Pre-ministerial press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

  • 04 Dec. 2017 -
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  • Last updated: 04 Dec. 2017 18:40

(As delivered)

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs on 5 and 6 December in Brussels

Good morning. This week, NATO’s Foreign Ministers will address, along a wide range of different issues, they will address how NATO can continue to adapt and that’s part of our preparations for the upcoming Summit here in Brussels next July.

We will begin tomorrow with a meeting on NATO-EU cooperation and European defence. Joined by High Representative / Vice President Mogherini, and ministers from Finland and Sweden. On the margins of the NATO Summit in July last year, President Juncker, President Tusk and I signed a Joint Declaration on how to strengthen NATO-EU cooperation. We followed up with a package of 42 concrete measures, which has brought our cooperation to an unprecedented level. We have never worked together as closely and systemically in so many different areas. For instance, we have increased our efforts to counter cyber attacks. We exchange warnings about attacks and malware in real time. And last week the EU participated in NATO’s Cyber Coalition exercise, one of the biggest in the world.

We have also stepped up our cooperation on hybrid threats. Federica and I recently inaugurated the Hybrid Centre of Excellence in Helsinki. And at sea, our cooperation has also been strengthened, our operation Sea Guardian is supporting the EU’s Operations Sophia in its important work.

At this week‘s Ministerial, our aim is to take a step further, with a new package of measures. Today, negotiations on this package are still ongoing. But I hope that we will agree to do even more with the EU. And in more areas. Our aim is to make military mobility a new flagship for our cooperation. In an unpredictable security environment, our troops and our equipment must be able to move quickly whenever we need them to.  This is vital for our security.

And NATO needs the support of national governments and of the European Union to be able to do it. We also intend to strengthen our cooperation on countering terrorist threats. This is of deep concern to our publics, both in Europe and in North America. And we will do more to raise awareness of women’s role in peace and security in our organisations and our operations.

Later on Tuesday, we will discuss global challenges, including North Korea. It is worth remembering that events on the Korean peninsula have shaped NATO profoundly. The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 triggered the complete remodelling of the Alliance. It literally put the “O” in NATO. With the creation of a permanent military headquarters, and the positions of Secretary General and SACEUR.

Today our security is also linked to events in East Asia. Last week’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile showed that all Allied nations could be within range. Our partners in the region are at risk. And North Korea’s actions are also undermining the global non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament regimes. So the whole world needs to apply maximum pressure on North Korea. In order to achieve a peacefully negotiated solution. Allies have been clear and consistent in their condemnation. And in pressing for full compliance with international sanctions. NATO has faced ballistic missile threats for decades.

Our response has always been credible deterrence. We have the capabilities and the resolve to deter any attack. Our military strength is what makes diplomatic efforts possible.

On Wednesday, we will address NATO’s role in projecting stability and the fight against terrorism. We are adding three thousand more troops to our training mission in Afghanistan. And we are working with partners like Jordan and Tunisia to strengthen their defences. NATO is contributing to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS with AWACS surveillance flights. And by training Iraqi soldiers. But our work will not be done, even when ISIS no longer controls any territory. Ministers will consider how NATO’s role should evolve. As the Global Coalition moves from combat operations to stabilisation efforts.

On Wednesday, we will hold a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission. Georgia is one of the Alliance’s closest partners. And through the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package, we are working together on issues ranging from cyber defence to operational planning. Through our Joint Training and Evaluation Centre. And through the NATO-funded Defence Institution Building School, which has already trained around a thousand students. We will look into areas where we could cooperate even more closely, such as Black Sea security.

We will conclude the ministerial meeting with a meeting on NATO’s Open Door policy. As Montenegro’s recent accession has shown, membership in the Alliance is possible for countries which make real progress in reform and modernisation. So we will discuss how best to support those countries which aspire to join our community of shared security and shared values.

We are now just seven months away from NATO’s next Summit, here in Brussels and tomorrow, I will have the pleasure of unveiling the Summit logo, together with Belgian Prime Minister Michel.

