Joint press conference
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Chairman of the Tri-Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mladen Ivanić
Thank you so much for welcoming me and my delegation here today and it’s great to be back in Sarajevo, and to see this beautiful city and to see the snow that we have in the city and on the mountains.
For almost two decades NATO has helped guarantee the stability of this region. And we really highly value our partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina. That is important for Bosnia and it’s important for NATO.
Because our partnership is a two way street. We help you to implement reforms and you help us in creating stability in the Balkans and you contribute to our shared security in many different ways.
I would like to thank you for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s contributions to different NATO activities and operations and missions, especially in Afghanistan.
I have met Bosnian soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and you have been there for many years and we are grateful for your contribution to fighting international terrorism through your presence in Afghanistan.
We also appreciate your donation of ammunition to Iraq, helping to fight ISIL.
So these are just two examples of how you contribute to our shared security.
Your forces are making a difference. And your contributions show that you are prepared to share responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security.
Bosnia and Herzegovina are a candidate for membership in NATO. And you have the necessary tools to move towards the Alliance. Today we discussed the reform process in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the way ahead.
NATO stands ready to activate your Membership Action Plan, once all immovable defence properties have been registered to the state. We welcome the reforms that you are making in the defence and security sector.
The defence review agreed last year was an important step forward, as is the implementation plan you agreed yesterday. And I welcome both the defence review but also the fact that now you have agreed on the implementation plan, how to implement all the defence measures in the defence review.
And I really welcome this progress and your strong commitment. But I call on you to do even more. And to undertake even more courageous reforms.
Now is the time for all leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to make difficult compromises. And to work together for the benefit of all communities and all citizens in this country.
Your efforts will be worth it. They will pave the way for your full membership in our Euro-Atlantic family.
With hard work and continued effort, Bosnia and Herzegovina will move even closer to NATO and to the European Union.
So President Ivanić, thank you once again. It’s great to be here and to meet with you and the whole Presidency. Thank you.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO Spokesperson]: Questions, first question.
Q: Question to Mr. Stoltenberg. I hope someone that someone is translating or he should be given headsets. So, so there are some information recently that leaked from a meeting in NATO that NATO has troops ready that would intervene in case of political or other unrests in Bosnia Herzegovina. Is this true, is this your intent or is that fake news? The question to Mr. Ivanic, you said there is a consensus when it comes to MAP? Is there a consensus when it comes to full fledge membership in NATO?
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): Bosnia Herzegovina is a partner of NATO. We are working together with Bosnia Herzegovina. We are here by invitation, we have a NATO headquarters here because Bosnia Herzegovina has asked us to be here and we are working with Bosnia Herzegovina to help them implement reforms and we have no intention, no plans at all to deploy any combat troops or anything like that in Bosnia Herzegovina. That’s no on our agenda. Our agenda is to support Bosnia Herzegovina, implement reforms they have decided themselves they want to implement. So for instance the defense review which was decided by the Presidency in November and they have now decided the implementation plan well we will sit down together with Bosnia Herzegovina and look into how can we help them with the implementing the review they have decided. So we are here to support, to help a sovereign State and totally of course with respect to their sovereignty and the territorial integrity of this country. We have no other plans. And let me add one more thing and that is that NATO has never forced any country to join the Alliance. It’s up to Bosnia Herzegovina to decide whether Bosnia Herzegovina wants to become a member of the Alliance, it’s not for me, it’s not for Brussels, it’s not for any NATO member to decide whether they would like to become a member or not; it’s for Bosnia to decide. But if they decide that they would like to move towards NATO well then we will work with them on how to move on that path but of course only based on the wish from the sovereign government of Bosnia Herzegovina.
MLADEN IVANIC (Chairman of Tri-Presidency of Bosnia & Herzegovina): [Interpreted]: You know that when it comes to full fledge membership there is no full agreement but there is full agreement when it comes to MAP, so as I said I believe that it’s too soon this question of full fledge membership because those generations of politicians will not decide on full fledge membership so let us focus, let us make step forward to modernize our armed forces because we need that to develop good relationship with NATO because we have that cooperation to give our contribution to PSO’s throughout the world because we can do that. And when conditions are met then someone else a different time will decide on that. To ask now on full fledge membership and without even activating a MAP is too soon and I would also add that it’s just a cause for political dispute. So, let us stick to this what we agree and that is that we will modernize our forces, that we will activate the membership action plan, and to be able to continue modernization and equipping of our armed forces continue to cooperate with a powerful Alliance which has its global role in the world.
OANA LUNGESCU: Second question.
Q: Question to Mr. Stoltenberg, could you assess the security situation in Bosnia Herzegovina in terms of potential risks of potential unrest or potential new conflict. There are medias who are reporting it here internationally given the context of the whole region, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia since we know that those countries are arming Serbian Croatian modernizing their armed forces. Questions to Mr. Ivanic, since the defense review has been adopted when is Bosnia Herzegovina going to modernize its armed forces, when are they going to buy new piece of equipment?
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO has been in this region for two decades to help to stabilize the region and to help to end the wars and to keep the peace and that’s the reason why we continue to stay here. And NATO and all NATO allies are … NATO is a defensive alliance and and we will do whatever we can to try to keep tensions down to avoid any escalation of tensions and that’s the message from the Alliance and that’s also the message I convey to all the countries and all the actors in this region. The best way of avoiding new conflicts, new tensions is of course to continue to strengthen the security institutions of Bosnia Herzegovina, continue to implement reforms and to continue to work with NATO on strengthening the partnership between NATO and Bosnia Herzegovina. So we are here, NATO allies are working with Bosnia Herzegovina to keep tensions low to avoid any conflicts and escalation.
