Joint press conference
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of the Republic of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucić
It’s really great to be back in Serbia. And President Vucic, my friend Aleksandar, it’s great to meet you again. And I think today, we have really shown that Serbia and NATO we are strengthening our partnership. We started our partnership in 2006. And it has grown stronger and stronger and today we opened the biggest NATO Civil Emergency Exercise ever, with around 2000 personnel participating in this exercise. And you just mentioned this exercise is important because it is a way to strengthen our capabilities, our readiness to respond to natural disasters, earthquakes, fires, wild fires, and flooding and other types of natural disasters.
And it also shows how we are working together in developing new technologies, artificial intelligence, better ways to communicate, command and control, and also other kinds of technologies which will strengthen our ability to deal with natural disasters.
So therefore it is really a great pleasure to be here today, together with you and to highlight how NATO and Serbia are strengthening our close cooperation and our close partnership.
This is not a military exercise. As NATO is not only a military alliance. But a civilian exercise to deal with disasters. And save lives.
Unfortunately, we have seen such disasters in the past in this region. And we can all benefit by working together. And that is exactly what our partnership is about.
I realise that NATO remains controversial in Serbia. The memories of the air campaign in 1999 are still painful for many. Especially for those who lost their loved ones. The campaign was never against the Serbian people. It was to protect civilians in the wider region. Each innocent life lost was a tragedy which I deeply regret. I offer my condolences to the families and to all those who lost loved ones on both sides of the conflict. We must never forget the past. But we can move beyond it. And that is what NATO and Serbia are doing with our partnership. Looking towards a better future.
Across the Western Balkans, NATO has just one overriding objective: to help build peace and stability, which are the foundations of prosperity.
Today, NATO Allies are the biggest investors in the region. Helping to bring jobs and economic growth. And we are impressed by the economic growth in Serbia, and the way you are implementing reforms.
Some countries from the region have joined NATO. Some aspire to join the Alliance. Serbia does not aspire to join NATO. NATO fully respects your neutrality. And we welcome that you have chosen the path of partnership with NATO. Our partnership benefits both Serbia and NATO. NATO has helped to destroy large quantities of landmines, ammunition, and light weapons. We have funded the training of thousands of former defence personnel to start small businesses. Our scientists work together on projects ranging from biofuel to advanced robotics. And Serbia has helped train medical experts from Iraq as part of NATO’s defence capacity building programs.
At the same time, our KFOR mission keeps a safe and secure environment in Kosovo, in line with our United Nations mandate. And let me be clear. That means providing a safe and secure environment for all communities, including the Serbs. NATO fully supports the normalisation process between Belgrade and Pristina. The Belgrade-Pristina dialogue is the best platform to find a solution that respects the rights of all communities. Dialogue is key for stability in the region.
So Mr. President, as you know, I have very fond memories of my childhood here in Serbia. And even after so many decades, it is always a pleasure to come back to Belgrade. My visit shows the strength of our partnership. And our exercise shows how we can do together, building a stronger and better future. So let me once again thank you for your hospitality and for Serbia’s contributions to our shared security.
Moderator [Interpreted]: Thank you Mr Stoltenberg. Please, if you any questions?
Question [RTS] [Interpreted]: Thank you Mr President. The question is first for you. Did you discuss with Mr Stoltenberg the recent developments in Kosovo and Metohija? And did he tell you why there was no NATO reaction?
And for Mr Stoltenberg, why KFOR did not react in Gazivode Dam?
