Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council with Resolute Support operational partner nations

  • 07 Dec. 2016 -
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  • Last updated: 07 Dec. 2016 17:24

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

We have just finished a meeting on Afghanistan with our Resolute Support partners. And our commitments to Afghanistan’s security is strong and steadfast. At our Warsaw Summit, we agreed to sustain Resolute Support beyond 2016, to continue national funding of the Afghan Security Forces through 2020, and to work on our long-term political partnership and practical cooperation with Afghanistan.

Today we reviewed the security situation in Afghanistan and we reaffirmed our mutual commitments. The situation in Afghanistan is and will remain difficult and tough. The Afghan Security Forces have taken many casualties, but they are defending the Afghan people with determination and courage and combating the enemy across the country. This year alone there have been eight major attempts to seize cities, all have failed. NATO will continue to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces through our Resolute Support Mission. Because we know that training local forces to fight terrorism and stabilise their country is the best way to project stability beyond our borders. This is part of the broad international support for Afghanistan.  At the Brussels Conference in October, the international community committed a further fifteen billion dollars through 2020.

Minister Rabbani expressed Afghanistan’s appreciation for the continued support from the international community and he briefed us on his country’s ongoing reforms, which are linked to that support. It is essential that Afghanistan continues to pursue reforms and improve governance, to fight corruption, protect human rights and advance the peace process. This matters for the stability of Afghanistan and for our own security.

Let me also thank my Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan, Ambassador Ismail Aramaz for his insights and commitment over the last two years. I can announce that his successor will be Ambassador Cornelius Zimmermann from Germany. He is an experienced diplomat who knows Afghanistan very well, and will continue our important work.  

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

MODERATOR: Okay we’ll go to Salam Hatandra (sic) the first row. No, not there, over there thank you.

Q: Thank you very much. (inaudible). Mr. Secretary there will be a meeting in coming days in Moscow include Pakistan, China and Russia towards Afghanistan and there’s a concern in Afghanistan because of a new block (sic). Is it a concern for NATO as a partner of Afghanistan as well?

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): The important thing is that we all support the Afghan unity government because that’s the best way to support efforts to fight terrorism to stabilize Afghanistan and to support the unity of Afghanistan, and that’s exactly what NATO is doing and NATO’s partners are doing when we support Afghanistan through the Resolute Support Mission. And all outside actors should be helping the Afghan government and not interfering in Afghanistan by undermining the Afghan government.

MODERATOR: Salam Matunder (sic), first gentleman over there.

Q: Thank you very much. This is Nasser Mumanigi (sic) from Salam Matunder (sic) and my question actually relates to your comment yesterday and a little bit today. You mentioned that you were going to be reviewing the performance of the Afghan government. Could you please tell us what those performance areas are and against which, what bench marks do you review them? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The purpose of the NATO presence in Afghanistan our Resolute Support Mission is to train, assist and advise the Afghan forces, the national security forces and we do that in many different ways. We train and assist the forces, I’ve visited this and seen it myself, and I think it’s obvious that they have made a lot of progress because just the fact that the Afghan national security forces have been able to take full responsibility for the security in Afghanistan themselves since 2015, is a great expression of the strength and the courage the professionalism they have achieved. And that is a direct result of NATO training that we have been able to help build such a strong national force. Then of course we continue also to work on many other areas. For instance we helped them with developing their special operation forces and also and also air forces, and we measured the progress we make in all this different areas. In addition to that we also work on together with the broader international community on reform, on building stronger democratic institution. Minister Abana (sic) just briefed us on the establishment of the Electoral Commission and the work to have elections. We work with Afghanistan to modernize their, their government institutions, especially the defense and security institutions, and, of course, to fight terrorism and we do this in a transparent way and we do it together with the, the wider international communities so, for instance, when we work together with European Union we also work on how to implement reforms and to make sure that we are able to see progress also in modernizing and improving the way the government structures work in Afghanistan.

MODERATOR: National Public Radio, third row, lady.

