Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs

  • 03 Dec. 2018 -
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  • Last updated: 03 Dec. 2018 18:03

(As delivered)

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs at NATO Headquarters in Brussels

Good morning.

Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, NATO Foreign Ministers will meet to address a wide range of security challenges.

Violent extremism in North Africa and the Middle East. Continuing instability in Afghanistan. And Russia’s destabilising behaviour.

We will discuss the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This Treaty eliminated an entire category of weapons.

But it has been put in jeopardy by Russia.

Russia has developed, produced and deployed a new missile. It is mobile and hard to detect. It is nuclear capable. And it could reach European cities, with little or no warning time.

The United States is in full compliance with the INF Treaty. There are no new US missiles in Europe. But there are new Russian missiles.

Russia must take immediate steps to ensure full compliance with the INF Treaty. In a transparent and verifiable way.

NATO is a strong advocate for arms control. To make us  all safer.

We seek dialogue with Russia. And we aspire to improved relations. But to make this possible, Russia must fully comply with its international commitments.

Tomorrow, we will meet our partners Georgia and Ukraine. They both face serious security challenges from Russia. And we will continue to give both countries practical and political support. Russia recently seized Ukrainian ships and sailors near the Kerch Strait. There is no justification for this use of force. We call for calm and restraint. Russia must release the Ukrainian sailors and ships. It must also allow freedom of navigation. And unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov. Ukrainian vessels, military as well as civilian, have the right to navigate through the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov.

Tomorrow night, we will address challenges coming from the Middle East and North Africa. We will discuss our support to our partners in the region. This includes capacity building, counter-terrorism, and further developing our partnerships.

We will discuss Iraq, where we are helping train local forces. And our experts are helping set up defence education facilities.

This supports Iraq as it tackles terrorism at its root. So it will strengthen our collective fight against international terrorism.

On Wednesday, we will have a meeting on the Western Balkans, joined by the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini. Because the region is of key strategic interest for both NATO and the European Union.  We have seen Skopje’s progress towards becoming NATO’s 30th member.

It is now for the authorities in Skopje to implement the name agreement. When that is complete, we will be able to sign the accession protocol.

We will discuss taking the next steps in developing NATO’s relationship with Bosnia and Herzegovina. And I expect Ministers to endorse NATO’s readiness to accept Bosnia’s first Annual National Programme. This is an important tool which can help the country implement political, economic and defence reforms. It is now up to Bosnia and Herzegovina to decide to take up this offer.

We will conclude the ministerial with a meeting of all nations contributing to the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

The challenge in Afghanistan is great. 

And Allies have suffered fatalities in recent months. As have Afghan forces and civilians.

We must continue to ensure that the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists. Over the past months, we have stepped up our support – with more forces and funding.

Because the cost of leaving is bigger than the cost of staying.

As you can see, we have a lot of ground to cover during our ministerial.

And now I’m happy to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Okay, we will go with the Washington Post over there.

[Washington Post:]: Hi Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post. On balance, is European security improved or worsened by the INF Treaty when only one side is observing it? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: The situation we have now is untenable, it cannot continue like that because no arms control agreement will work, it will be effective if it is only respected by one part. And that’s the reason why this was the main topic when Heads of State and Government met here at NATO in July. That’s the reason why this was the main topic of the Defence Ministerial in October and that’s the reason why INF is once again a main issue when foreign ministers meet tomorrow. Because we are strong supporters of arms control but, only if it is balanced, verifiable and respected and all Allies are concerned about Russia compliance with the INF Treaty.  We call on Russia to comply with the Treaty in a verifiable and transparent way and we, of course, need to make sure that we are able to continue to keep all Allies safe and secure and we will take the necessary decisions to make sure that’s also the fact in the future and that’s the reason why we’re going to have INF as one of the main issues to be discussed at the meeting tomorrow.

[Wall Street Journal]: Dan Michaels, Wall Street Journal. NATO members have said that what Russia is doing both with its new missile and in the Sea of Azov in violation of agreement illegal, but it looks like NATO members are just offering strongly worded messages. Do you need to do more than just words? Is this a bit lopsided? Actions versus words? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:    We provide strong pollical but also strong practical support to Ukraine. Since the illegal annexation of Crimea, we have provided support in different forms, helped them with modernizing their armed forces, command and control, cyber, hybrid but also several NATO Allies provide bilateral support with training and equipment. So, NATO and NATO Allies have and are providing strong and practical support to Ukraine. We also provide, of course, political support, supporting their territorial integrity and their sovereignty and we support the efforts to find a peaceful, negotiated solution - the Minsk Agreement - and we support the efforts of the Normandy format. Then NATO has increased its military presence in the Black Sea region. With more naval presence. Last year the number of days with NATO ships or ships on the NATO command in the Black Sea increased from 80 to 120 and there are also, of course, NATO Allies which have deployed ships in the Black Sea outside the NATO framework but still they are NATO Allies.