So with this, I am ready to take your questions.

Moderator: Okay. We’ll start with Washington Post, second row.

Michael Birnbaum (Washington Post): Hi. Thank you. Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post. Secretary General, there have been a number of reports in recent days that Secretary Tillerson will soon be out of the State Department. Does that limit the value of any assurances or agreements he makes here this week? And more broadly, I wanted to ask how you’re adjusting NATO to deal with a United States that continually facing political turmoil in the Trump era? Thank you.

Stoltenberg: I’m very much looking forward to welcoming Secretary Tillerson to NATO tomorrow. United States is our biggest ally, and of course it always matters what United States does. And I’m looking forward to welcoming Secretary Tillerson to discuss a wide range of important issues, fighting terrorism, NATO’s role in fighting terrorism, Afghanistan, NATO-EU cooperation, and also for instance, open door policy.

I also highly value Secretary Tillerson’s strong personal commitment to the transatlantic bond and to NATO, something he expressed very clearly in a speech just last week where he expressed an ironclad commitment of the United States to NATO and to the transatlantic bond. And this is a commitment we don’t not only see in words from Rex Tillerson and from the U.S. administration, but we see it also in actions. Because the U.S. is now increasing their military presence in Europe with more troops, with more equipment, and more supplies, and the funding for the European… the European deterrence initiative has been significantly increased.

So I’ll look forward to having Secretary Tillerson here for two days’ meeting and once again to confirm the strong transatlantic bond. NATO is the framework for transatlantic cooperation.

Moderator: Okay, we’ll go to NPR.

Teri Schulz (NPR): Teri Schulz with NPR and Deutsche Welle. You didn’t really answer Michael’s question. Does it distract from the meeting to have all of these rumours swirling around ahead of it, us asking you about that instead of about NATO-EU cooperation? And don’t you think then that allies will be perhaps reluctant to get into… to believe that the United States can make any solid confirmation of any policy here at this meeting? Thanks.

Stoltenberg: I think we have seen again and again that NATO and NATO ministers are able to focus on the core task, on the job we have to do despite any speculations and rumours. And I’m absolutely certain that will be the case also now. Because we have so much important work ahead of us. For instance, addressing how can we respond to a more challenging and dangerous security environment? How can we make sure that the transatlantic bond remains strong in times of turmoil? And especially when we see more uncertainty, more unpredictability, and more threats. Then we need strong institutions like NATO.

And I’m absolutely certain that all ministers, and of course including also Minister… or Secretary Tillerson, will focus on that task and be able to make important decisions, for instance, on how can we strengthen NATO-EU cooperation regardless of rumours and speculations?

Moderator: Okay, we have a gentleman over there. First seat.

Mohammad Ghazal (Jordan Times): This is Mohammad with the Jordan Times from Jordan. With the recent opening of the MSDS hub and the victories against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and reports warning of the rise of the terrorist group in North Africa, what plans do you have for increased cooperation with and support to southern partners, including Jordan? And would that be on the agenda of the meeting? Thank you.

Stoltenberg: Yes, that will be on the agenda of the meeting because we will discuss what we call projecting stability and the fight against terrorism. And of course working with a partner like Jordan is something we highly value in NATO, and Jordan is an important partner. Jordan provides infrastructure, for instance, some of our training programs. We have trained Iraqi officers in Jordan at the King Abdullah Training Centre, and NATO is helping Jordan with modernizing their armed forces. We are focused on many different areas, including the role of women - the position of women in the armed forces of Jordan.

And we also welcome the fact that Jordan has played a key role in the progress we have made in the fight against ISIS. So I appreciate the partnership. It is a strong partnership, and also appreciate the commitment and the focus of the king to the partnership with NATO. King Abdullah has visited NATO several times. He had met the North Atlantic Council, and I visited also Jordan not so long ago, and we will continue to strengthen our partnership.