Q: Hi. I moved just to throw you off (laughter). No, my question is also about Afghanistan. Today an Asia Foundation survey came out which talks about not the security situation but the way Afghan’s feel about their life and the direction that it’s going. And in the last dozen years they’ve, they’ve taken this survey, they are more pessimistic than ever before with 66 percent of the population saying it’s going in the wrong direction. So you may say that the Taliban aren’t taking back cities but people aren’t happy anyway, isn’t that also part of NATO’s legacy? What do you say about that? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG: I think that survey confirms that the situation in Afghanistan is difficult. It’s a tough situation and we will continue to see violence, fight and a very difficult economic situation in Afghanistan, but that’s exactly why NATO is there to help them make progress, to help them stabilize the country which is pre-conditional also for economic development and economic prosperity and there are also some other results in that survey which I think it’s it’s important to take note of. For instance that 80 percent in the same survey say that they don’t want Taliban back, meaning that they agree with the main reason why NATO is there, to prevent that Afghanistan is once again, is controlled by Taliban and become a safe haven for international terrorists. We also see in the same survey that there is strong trust and support for the Afghan security forces, they continue to be trusted and one of the issues we are focusing on together with a broader international community is, how can we implement reforms, how can we fight terrorism, how can we improve the electoral process and how can we contribute to the peace and reconciliation process. So, I think we, we don’t, we do not underestimate the difficulties, the problems, the challenges which we face in Afghanistan, but, I strongly believe that, what we do now in Afghanistan is the right thing. We have ended our combat operations there, we are there to build Afghan owned institutions, Afghan owned peace process, Afghan owned political processes and we are helping them in doing that to make sure that one day they can manage without our help. But it’s tough, it’s difficult and, and the survey confirms that but it also confirms that they don’t want Taliban back and to avoid that they need our help.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to Kuna Kuwait News Agency, first row.

Q: (inaudible), Kuna Kuwait News Agency. My question is concerning the Gulf region.  NATO and ICI is expected to open a Centre in Kuwait later this month. Can you please tell me what are the aims and goals of this Centre? And secondly on Iraq how many trainers are you going to send there in January? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: We, we will inaugurate a Centre, a regional Centre, NATO-ICI, Istanbul Co-operation Initiative Centre in Kuwait early next year and that Centre will be a platform, it is a big building, I have seen the construction site which is going to be a platform for different kinds of partnership activities, NATO and countries in the Gulf region can meet, can, can have many different kinds of activities to build partnerships between NATO and countries in the region. So I’m looking forward to open the Centre in Kuwait and it’s going to take our work with the region an important step forward. In January we will also we, we have already training activities in Jordan where we train Iraqi officers and we have trained several hundred officers there already. We will continue our activity in Jordan but then from January we will start with around 20 trainers, so it’s a modest start, where we are going to train Iraqi officers in Iraq. We do this of course in very close coordination and cooperation with the coalition and we have several NATO allies that are part of the coalition efforts and we will work with them when we establish our training activity in Iraq to start training Iraqi officers in Iraq.

MODERATOR: Financial Times at the back, at the back. We’ll come back.

Q: Thank you, Arthur Beasley. Just to go back to the discussion on Russia and there was a discussion on Russia at dinner overnight. What are your assessment is the state of unity between NATO members on the sanctions question and to what extent are people now growing weary of sanctions because there is an undercurrent in debate on that? And what on your assessment would be the consequence of disunity on that question among NATO members? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all we had a very good discussion on Russia and our approach to Russia during the dinner yesterday evening. Second, there is very strong unity in NATO when it comes to our approach to Russia which is built on strength, defense, deterrence combined with dialogue. And I feel that support for that approach, this duel track approach, is stronger now than it, it’s a very strong unity behind that approach. Economic sanctions is part of the response from the broader international community to the aggressive actions of Russia in Ukraine, and it is not NATO that that decide on the sanctions it’s the European Union, United States, G7, but NATO has expressed strong support for these sanctions and I’ve expressed strong support for these sanctions because I believe that sanctions are an important tool to send a very clear message that we do not accept the kind of aggressive behaviour, the illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilizing behaviour in the Eastern Ukraine which Russia is responsible for. The E.U. has decided to continue with economic sanctions and I think that is a right decision because the sanctions should only be lifted if if Russia change behaviour and so far we haven’t seen much of that so therefore I support continued sanctions, economic sanctions against Russia.

MODERATOR: Polish News Agency.