Then we have three littoral states – Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria with their naval capabilities. We have NATO air policing over the Black Sea region and we have a new brigade – a multinational brigade in Romania. We have more ISR – more intelligence, reconnaisance and surveillance. So, we are closely monitoring the situation. We have increased our presence and we continue to call on Russia to release the sailors, release the ships and to respect freedom of navigation and respect the right of the Ukraine to move to the Kerch Strait and into the Azov Sea. We are closely monitoring and assessing Russia’s military posture. And that’s the reason why we have implemented the biggest adaptation – the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since end of the Cold War. With battle groups in the eastern part of Alliance with high readiness of our forces and for the first time in many years, we also see that European Allies and Canada are investing more in defence. We also, of course, assess closely Russia when it comes to immediate-range forces and we will make the necessary decisions to make sure that we provide credible deterrence, credible defence and that we keep all Allies safe and secure.

[AFP]: Hello, good morning.  Damon Wake, AFP. HHhWhat new practical measures can you offer to the Ukraine to help them regain freedom of navigation in the Sea of Azov? You’ve mentioned several things that have already been put into place. But, what new measures can you offer?

Jens Stoltenberg: I think it is very important what we do and that is that we provide strong political and practical support to Ukraine and that we have increased our presence in the Black Sea region, including in the Black Sea. And then, of course, it’s a bit early for me to say what ministers will discuss at the meeting tomorrow. So, I can report more about that after the meeting, but I expect Allies to be very concerned about the situation and convey a very clear message to Russia of the importance of not using the fact that they have illegally annexed Crimea and then illegally built the bridge which links Crimea to Russia and now using that bridge. And the illegal annexation of Crimea to impede the movement of Ukrainian vessels to the Kerch Strait and into the Azov Sea.

[National Public Radio]: Thank you.  Teri Schultz with NPR and Deutsche

Welle.  Do you believe that the US is going to use this meeting to announce its formal withdrawal from the INF Treaty or that it will wait until at least a couple of months from now until the Defence Ministers meeting? And would two months make any difference – would a two-month wait make any difference in potentially Russia’s understanding that this is going to happen and it needs to come into compliance or what kind of benefits would be made in giving it another couple of months? Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg:    The US has briefed Allies on their assessment about the new Russian missiles – they have done that extensively over months. They have briefed here at NATO headquarters, they have briefed in different capitals and we have discussed the INF issue and the consequences extensively in NATO for a long period. We all know that the time is running out, that this is not attenable. That we have an arms control agreement, which is only respected by one part. So, we will of course discuss this at our meeting. I think it’s a bit early for me, today, to announce what ministers will say and conclude tomorrow.

But, it goes without saying that all Allies agree that this is very serious because the INF Treaty has been so important for European security: abolished a whole category of weapons. And actually, I think that the deployment of Russian SS20s in the seventies and eighties and Pershing and Cruise missiles by US and NATO in the eighties shaped a whole generation of politicians in their understanding of security issues, including myself. And, therefore, also understand the seriousness of this treaty breaking down. The exact timing, the exact sequencing and so on I will not comment on that now. The only thing I will say is that the situation as we have it now cannot continue. And NATO Allies are now discussing how to deal with this very serious issue.

[Financial Times]: Thank you very much, Michael Peel, Financial Times. To follow up on Terry’s question, if Russia does not do what NATO and the US want on this, do you think that it will be justified and helpful for the US to redeploy or to deploy new missiles in Europe in a response? And also, could you just speak briefly about Bosnia and whether you think that the decision to activate the MAP on that will complicate NATO’s discussions with Russia on other matters and, indeed, perhaps disappoint Georgia which has its own membership aspirations? Thanks.

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO Allies call on Russia to ensure full compliance with the INF Treaty in a verifiable and transparent way. We do that because we believe that this Treaty has been important for our security. And because we are concerned about Russian compliance and concerned about the new missile they are deploying in Europe, aiming at – able to reach European cities within minutes. We are also, of course, assessing the consequences of what’s now happening, and we will take the necessary decisions to make all Allies safe and secure and to make sure that we continue to have credible deterrence and defence. NATO not mirror what Russia does – plane by plane or missile by missile or battle tank by battle tank.

But, we will make sure that we have the necessary capabilities, the necessary resolve, the necessary readiness to provide credible deterrence because we know that that’s the best way of preventing a conflict. And when the world is changing, when we see a more assertive Russia, when you see Russia developing new missiles and new nuclear weapons, increasing their capabilities then we are responding. Not by mirroring exactly what they’re doing but by responding in a measured, proportionate and firm way. We have done that over the last years with the first deployment of battle groups in the Eastern part of Alliance, increased the readiness of our forces and our investments in new military capabilities by all European Allies and Canada. And then we will discuss this tomorrow understanding that time is running out, this cannot continue – the situation we have now.