Aleksandar Vučić [President of the Republic of Serbia] [Interpreted]: Yes, we discussed that of course. I told Jens, I told NATO Secretary General everything with Serbia things and I will repeat, not to have… that I was hiding something. The essence is, in 2013, we signed the Brussels Agreement in which Item 9 it was unambiguously said how regional police should be formed for the north, who makes regional police for the north, for Lepasavić, Zubin Potok, Zvečan, … [inaudible] Mitrovica, 98% it is considered… it consists of Serbs and the regional commander is a Serb. Nobody from regional police knew that people with long rifles would come, with automatic rifles and with snipers, in the territory of the north. Why am I speaking about this? Whether EULEX or NATO knew about that I don’t know, but I know from regional commanders that nobody of them knew, nobody in Serbia. Authorities in Serbia knew nothing about Thaci's idea to enter with those units. What is the essence here? We have agreement in Brussels with the NATO, there are two conditions for entry of any Albanian armed troops in the north, one is authorisation by NATO and the other is a consent of Serbian local community. I don’t know about the first part, whether they had agreement or not, whether NATO knew that or not, it's their business, but I know they did not ask for it, they did not even care. Just one small thing, unlike my friend Jens, good friend of Serbia, I believe that nobody else, apart from the Serbs, is jeopardised in Kosovo, because there is no case of Serbs jeopardising Albanians, there are only daily cases… on a daily basis, where Albanians are jeopardising Serbs and preventing their return to the places where they live. They steal their cattle, they beat their children, and there are no cases which you could feature as attacks of Serbs to Albanians, or they are so rare that they are exceptions. But we agree that KFOR takes care of everybody in Kosovo and Metohija, we just ask for this to be done in accordance with the Resolution 1244. And what's important for me, one of the few I could reach that day to tell you, honestly, you know, half of those world bureaucrats are hiding somewhere. You cannot reach by phone any of them. I reached Jens immediately. We had an immediate communication and I'm very grateful, because it meant a lot for calming down the situation. He simply was not hiding and who knows where was he at that time, because it was Sunday and he is entitled to his weekends and to have some rest, and he's dealing with Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. But I reached him immediately. We stayed in touch until the crisis situation was over and I'm really grateful to him for that, and I hope that we will be able to work in such a successful way in the future. God forbid, I wouldn’t like to have any similar or even worse cases, but anyway, after explaining our point of view, how we see that, because we do not see Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state, like many NATO countries do, there are some differences in our views, so I ask him to put himself in our shoes, to see things from Serbian angle, sometimes to understand the fears of our people. I explain him all the fears of our people in Kosovo and Metohija, but it is always important for us always to stay in touch and to be able to react, in order to preserve lives and peace and stability in the entire region. I apologise for this long answer.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: KFOR is in Kosovo to protect all communities and that of course also includes the Serbs. And KFOR monitored very carefully the situation last Saturday and they sent in some personnel, and they reported back that they didn’t see any military operation or any arrest. And also, as President Vučić just stated, I also had direct contact with President Vučić. He told me about the concerns from the Serbian side. I have also discussed this with other leaders, also the leaders in Pristina, and it is important that KFOR continues to be present and to closely monitor and to be able to react and protect when needed. So, I strongly believe, as also President Vučić, that KFOR should continue to be there, but at the same time it is important that we continue to work for reducing the tensions and for a political solution. So therefore, NATO strongly supports the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue; we call for calm and restraint, and we will continue to work and to be there according to our UN mandate, and we also call on all to refrain from provocative statements and actions. So, KFOR will be there and KFOR will continue to monitor and KFOR will continue to protect all communities in Kosovo.
Moderator [Interpreted]: BBC.
Question [BBC]: Mr Stoltenberg and Mr Vučić, how important is it to you both to change the negative perceptions of NATO among the Serbian people and how you might achieve that?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I think the best thing we can do is to work together and to show, through practical results like this exercise, that we are helping each other. This exercise is good for Serbia, it's good for the region, and it's good for the whole of NATO and many partner countries. So, actions speak louder than words and the best thing we can do is to show that we are able to strengthen our partnership, with exercises like this, but also when it comes to how we help each other. Serbia provides help to NATO's capacity-building for Iraq, helping us to stabilise Iraq and fight terrorism. We help Serbia with training officers, soldiers who are participating in peacekeeping missions. We work together within research and development, the programme Science for Peace. So, I think the best thing we can do is to just show that we are delivering together and strengthening our partnership. And then of course, for NATO and for Serbia, anything we can do to reduce tensions to make progress in addressing the challenges in Kosovo, it will also be extremely helpful, and therefore we strongly support Pristina-Belgrade dialogue.