Q: Mr. Secretary General (inaudible) Polish Press Agency PAP. I would like to raise once again a question about relations and dialogue with Russia. Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs told us today that he expects from you some proposals on dialogue with Russia. He says that this is something this is only some kind of rhetoric some kind of (inaudible) there is no concrete. Could you comment on that?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all we discussed as I said last evening our relationship with Russia including the dialogue we have with Russia and the dialogue is a wide it’s a dialogue which addresses different kinds of issues but in for instance the two meetings that we have convened so far in the NATO-Russia Council the issues has have been Ukraine and even though we don’t agree on Ukraine I think it’s important that we meet around the same table and that we express our concerns and that NATO allies and NATO can talk directly to Russia on Ukraine and our concerns and also on the, express our views on the importance of full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, because we have seen a violation of the cease fire, we have seen that the Minsk Agreements are not implemented. So that’s part of the dialogue is to raise concerns for instance Ukraine. Then another element in the dialogue is what we call transparency and risk reduction and that’s about how we can increase transparency and reduce the risks for incidents, accidents which is of particular importance in times where we see more military activity and more tensions and also some very dangerous situations with the downing of the Russian plane and also some incidents in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. That’s partly about raising the issue of implementing existing agreements, like for instance, the Vienna Document on transparency related to also military exercises and international observation of military exercises but also to look into how we can develop new mechanisms to improve predictability and transparency related to military activity and with increased presence I think that’s even more important. Then of course we welcome constructive ideas from allies and, and Poland and other allies have put different ideas on the table. We will discuss and assess them because we will constantly look into how we can develop our dialogue with Russia.

MODERATOR: (inaudible)

Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary General about other conflict region, there has been an artillery strike on Russian humanitarian hospital in Western Aleppo and we haven’t yet heard their reaction of NATO on this event, during which two Russian medics working with Syrian people of Aleppo were killed. And follow-up question, you have said that E.U. has taken decision to prolong the sanctions against Russia, did we hear it correct? Thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First on Aleppo, the situation in Aleppo is very very difficult. It is a humanitarian catastrophe what we see there. Thousands of thousands of people are killed, also many innocent people and we have seen that also humanitarian aid workers have been killed and the main reason for this increased violence in Aleppo is the renewed offensive by the by the Syrian regime supported by Russia. So, I think that what we see now in Aleppo where innocent people are killed just underlines the importance of finding a political solution and we support all efforts to try to reach a political solution and such a political solution has to start with a cease fire and I welcome the efforts by also NATO allies in the U.N. Security Council to get an agreement on cessation of hostilities, a cease fire and NATO will continue to support that. So, again and again we see a humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo and the best way to end that is to support efforts to have a cease fire to to as a first step towards political political solution. I think that when it comes to the European Union and economic sanctions I think that the European Union has the right to comment on that but I have supported the decision by the European Union many times to prolong economic sanctions and I have also said it, I also stated this time that I think it’s right to continue with economic sanctions.

MODERATOR: Europa Press.

Q: Thank you Secretary General. Going back to Afghanistan, since the situation you mentioned is going to stay tough for quite a while is it completely excluded the Resolute Support will stay on in 2018? And if I may a second quick question on Iraq, you mentioned that the start of the training efforts in Iraq itself will start with a modest 20 trainers but what’s the maximum size of the force that we will see there? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all we we start in Afghanistan, sorry in Iraq with the trainers and then we will assess the need and then build on that. We also have the training activities going on in Jordan and we support the coalition fighting ISIL also in other ways, for instance with direct support with our AWACS surveillance planes, so the exact size and the scope of our training activity in Iraq will be assessed and decide, based on the experience we now will will get when we start there in January. So, there is no fixed figure;  we have to come back to that. The other question was about Afghanistan…yeah and what was the question.

Q: To stay on…

JENS STOLTENBERG: To stay on, so what we have so we have decided we decided in Warsaw to sustain our Resolute Support Mission through, into 2017 and, and that’s exactly what we are doing and we have around 13,000 troops there and they do the, they train, advise and assist mission that they are supposed to do, and they help the Afghans to build their own capacity to defend and stabilize their own country. In addition to that we also provide financial support. We haven’t made any decisions on how long we will stay there with our Resolute Support Mission to trainers, but that is something we have to assess next year to make decisions regarding 2018. What we have decided is that we will continue to fund them through 2020 and the aim of the Resolute Support Mission is of course to make the Afghans able to do this without our support, but we will stay there and continue to support them and there’s very strong strong commitment by allies to to provide support and we saw that also during the meeting today, that there were many Minister’s there expressing very strong support and willingness to provide the forces, provide the funding, to continue to support but we don’t have a fixed date for the for the training, assist and advise mission.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. Have a good afternoon.