefore the last meeting we had a couple of weeks ago one of the items on the agenda was exactly military activity, transparency and risk reduction. And with increased military presence, with increased military activity the need for this kind of transparency, predictability just increases. We are now looking into the possibility of holding a new meeting on the NATO Russia Council. It’s a broad agreement among NATO allies to try to seek, to have a new meeting but of course we have to consult with Russia, we have to agree on the agenda. But among NATO allies there is support for having a new meeting but there has to be consultations with Russia before we can have a meeting and we have to agree on the modalities and the agenda. When it comes to announcements of more framework nations I’m not able to go into details about that. We are working on the issue of forward presence. As I have stated before, we have received advice from our military planners, our strategic commanders recommending battalion sized presence in different eastern allied countries and we are now looking into those proposals and then we will discuss it also at the Defence Ministerial Meeting and then make decisions by the summit.
OANA LUNGESCU: Kommersant, second row, gentleman over there.
Q: One question about Russia NATO Council again. Could you specify exactly what topics and what issues should and must be discussed at the meeting?
JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all I think it’s important to say that what we did yesterday was that we discussed this in our informal meeting and then it was broad agreement both for our fundamental message about combining strength, deterrence, defence and dialogue and we discussed both the need to enhance our forward presence in the eastern part of the alliance and to continue to adapt our military posture. But based on this we also find a broad agreement inside NATO for seeking to convene a new meeting of the NATO Russia Council because we believe it is important to have open channels for political dialogue, especially in times like the times we are facing now. For us it has always been important to address Ukraine but when it comes to the other items on the agenda I think the right thing now is to sit down and consult with Russia and then sort out the modalities and the exact timing of the meeting. I would like to underline that we never suspended the NATO Russia Council, what we suspended was the practical cooperation. We had a meeting some weeks ago and I stated after that meeting that I think we should have new meetings and now we are looking into the possibility of having a meeting before our summit in July and we have to do that in consultation with Russia.
OANA LUNGESCU: Gentleman front row.
Q: Afghanistan Business: My question is the other day Douglas Lute called it an unfinished business and in his testimony before the Senate Armed Security Committee General Campbell said that the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces did not possess the necessary combat power to protect every part of the country. This year the Afghan Army withdrew from a number of districts in the Helmand and other provinces. There is fighting right now in more than 25 different parts of Afghanistan. The Taliban have made gains in the relatively stable northern Afghanistan. The country still does not have a Defence Minister. Given all of this will this business finish? And will NATO change anything to finish it or continue the status quo?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We have never said that it was going to be easy in Afghanistan and when we ended our combat mission at the end of 2014 and handed over the full responsibility to the Afghan Forces for security in Afghanistan, we underlined very strongly that this was a big task and that it in no way was going to be an easy task. And we also listened very carefully when our military commanders briefed us in detail about the operations and the military challenges and the situation in Afghanistan during the meeting we just finished. But at the same time our military commanders also reported about the courage, about the determination and about the professionalism of the Afghan Army and Security Forces. It’s an army of 350,000 soldiers and police and they have been able to take responsibility for the security in Afghanistan and they have been able also to retake Kunduz in three weeks and they have been able to hold their ground and to perform in a professional way. They still need help, there’s still a way to go and that’s exactly why NATO is committed to continue to support them. So we decided today to sustain our Resolute Support Mission beyond 2016, so we will continue to be there with NATO forces and partner forces to help, train, assist and advise the Afghan Army. We decided and we are in the process of mobilizing the necessary funds for continued financial support to the Afghan National Army and Security Forces and we will continue our political and practical cooperation with Afghanistan. So we are committed, we will continue to support them exactly because this is not an easy task but they have proven to be capable, professional and they have shown courage.
OANA LUNGESCU: BBC.
Q: Yes thank you very much. Jonathan Marcus BBC, good afternoon Secretary General. A question on the deployments eastwards and a lot of emphasis on now forward deployment eastward, the whole pattern of exercises and so on that have been established to reassure those allies who are concerned about Russian actions. Why though is NATO still so reluctant to simply say look the Russians have thrown away the old book and torn up the agreements that we’ve had with them, we’re going to base troops permanently in Eastern Europe? The Polish Government, for one, clearly would like to see permanent NATO bases in Eastern Europe. Why is it all so tentative? You know rumours [?] of troops, one exercise ends, another begins, not going to base permanently and so on. Why are you just not going to send a clearer message and say yes we are going to deploy a limited number of troops, forward permanently in Eastern Europe because the security situation has changed?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We are sending a clear message. We are sending a clear message about that we are going to have troops in the eastern part of the alliance. We’re going to increase our forward presence with military forces in the eastern part of our alliance. We made that decision in February and now we are in the process of deciding on the details, the scale and the composition and exactly where to deploy. So we have already sent a very clear signal about forward presence of NATO forces, multinational forces and I have also told you that what we are looking into now is advice from our military commanders that this forward presence shall be based on or shall consist of battalion sized forces in different eastern NATO allied countries. But exactly where and the exact composition is an issue which we are now assessing and we will announce it when we make our decisions at the Warsaw Summit in a few weeks. So we are sending a clear signal and also the signal of having a multinational presence sends also a very clear signal about that an attack on one ally will be an attack on the whole alliance. But at the same time we are sending a signal about that NATO does not seek confrontation; we don’t want a new cold war and we are still striving for a more constructive and cooperative relationship with Russia. Therefore we are keeping the channels for political dialogue open and therefore we are also making sure that everything we do is defensive, it is proportionate and it’s fully in line with our international commitments. So I think it is always important to find the balance, partly a balance between forward presence and increased ability to reinforce, if needed. We have also increased the readiness of our forces, and a balance between military strength, determination, deterrence and political dialogue. And NATO is striking that balance now and we are deciding on the details as we move towards the summit in Warsaw.