Moderator: The lady over here.

Assia Atrous EP Bouguerra: Thank you. This is Assia from Dar assabah, Tunisia. You just mentioned Tunisia and I would like to know more, if you can give us more details about the cooperation between Tunisia and NATO. And also, we come from a region that’s very concerned about terrorists and would like to ask about NATO’s role in the Mediterranean region, and mainly in what’s going on in Libya. Is there any clear strategy to fight terrorists in that region? Thank you.

Stoltenberg: When it comes to Libya we are working with the government of national accord, with Prime Minister al-Sarraj, on how we can support him in building defence and security institutions. I met Prime Minister al-Sarraj some… a couple of months ago, and we agreed that our experts have to sit down and … they have met several times to look into how we can provide practical support, helping Libya with building security and defence institutions. NATO’s a strong supporter of course of the UN-led efforts to find a peaceful solution and to make sure that the government of al-Sarraj has the possibility to make… to stabilize the country, and we are ready to help them with that.

When it comes to Tunisia, Tunisia is a partner. We are working … both NATO and several NATO allies are working with Tunisia to help them build capacity, both in the fight against terrorism with special operation forces and with intelligence. So we are looking into how we can scale that up, but I think that what we already do, especially when it comes to intelligence and special operation forces, is helping Tunisia to become more resilient to fight terrorism, which is important for Tunisia, but of course that’s also important for NATO allies.

Moderator: Okay. Geo TV, Pakistan, first row.

Geo Television News: Secretary General, today James Mattis is in Pakistan with warning and threat, and CIA Director also issued threat to Pakistan to deal with the terrorism and Haqqani network. Despite that Pakistan already made agreement with the U.S. that U.S. can destroy their hideouts along the borders. So Pakistan permitted in fact drone attacks within the Pakistani territory to destroy Haqqani network, but situation seems that not going to resolve because Pakistani and American controversy on that particular issue. Where are we on regarding this question that … how much Pakistan is really cooperating? We see that situation is not going there and there is a lot of visits taking place. Tillerson was in Pakistan and then again Mattis is there, but also warning and threats coming from the U.S. Thank you very much.

Stoltenberg: I welcome the fact that Secretary Mattis recently visited Pakistan. I think it’s important to have close dialogue with the countries in the region because we need their support to fight terrorism, to fight the Haqqani network, and to help to stabilize Afghanistan. And I had also the pleasure of travelling together with Secretary Mattis. He visited India and then we went together to Pakistan [Afghanistan] recently. And NATO and United States, we have decided to strengthen our presence in Afghanistan with more trainers, with more troops in our train assisted advice mission. And we have also then to engage in dialogue with neighbours, including Pakistan, to make sure that there are no sanctuaries, no safe havens for international terrorists outside Afghanistan, which help and support insurgents inside Afghanistan.

Moderator: Okay. We go to AP. Gentleman in the maroon sweater over there.

Lorne Cook (Associated Press): Yes, Lorne Cook, Associated Press. A question on North Korea. You said NATO has faced ballistic threats for decades and has capabilities. I know you’ve been in the region. Do you plan to use these capabilities? Is there something concrete you could do in the face of North Korea or does it have to stay as support right now and political rhetorical pressure?

Stoltenberg: The purpose of deterrence is to convey a message, which is so clear, so strong that you don’t have to use military force. So the purpose of deterrence provided by resolve, military capabilities, military strength is not of course to provoke a conflict, but it is to prevent a conflict. And this is the way NATO has prevented the military conflicts for decades, and also responded to ballistic missile threats and nuclear threats for decades. So that’s also the reason why we are so focused on the need to adapt, to strengthen, and to communicate clearly that NATO is strong, NATO is united, and NATO is able to respond to any attack, including ballistic and nuclear attacks, to prevent that from happening. That’s the reason why we have deterrence. And deterrence has been the main response for decades and it still is. Also, when it comes to threats, for instance, from North Korea.