Aleksandar Vučić [President of the Republic of Serbia]: You want response in English or in Serbian? English? Thank you. Well, I'm not an expert on this issue and, as you know, NATO… or we both are facing very low popularity of NATO in Serbia and what I can say from our point of view, that on a rational level, we are very satisfied with our cooperation and I think it's all about emotional issues, psychological issues, and mainly because of 1999 and because of Kosovo issue. And hopefully… and let us be very clear - that’s as a matter of fact the real reason, everything else is more or less side effected. But this is something that we need to work on and we do improve our cooperation. Serbia is military… militarily neutral countries, as you know, we have no aspirations to join any military alliances, but we can really have huge impacts in different fields, good, very good impacts in different fields, like we saw today, if we improve our cooperation and collaboration with NATO. And that’s what we’re going to do in the future. And I think that, after a while, we'll have to put things more on a rational foundations and it will happen. And I think that the message that was sent today by Jens was very important. It's not the first time. It's I think been said by Secretary General of NATO, Mr Stoltenberg, for the third time actually about his deepest condolences to Serbian and for Serbian victims, in 1999. This message was very important for our people and I think that Serbian people will appreciate it very much. And to add something else, there is no single person in this country that hates Jens Stoltenberg. Serbs are not very fond of everything that was… the Serbs hated what was happening in 1999 and not very fond of everything that was happening in Kosovo, but… in the recent years, but I think that if we'll have Jens more present here in Serbia, maybe that would be a good path for both of us, not only to improve our rational cooperation, but to do something on this emotional and psychological level as well. Thank you.
Moderator [Interpreted]: Thank you. Independent Daily.
Question [Independent Daily]: Macedonia is in a deadlock after the referendum. There are little chances for constitutional amendments and bigger chances for a snap election. What do you think? Is Macedonia losing momentum for the membership in NATO in beginning of the next year?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I strongly believe that when it comes to what the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should do now, that is something that has to be decided by the government and parliament in Skopje. So, it is for the democratically-elected institutions in the country to decide the path forward and how to follow up the referendum, and the political implications of the referendum. What I can say is that if they decide to implement the name agreement with Greece, then we are ready to have the country as our 30th member. And we can do that quickly because we have already started the accession talks, and we can sign the accession protocol very soon after the name deal is implemented. But it's up to the people of the country and the democratic institutions of the country to decide whether they do that or not. I can only speak on behalf of NATO, that we will then be ready to accept them as a member. The other thing I can say is that there is no alternative way. There is no Plan B to join NATO without a name agreement. The only way to become a member of NATO is for the country to agree on the name issue with Greece, and therefore we welcome the name agreement, but it's up to, of course, the political institutions to decide whether to fully implement it.
Question [Interpreted]: The first question is for the President. After the failed referendum in Macedonia, elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina that did not bring any changes, apart from the Croatian part of the presidency, could you tell us what's your interpretation of those results and whether they can effect destabilisation of the region? We also want to know whether those such relations could actually mean that there is no step forward and that we can slowly slip into some new destabilisation of the region.
Also a question for the Secretary General, we want to know whether the very fact that for visiting Belgrade, you firstly chose Faculty of Philology and you have chosen to speak with the students of the Scandinavian Institute, and the fact that you are a Norwegian and that you are coming from the country that is great in our memories, did you want to use that fact to bring Alliance closer to the students and do something to change the perception about the Alliance among young people? We also want to know whether you were satisfied with that visit. And regarding Macedonia, is there a Plan B of NATO?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So first, whether there is a Plan B, I just said there is no Plan B. The only way to join NATO for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is to agree the name deal. But that’s for them to decide. NATO will never force a country to make decisions on issues like this. This is a sovereign decision by the country. What we say is that if they decide to implement a name deal, then we are ready to accept them as a member. And this is a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity and they have this opportunity to seize this historic momentum. But again, it's for them to decide. We are ready to welcome them if they implement the name deal. There is no other way, no other possibility to join the Alliance.
