Joint press conference
by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Paolo Gentiloni, Foreign Affairs Minister of Italy at the NATO Defense College - Secretary General's opening remarks
Minister Gentiloni, dear Paolo,
It is a really great pleasure to be back in Rome and to meet with you again. The meeting and the discussions that we had at the NATO Defense College yesterday and today just once again reconfirm the importance that Italy plays in our Alliance.
Because Italy really is a core member. You participate and contribute to so many different NATO missions and operations, and you’ve done that for so many years, one of the founding members of our Alliance. You provide fighter jets to our Baltic Air Policing. You augment Turkey’s air defences with a missile battery. And Italy will lead NATO’s Spearhead Force in 2018.
And Italy is also contributing by hosting many different NATO institutions and capabilities. For instance this Defence College but you also host AWACS surveillance planes. And soon, Italy will host our cutting-edge Alliance Ground Surveillance aircraft in Sicily. So that’s just some examples of the many ways that Italy is contributing to our Alliance.
At our Summit in July, Heads of State and Governments of our Alliance decided to further strengthen our collective defence and at the same time to project stability beyond our borders.
Italy is essential to both. For years, Italy has been a major contributor to our operations in Afghanistan and in Kosovo. To our counter-terrorism operation in the Mediterranean. And most recently, to our efforts to cut the lines of illegal migration in the Aegean Sea with a NATO presence in the Aegean Sea. And I trust Italy will be part of our efforts when we increase our presence in the Central Mediterranean. At the Warsaw Summit, we launched Sea Guardian, our new maritime operation. And just this week, I discussed with High Representative Federica Mogherini how NATO can support Operation Sophia.
For example with logistics. With escort for ships diverted for suspicious activities. And by helping to implement the UN Security Council Resolution on the Libya arms embargo.
Support for Operation Sophia is just one example of the ever closer cooperation between NATO and the European Union. And I am grateful that Italy has voiced strong support for this cooperation. NATO and the EU face the same challenges. And together we have the whole toolbox to address them.
This includes the challenge of an increasingly assertive and unpredictable Russia. In recent weeks, Russia has deployed missile systems closer to Alliance borders that could carry nuclear warheads.This is part of a pattern of large-scale military activity and exercises close to our borders. Allies are deeply concerned about this behaviour. We will continue pursuing our policy of strong defence combined with political dialogue. NATO’s mission is to keep our Allies safe. But we must prevent accidents or miscalculations from spiralling out of control. Russia also continues to bomb Aleppo and support the Syrian regime. Despite the terrible toll in human lives and suffering. And despite the strong objections of the international community. We must find a way to overcome the current stalemate in Syria. And the first step to achieve this is to return to the negotiating table. So I hope that the talks in Lausanne and London this weekend will find a way forward to resolving the crisis. With a real cessation of violence. And resumption of humanitarian aid. Syria is the source of many of the security challenges coming from our southern neighbourhood. So we also discussed how NATO is helping our partners in the Middle East and North Africa to build up their own defence capacities. Because when they are more stable, we are more secure. This will also help to reduce illegal migration.
So, I thank once again Italy for contributing to all these efforts and for the close cooperation we have seen for so many years inside the Alliance with all the Allies and Italy is a core member of this unique Alliance.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for a couple of questions.
Q: [Translated]: Good morning, a question to Minister Gentiloni. This morning the Secretary General, NATO Secretary General talking in an interview to the press has debated a two-fold commitment by Italy for security at the eastern borders of Europe facing Russia and as leading nation of the ultra … (inaudible) deployment force. So I would like to ask the Minister which are … (inaudible) element or detail of this commitment and considering the words of Moscow which has considered that initiative as a destructive policy, do you think this might have an impact on the attempt to establish a dialogue that NATO is trying to establish in the next few weeks with Russia? Thank you.
PAOLO GENTILONI (Italian Foreign Affairs Minister): [Translated]: I would say that the decisions that Jens has mentioned during an interview this morning are decisions which were made in the past few months and which we had announced also during the Warsaw Summit. Italy has always given its contribution to an approach aimed at strengthening our defensive set-ups in the Northern and Eastern countries of the Atlantic Alliance. We’ve been participating for a long time in the policing missions in the Baltic Sea and we’ll participate in the next few months with 140 men in Latvia; we will participate in the NATO force under Canadian initiative which is going to be deployed there. This is not part and parcel of a policy of aggression against Russia but its part of a policy of reassurance and defense of our borders as Atlantic Alliance. Among other things these decisions have no impact on the line of dialogue that Italy has always proposed and which shares with NATO because dialogue can and must run parallel with clear signals of reassurance that our allies … to our allies who feel at risk, so much so that the meetings for carrying on the dialogue have continued even after these decisions have been made and announced even before the Warsaw Summit.