I visited the region last month, or actually in October, and it was a good visit because I appreciate that we have close partners, South Korea and Japan. They also very much welcomed the strong pressure, which is supported by NATO and NATO allies. The fact that the UN was able to agree on strengthening the economic sanctions in September, also including sanctions and restrictions on the export of oil and refined oil products, and also the fact that we see that the sanctions are implemented to a higher degree now than before. And I think also it is important to remember that Russia and China, they have a special role and a special responsibility, partly because they are permanent members of the UN Security Council, but also of course since they are neighbouring countries. So we will continue to put maximum pressure on North Korea. We will continue to deliver credible deterrence, and then we will work with our partners in the region, and the purpose is of course to reach a peaceful and negotiated solution because war in that region will be catastrophic and it will have global consequences, not only for the region but for the whole world.

Moderator: Okay. We go to Le Soir. Gentleman over there.

(Journal Le Soir): Meanwhile in North Korea there have been some assessments these last hours from U.S. high-ranking officials, including General McMaster that the pre-emptive war against North Korea is more and more likely days after days. So do you share this assessment or is it also kind of a message of deterrence? Thank you.

Stoltenberg: What we have seen is that tensions are increasing because of North Korea’s reckless and irresponsible behaviour. They are testing nuclear weapons. They are testing new missiles, and we see that the range of the missiles makes it possible to reach Europe and North America. That’s the reason why we need to put maximum pressure on North Korea with diplomatic means, with political means, but especially with the full and transparent implementation of the economic sanctions. Because we have to prevent an armed conflict. But we need deterrence because that’s the best way to prevent an armed attack on us. The United States … NATO has of course the right to defend itself, and United States has of course the right to defend itself and all allies. And this has been clearly communicated to send a clear message of deterrence.

Moderator: Gentleman in the first row.

Q: I just would like to ask about Iran. There were some reports a few days ago that one of the senior officials in Iran threatened to increase the missile range that they can reach Europe. So how do you respond to this threat, taking into consideration the argument now especially from the U.S. about the Iran nuclear deal and the concerns in the region, especially from Saudi Arabia?

Stoltenberg: I think we have to make a clear distinction between nuclear weapons and missile capabilities. The Iran nuclear deal addresses the ability of Iran to develop nuclear weapons. And NATO welcomed and supported the deal when it was agreed, and our focus now is to make sure that the deal is fully implemented, because that will directly affect the security of NATO allies. At the same time we have seen that Iran is continuing to develop their missile capabilities. They are continuing to test new missiles, and this of course is of concern for all NATO allies, especially allies in Europe, because they are within reach … at least more and more of those allies are within reach of the Iranian missiles.

And that’s also one of the reasons why it is important that NATO is adapting and responding to also these kind of threats. NATO is now developing and strengthening our missile defence. I participated in the inauguration of our missile defence site in Romania last year, and we are building a new missile site in Poland, and we also have ships deployed with interceptors and advanced radars, which are strengthening our missile defence, which is a response to missile threats we see from outside the Euro-Atlantic area, including to the south of the Alliance.

Moderator: Europa Press, lady in the fifth row.

Ana Pisonero (Europa Press): Thank you, Secretary General. Ana Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency Europa Press. Two quick questions if I may. The first one on cooperation on counter-terrorism with the EU. Will this be limited to intelligence exchange or is there room for any kind of more operational cooperation between the EU and NATO on counter-terrorism? And a second quick question on the North Korea threat and from Iran as well. So have NATO allies decided that we need changes to the NATO missile system or we’re not there yet? I mean you say that we’re reinforcing the system, but that was planned a long time ago before all these threats have become more acute, both from North Korea and maybe Iran as well. So is there… are NATO already allies engaging in the discussion? Is there clarity on whether we need these extra changes? Thank you.

Stoltenberg: First on the cooperation with the European Union. One of the areas we now are looking into how we can step up our cooperation is fighting terrorism. But as I said, negotiations are still going on, so I cannot go into the details about the different measures because that’s something I hope that we can agree by the meeting tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. So we have an agreement at the ministerial meeting.