Then on my visit to the Scandinavian Institute, that’s a long-time planned visit and it's very… I really appreciated to go there and to meet the students and the teachers, because it highlights the strong relationship between Serbia and Scandinavian countries, and of course for me especially Norway. And I have friends there, I have a close Norwegian friend who taught there for one year, and that was also a reason actually why I went, because I wanted to learn more about this practical cooperation between two NATO Allies, Denmark and Norway, Sweden a partner, and Serbia. And of course it's also closely linked to the fact that I spent part of my childhood in Belgrade. I have a very close relationship to Serbia, because I have many Serbian friends and I also think it is important that we keep the memories of how this close friendship was developed during the Second World War, where many people from this region, from Yugoslavia and from Serbia, were sent to Norway as prisoners of war, and that created a very strong friendship which still exists. And I think it's extremely important to not forget, to continue to respect all those who suffered during the Second World War, and then to do that by maintaining the close partnership and relationship. And for me, it's always great to come back to Belgrade. I remember I had my, you know, we went to Kalemegdan, we learnt how to love Ćevaćići and Punjen paprike and excellent Serbian food, and therefore it's also nice to come back and meet old Serbian friends every time I come to Belgrade.
Aleksandar Vučić [President of the Republic of Serbia] [Interpreted]: Jens didn’t know we were attacked by some and the Dean of the Faculty of Philology for your visit to the Faculty of Philology, because they were claiming how it was an unappropriate NATO promotion, which is such a stupidity, Serbia has no problems, Serbia doesn’t have problems like Skopje, we have some bigger problems. Serbia does not want to join any alliance, Serbia doesn’t want to go NATO, but that Serbia does not want to be a good host to someone, especially to someone who wishes no harm to Serbia, I was never able to understand that kind of things. So, Jens, you should always come back to the Faculty of Philology, and next time go to the Faculty of Law, because this is the most difficult thing, to go to the famous room number five, because it was most difficult for me when I was taking exams and to discuss people over there, and to see how you will score over there. It wasn’t easy for me. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not, but it is always important to visit our faculties, our University of Belgrade.
Regarding your question, after the negative referendum outcome in Macedonia and after elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, first of all I want to congratulate to all people in Bosnia and Herzegovina for peaceful elections. Unofficially, and I will officially wait with my congratulations for the Bosnia and Herzegovina central election committee to publish the results, but I want unofficially to congratulate Mr Dzaferovic … [inaudible] and Mr Dodik for the … [inaudible] it seems to me that results of their positions are not known, I'm looking forward to good and even better cooperation both with Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Republika Srpska in the future. Regarding us and our job, it is… the most important thing is for us to keep peace and stability because one part that nobody will convey from Jens's speech, is the valuation of the work of Serbia in previous period. Economically wise, our economic progress would not be able, and I was speaking about firefighters, to buy them additional protection equipment, I discussed with … [inaudible] because they would feel safer. These things cannot happen without economic progress and economic progress cannot happen without peace and stability. The one who believes that it is possible not to preserve peace and stability, and to have big economic progress, this is almost impossible. And I just received the news, I don’t know when this took place but I'm asking, there was an attack on two young people of Albanian nationality in Novi Sad, those are Serbian citizens of Albanian nationality. I'm asking the Ministry of the Interior to find the perpetrators. All our citizens must have equal legal protection. We are not savages. This is an organised country and nobody can attack someone just for being Albanian. The perpetrators should be found, they should be severely sanctioned. And how can I ask Stoltenberg or anybody else to have Serbs absolutely protected if we are not capable of protecting all the citizens of our country, regardless of their national affiliation? And this must never happen in Serbia. This must be not only condemned by every one of us, but those perpetrators must be the most drastically punished. We want to be a country that’s attracting tourists from all the countries, with a proud country, attracting people from all the countries. It is with great pride I spoke with people today from … [inaudible], from Skopje, from Vinkovci, … [inaudible] and from Montenegro and from any other place, from Spain and Belarus and from elsewhere, we had no problems. We did not have any problems with that. Those who think that they can behave differently, they will come to really firm response … [inaudible]. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you, Mr President. Thank you. We hereby end today's press statement.