MLADEN IVANIC: [Interpreted]: If I just may add a comment to this question, instability may happen only because of us and we are the only ones who can provide true stability. NATO can support us but stability depends on us and not on NATO. NATO can support us with that but certainly cannot impose stability on its own if the domestic political forces do not want that, so political responsibility is with us. We’ve adopted the modernization plan and the basic concept is that there are different phases. So in the first phase is to equip individually our soldiers with quality equipment, protective equipment so that they can meet standards, individual standards be it a soldier, be it an officer, those deployed to missions that they have appropriate equipment and that is not that much expensive because we’ve concentrated on soldiers, on those who put their lives at risk particularly when they deploy to peace-support operations. And to prepare the armed forces of Bosnia Herzegovina when it comes to their support of civil authorities in case of natural or other disasters and this is what we are grateful for to NATO because this will be actually the topic of the exercise that will take place in Tosla (sic). The real other equipment will come at different phases and the concept is through global financial planning to bring the defense expenditures to 2 percent GDP which is also one of the long term.
OANA LUNGESCU: Third and last question.
Q: Question to both of you. First a question to the Secretary General, are you concerned about Russian influence in the Balkans? For example do you see Russian influence in the Montenegro coup attempt and is there anything beyond the sort of advice you’re giving that can, how NATO can help stabilize the situation in Bosnia? And to the Chairman, have you seen any evidence that the new American Administration, the Trump Administration will change American policy to the Balkans? Are, do you foresee at all reduced American influence and a greater Russian influence in this region?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We have seen several reports about increased Russian influence and presence in the Western Balkans and we’ve also seen the reports about both from Montenegro but also from Serbia about Russian intervention in the political process in Montenegro before the elections there last year. And of course this is something we are following very closely. We work with partners to improve and strengthen their intelligence services and we work of course with also all the NATO allies in the region including with Montenegro soon to be a member on strengthening their defense institutions and also their intelligence services. The best way to increase resilience against any kind of external influence or intervention is to make sure that the democratic institutions in the different countries in the Western Balkans are strong, fight corruption, modernize, implement reforms that’s the best way to make sure that the institutions are strong and that they are able to resist any kind of attempts to intervene or to influence democratic processes in the different countries in the Western Balkans. So for me this is just another argument for continuing to work with the different partners in this region to strengthen their different democratic institutions including reforming their armed forces.
MLADEN IVANIC: [Interpreted]: I’ve been for quite some time in politics in Bosnia Herzegovina and I know what implications are or what implications were during the Bush Administration, during the Obama Administration and we were not a big topic for any of those administration and I don’t expect to be a major topic of the current President Mr. Trump. I believe that key political individuals in his Administration will not deal with us. We will probably be the topic of bureaucrats in the State Department which is not bad unless we make such a big problem that we become interesting to major politicians which is certainly which will certainly not be good for us. Internationally speaking those who have the biggest role in Bosnia Herzegovina will be Brussels because we committed clearly that we want to go towards the E.U. and it is natural that conditions, standards and political legislation influence will go through Brussels. I believe that the influence of the U.S. and I would add to Russia too will be brought down to the level of the Peace Implementation Council and that is their obligation as long as we have the high rep here. So in short I don’t expect any spectacular changes of the new U.S. Administration when it comes to Bosnia Herzegovina.
Q: Same question for both. What do you do to fight ISIS because there are many thousands, hundreds maybe of young men that go to fight to Syria from this region so there is a strong phenomenon of radicalization and then they come back and they are very close to Italy and they want to hit Europe so how can you stop it and what NATO can do for this?
MLADEN IVANIC: [Interpreted]: We are watching closely everything that’s been going on in relation to people from Bosnia Herzegovina who have gone to those zones, those areas. In a certain period of time we had a spike in the number of people who went there but in the meantime we adopted a piece of legislation that actually prohibited that and it even stipulates prison sentences for people who do that. So the number of people who go there has been slashed significantly but realistically speaking people who went to Syria and then came back of course are a potential danger. Whoever kept a blind eye to that fact would be very naive in political and every other way. Our security agencies are keeping a close eye on that phenomenon on the situation and I am convinced that the situation is being intensively monitored. However, the struggle against any form of extremism regardless of where it comes from is the key obligation of politicians, religious leaders of the people from where that from which that problem comes from. So when you criticize someone too much it could be counter-productive sometimes in Bosnia Herzegovina and that’s why I’m so encouraged by the moves and the actions made by the religious, intellectual and political circles of Bosniacs in Bosnia Herzegovina for distancing themselves from extremism, from distancing themselves from that abuse and Bosnia Herzegovina as a whole continues to support all efforts in the fight against ISIS.
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO works very closely with the international coalition countering ISIL with other member States in this region and with partners in the region to address the challenges posed to us by the many foreign fighters we have seen going to Iraq, Syria both from this region but also from other European countries. So, one element in our efforts to fight terrorism together with the Counter ISIL Coalition and together with other international institutions and partners in Europe is to address the issue of foreign fighters. And I welcome the reports that the Chairman just referred to that the numbers are going down and it is important to be aware of that some of them are now returning and this of course is something which creates concern and we have to follow that very closely. That’s also the reason why NATO allies have strengthened their intelligence and also the way we are sharing intelligence between NATO allies and we have just established a new division in NATO which is solely dedicated to intelligence because we understand we see that we will need more intelligence and better intelligence to address not least the threats and the challenges which are stemming from foreign fighters. I would also like to underline the importance that religious leaders are so clear in condemning extremism and trying to fight the ideological message from the extremists and that we all have to stand up defending our open democratic societies because the extremists and the terrorists they actually are attacking the core values that NATO has established to defend open societies, democracy, the rule of law and therefore the fight against foreign fighters and terrorism is part of what NATO is doing in our overall efforts to defend all allies against all kinds of threats.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you.