But of course areas where we are looking into how we can work closer together is for instance, when we operate in the same countries, like we have the same partners in North Africa or the Middle East. NATO’s present in Iraq. The European Union is also increasing their presence in Iraq, so any coordination of presence in the same countries will strengthen our joint efforts to fight terrorism. Cyber and hybrid is also at least partly relevant for strengthening our resilience, including against potential terrorist threats.

The NATO missile defence system is something we decided several years ago. It’s aimed at protecting NATO allies against threats coming from outside the Euro Atlantic area. And we develop that system according to plans we agreed several years ago. So that’s not something which is affected by the recent developments in North Korea.

Moderator: Gentleman over there.

Ratko Femic: My name is Ratko Femic, Kurir Daily from Serbia. You have mentioned NATO open door policy. So you have already met with our President Aleksandar Vucic, ex Secretary General, met our Prime Minister and President, so I wonder are there any talks about Serbia joining NATO? And also, do you have any problems, I mean NATO with the Russian Humanitarian Centre in Serbia? Because we have some analysis that that centre can evolve in military base. That’s all.

Stoltenberg: No, there are no talks about Serbia joining NATO, and the reason is that Serbia has clearly stated that they are not aiming, they don’t want membership in NATO. And NATO fully respects that decision of Serbia. Serbia has decided they would like to stay a neutral country. They are aiming for membership in the European Union. We respect that. And we welcome progress in Serbia’s efforts to join the European Union, but at the same time Serbia is a sovereign independent country, and Serbia has decided that they don’t aim for membership in NATO.

It is important to understand that for NATO it’s absolutely possible to have a good friendly working partnership with countries that don’t aspire for membership in NATO. We have excellent cooperation with countries like Sweden, Finland, Austria, and other neutral countries. So we welcome the strong partnership. I met President Aleksandar Vucic several times recently. He visited the NATO headquarters. We will continue to strengthen our partnership. And it’s for Serbia to decide, for instance, on this humanitarian centre of Russia. I know that Serbia, they conduct military exercises with Russia, but they also conduct many military exercises with NATO troops. We respect the sovereign decisions of Serbia because Serbia is a sovereign nation, and we welcome the strong and close partnership with Serbia.

Moderator: Okay. UNIAN. Lady over here.

Arina Sommer: Thank you. Irina Somer, News Agency UNIAN, Ukrainian’s agency. We will have a NATO Georgia commission. Why don’t we have NATO Ukraine commission? Is it means that Ukraine not on the agenda anymore and war at the east? And second question is, if I may, recently you had meeting with President Poroshenko, and because it was really very little information about it, can you please tell us what did you discuss? Thank you.

Stoltenberg: I had a very good meeting with President Poroshenko last week. He was actually in my house, so it was interesting. We had a good discussion addressing the challenges Ukraine is facing and the continued efforts of Russia to destabilize especially eastern Ukraine. And I reiterated my strong support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty. And that we will continue to provide political support to Ukraine and practical support to Ukraine. The North Atlantic Council recently visited Kiev, Ukraine. We had a NATO Ukraine Commission meeting there. We have many meetings at different levels. We will have a NATO Ukraine Commission meeting soon here at NATO. So there are ongoing dialogue. There is a strong partnership; NATO and NATO allies are providing support for Ukraine in many different areas, including command and control training, cyber defensive work, including fighting terrorism. So we have a very close cooperation with Ukraine and we’ll continue to strengthen that cooperation.

Moderator: Okay, AFP.

AFP: Thank you, Secretary General. About Ukraine, Ukraine has voted to organize a referendum soon on changing the law to see if they could become an aspirant again to join NATO. And there is this (inaudible) with the open door countries. Is there gonna be a message about the timeline for joining countries… for joining NATO to those countries? Recently your colleague, Jean-Claude Juncker at the EU has said Serbia and Montenegro, who are also in this process to join the EU, would in his view should join EU within 2025. Is there something similar to be expected from NATO in the coming days or before the summit next year? Thank you.