Q: I have a question about the operation Sea Guardian. My interest is about which kind NATO have with the government of Libya for this operation and what about in term of result in future about these? What do you expect from this operation?
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary-General): Sea Guardian is a maritime security operation which NATO has decided to establish in the Mediterranean and this operation will have many different tasks. And when I for instance mentioned that Sea Guardian can provide support for operation Sophia we speak about support in international waters; about for example providing logistics. It may be different kinds of logistics but one of the issues that has been mentioned is to provide tanker ships that can refuel other naval ships at sea. When we speak about the task of escort ships diverted for suspicious activities that may be for instance as part of the implementation of the arms embargo and to escort those ships. So, these are issues we are now looking into: exactly how we can provide support for Operation Sophia. On top of that we’re also looking into whether we can provide support for Libya when it comes to capacity building, partly to help Libya build defense institutions. It is extremely important to have strong defense institutions to be able to stabilize the country. Of course Libya needs to train forces but they need also the institutions which can make sure that the forces are used in the in the best possible way. NATO is looking into what we can do when it comes to building institutions; we are also ready to help Operation Sophia in helping building the capacity of the Libyan Coast Guard but that is something that will happen if so requested by the Libyan government and if that can complement the efforts of the European Union and Operation Sophia. So, what we do will complement the efforts of the European Union.
PAOLO GENTILONI: Yes, I just want to add…[Interpreted]: I’d like to add from the Italian side, you do know that Operation Sophia is an operation the main goal of which in this stage is to counter and stop traffickers of human beings in international waters, stop those traffickers who organize human trafficking from Libya. On top of this which is presently its main goal other goals have been recently added upon request by the Libyan government - tasks connected to the training of the Coast Guards - the Libyan Coast Guards - training which takes place in international waters as well. So, there is at the time being no direct relationship between the Sophia operation and the likely support that Sea Guardian will give to Sophia and this is going to be something very important and the Libyan situation in a very directive way. Everything takes place in international waters aimed at achieving some specific goals and objectives: that is fighting human trafficking, training Coast Guards and controlling and surveying - and surveillance of the arms embargo. These three tasks it would be desirable to join also the contribution from NATO but while NATO will provide a contribution if the agreement will be reached - and we’re sure it will reach an agreement - will provide a contribution to Sophia for its general tasks - the tasks connected to the training of the Libyan Coast Guards will be part and parcel of direct dialogue between NATO and the Libyan government. As they’ve asked European Union to submit a similar request to NATO so we’re not presenting Sophia or Sea Guardian which is supporting Sophia as an interference on Libyan affairs - we’re just meeting specific requests by the Libyan government on specific issues.
Q: Good morning. What is the position of NATO about European defense in system (sic)?
JENS STOLTENBERG: European defense is something which is of great importance for NATO because 26 of our allies are European Nations and many of them are member of the European Union. So stronger European defense will contribute to a stronger NATO; stronger European defense will be good for the European Union; it will be good for Europe; and it will be good for NATO, the transatlantic bond. So I welcome all efforts to strengthen European defense capabilities to enhance cooperation between European Nations so we are able to spend and invest the resources we enlist in defense in a more efficient way and also of course I welcome increased defense spending and we’ve seen in Europe that after many, many years of decline in defense spending now defense spending has started to increase again, also in Italy. And that is something that I welcome because we live in a more dangerous world with new challenges, new threats and we have to respond and adapt to that. The thing that we have to make sure is that we avoid duplication with NATO structures and with NATO and that what Europe does is complementary to NATO and I’m very much assured by very strong statements from Paolo, from Minister Gentiloni and from many other European leaders that this is not about establishing something which is an alternative to NATO but this is about strengthening European defense as part of strengthening transatlantic cooperation and that I welcome very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, thank you for coming to the NATO Defense College today and have a good afternoon.