OANA LUNGESCU: Financial Times.
Q: Sam Jones from the Financial Times. I’m wondering in striking that balance for whose benefit is it? Because a lot of people have talked extensively about Russia’s willful misinterpretation of NATO actions, the deployments in the Baltics in the east as you know are regarded by Russia or certainly talked about publicly as being an expansion of NATO that’s tantamount to an act of aggression. So is the NATO Russia Council and some of these measures for dialogue, are they really aimed at the members of the alliance who themselves are more wary of being so strongly opposed to Russia and Russian aggression? Is this really about internal reassurance rather than external dialogue?
JENS STOLTENBERG: It is about doing what we said that we should do. And we have stated very clearly that we are going to reinforce our collective defence in Europe and we have implemented that with the Readiness Action Plan, increased readiness of our forces. We have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force and we have created a new High Readiness Force and now we are moving forward with increased forward presence in the eastern part of the alliance. But we have also stated clearly that we will continue to strive for a more constructive relationship with Russia and continue to keep channels for political dialogue open. And as I stated one of the reasons why this is important is to exactly avoid that kind of misunderstandings, misinterpretations and miscalculations. So one of the purposes of having open dialogue with Russia is to tell them exactly what we are doing so there can be no reason to misunderstand or miscalculate. And add to that that with increased military activity along our borders the risks for incidents and accidents is increasing and we have seen the downing of the Russian plane over Turkey, we have seen unsafe behaviour of some Russian planes close to U.S. ships and planes in the Baltics recently and for me that just underlines the importance of transparency, predictability, military lines of communications, partly to try to avoid these kind of incidents and accidents and if they happen make sure that they don’t spiral out of control. So for me this is about doing what we have said that we will do, defence and dialogue, try to reduce tensions, not escalate and seek to avoid confrontation and a new cold war. This is a great big challenge but NATO is used to be faced with big challenges and therefore we have also implemented the biggest adaptation of our alliance since the end of the Cold War with the decisions we have made over the last couple of years.
OANA LUNGESCU: Lady in the second row.
Q: [Inaudible], Russian newspaper. I have two questions again about Russia. First today you’ve mentioned that NATO and European Union have common response to Russian politics in Ukraine, would you please elaborate? Have you already discussed any particular ideas, proposals, programmes with Frederica Mogherini. Second question, you’ve mentioned many times during these days your approach to Russia dialogue plus deterrence. I’m afraid this concept is not clearly understood in Moscow. So after Montenegro membership you already got response from Russian politicians who said its fueling tension in Europe and again exercises in the near future, what makes you think that after that Moscow will still be open to dialogue? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: To be honest I didn’t understand the first question all about Ukraine?
Q: The European Union and NATO cooperation.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah, yeah.
Q: Common response, any particular ideas you’ve discussed today?
JENS STOLTENBERG: My message there is that of course the European Union and NATO we are two different organizations with different capabilities, different skills, different institutions but we are complimentary and we are working closely together. And we have seen that also when it comes to the response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its policies regarding, or when it comes to destabilizing Eastern Ukraine. Because the European Union has implemented economic sanctions while NATO has implemented the Readiness Action Plan or delivered an increased deterrence and defence as part of our military adaptation we have seen since 2014. So that’s in a way the European Union delivering economic sanctions, NATO delivering military deterrence and defence and together this is a very strong and united response. I strongly believe that those in Moscow they understand that in the long run they will gain more from cooperating with NATO and the European Union and the west than confronting us. And I think it’s obvious that what we do is a response on the Russian behaviour in Ukraine. Before that happened we didn’t have any kind of the same force presence in the eastern part of the alliance as we are planning to have now and the assurance measures, the increased military presence is something that came after the annexation of Crimea. And I have, I often use my own country Norway as an example. For decades Norway has had a good working relationship with Russia, we have cooperated on energy, on fishery, on …. [inaudible], on environment and actually also on military activities up in the north and we have been able to do so not despite of our membership in NATO but because of, because that gave us that foundation, the strength to be able to also engage with Russia. So I believe that in Moscow they understand that cooperation and more constructive relationship is something that will gain both Russia and NATO in the long run.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. I’m sorry we don’t have time for all the other questions because the Secretary General has another meeting. Thank you, this concludes this press point.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much.