Stoltenberg: It is for Ukraine to decide whether they again would like to become aspirant country or apply for membership in NATO. That’s of course for Ukraine to decide, and whether they do that through a referendum or in other ways, that’s for Ukraine to decide. That’s a national Ukrainian decision. Then of course whether NATO is going to enlarge and whether there are going to be more members of NATO, that’s not only for the aspirant country to decide but that’s for also 29 allies to decide, and we make that kind of decision by consensus. What we have seen with the enlargement with Montenegro this year shows that NATO’s door is open for those countries. When there is an aspirant country and 29 allies agree.

I think that the important thing now, and I also welcome the fact that Ukraine is focused on reform, because regardless of the question of membership, reform of the Ukrainian defence and security institutions, modernizing their armed forces, all the practical cooperation that NATO and NATO allies provide is important. That will strengthen Ukraine. It will make Ukraine more resilient, and will be something which is important regardless of the question of membership, and therefore we will continue to provide support for these kind of reforms.

Moderator: And okay, gentleman here. Third row. Thanks.

NRK: Regarding of North Korea, how precarious do you think the situation is with joint air force exercise between South Korea and the U.S. going on? And also, how important has Secretary of State Rex Tillerson been in calming down the heated situation, his role within the Trump administration regarding North Korea?

Stoltenberg: The exercises are a part of the deterrence. They are sending a clear message that United States is there, that United States has the capabilities and the resolve to defend its allies. And the exercises have once again proven important because exercises are sending a message of resolve and that United States, together with the partners in the region, have the capabilities which enable them to respond to any attack.

What NATO is doing is that we are sending the same message. We are sending a message of deterrence, of resolve that we are ready and capable of responding to any attack at any NATO ally. And also the fact that we are working with South Korea and Japan, I recently visited the region, on how we can strengthen our partnership with the countries in the region, and we are also supporting the international community puts maximum pressure on North Korea, especially with the economic sanctions, to reach a peaceful negotiated solution. Because we have to understand that a war in the region will be disastrous.

Secretary Tillerson has played a key role, both in sending the message of deterrence, the unity and the resolve of the whole Alliance, but also when it comes to the need for continuing to work for a peaceful solution. And for me there is no contradiction between deterrence, defence and hard work for a peaceful negotiated solution. Actually the fact that we have strong deterrence, that we have the military capabilities, that provides the foundation for a political negotiated solution.

Moderator: Okay. Kabul Times. Lady over there.

Kabul Times: Thank you, Secretary General. A few days ago General John Nicholson said Taliban have three options. They will join to peace process or they will be… they will go in isolation or they will be killed. With this strong statement, what’s the response of the NATO for this point? And do you support these three points or what do you response that? Thank you.

Stoltenberg: I support the message from United States, from NATO, which we convey together, and that is that we need to strengthen our military presence with more trainers, with more advice, strengthen our trainer system, advice mission in Afghanistan to break the stalemate, to enable the Afghan Forces to regain territory, to send a clear message to the Taliban and to the terrorists that they will not win on the battlefield. So they have to sit down at the negotiating table and find a negotiated solution.

So again, we see this link between the military strength and the ability to reach a peaceful negotiated solution. The situation in Afghanistan is difficult. We see violence. We see terrorist attacks. The Afghan National Security Forces have suffered casualties. But at the same time we see some progress. We have for instance seen that this year the Taliban has not been able to gain control or take control over any of the provincial capitals, despite that that was one of the declared strategic goals of the Taliban this fighting season. And we have also seen that the Afghan National Security Forces are able to respond every time the Taliban and insurgents are attacking.

Moderator: Thank you very much. This concludes this press point, but of course we’ll have time for more questions tomorrow and the day after.

Stoltenberg: Thank you so much.