On Bosnia, well, I expect ministers to agree that we will be ready to accept the first Annual National Programme of Bosnia.  Then it’s up to Bosnia – Bosnia and Herzegovina - to decide whether they use this opportunity. But, I expect us to at least express that we are ready to receive the first Annual National Programme.

For Georgia I would like to say that the national programme is something Georgia has had for many years already. So, Georgia has all the tools they need to become a member – now we are willing to provide an Annual National Programme also to Bosnia.

[Georgian TV Rustavi 2]: I have two questions to Secretary General.  First of all about elections in Georgia. International observer missions they released critical reports not about only elections but pre-election situation, so how NATO estimate this elections? And the second question regard with the Azov Sea situation – how do you see Georgia’s and the Ukraine’s place in the Black Sea security? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO has three member states as littoral states to the Black Sea – Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. Then we have two partner countries, very close partners – highly-valued partners – Georgia and Ukraine and, of course, we work with them on issues related to Black Sea security.  And I expect also that Black Sea security in general, but also the situation of the Sea of Azov, will be in discussed when we meet Ukraine and Georgia tomorrow, and we work with Georgia to modernise their armed forces, build their different military capabilities – we have a training and evaluation centre in Tbilisi.  But, we’ve also worked with Georgia on strengthening their coastguard. So, NATO is also working with Georgia in strengthening their naval capabilities.

We do so also with Ukraine. They have support from NATO when it comes to their naval academy in Odessa.  We work with the naval capabilities of both Ukraine and Georgia, showing that this practical cooperation has a value for the partners but also for NATO because when our neighbours are more stable, we are more secure and therefore, it is in our interest to work with Ukraine and Georgia in different ways – distinct different partnerships but two highly-valued partners, which have both suffered from Russian aggressive actions. I congratulate the new president of Georgia – NATO doesn’t have election observers - there are other organisations that do that - and I just think it is extremely important that election observers have full access and that their concerns they have put forward are addressed in a transparent and open way.

[Radio Free Europe]: Thank you very much, Mr Secretary General.  You’ve just mentioned that the cost of leaving Afghanistan is bigger than the cost of staying in the country. My question is that, why is it important for NATO to keep its presence in Afghanistan? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:    It’s important for NATO to keep its presence in Afghanistan because we have to prevent Afghanistan from, once again, becoming a platform to plan, organise, to execute terrorist attacks against our own countries. It cannot once again become a safe haven for international terrorists. There is a high cost of staying in Afghanistan – there’s a high financial cost for NATO Allies and there is a high human cost – we have had fatalities. Also, last week’s. But, we have to compare the cost of staying with the cost of leaving and if NATO and NATO Allies left Afghanistan we have to be prepared that there is a high risk that Taliban will come back and that different terrorist organisations will be able to gain ground and establish strong footholds in Afghanistan.

For instance, we know that Al Qaeda is there, we know that ISIS is there, and we know that ISIS is working with the core ISIS in Levant, and also they have networks stretching into Europe. So, this is about helping Afghanistan but it’s also about helping ourselves. It’s about making our citizens more secure by avoiding that ISIS, Al Qaeda or the terrorist organisations are able to really re-establish themselves in Afghanistan. We have to remember that we have been fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria for years and we have made a lot of progress. But we have to be sure that the Caliphate ISIS lost in Iraq and in Syria is not re-established in Afghanistan. And that’s one of the reasons why we are there, and I visited Afghanistan recently and I’m impressed by the commitment, the courage and the professionalism of the Afghan forces and we continue to train, assist and advise them.

[Tolo TV]: Thank you very much.  I’m Parwiz Shamal from TOLO News. Your two options and timeframes for peace processes in Afghanistan – the government says it will take five years to get some results, but the US are trying to get results before upcoming election in April. If the US get some results before the election and it need to postpone the election will you support it? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: It is important that Afghanistan holds elections because elections is, of course, a key to any democratic society. Then I will say it’s up to the Afghans to decide exactly when, and taking into account the security situation and other issues.  And I think also there are some lessons learned from the parliamentary elections which should be taken into account when Afghanistan now is preparing for the presidential elections. I also assured when I visited Afghanistan a few weeks ago that the elections will be held and that they will also learn the lessons from the parliamentary elections and again, I think that what we have seen is the strength of the Afghan security forces because they have been able to provide security for the parliamentary elections which was a very demanding and difficult task and they did so with our training - train, assist and advise.  But it was actually Afghan forces that were able to do that.

[360 Degrees]: Secretary General, you mentioned the accession process with NATO and Macedonia.  The ball is so to speak rolling in Macedonian parliament concerning the constitutional changes - are you convinced that if Macedonia delivers, the Greek side will deliver its part of the agreement? And you mentioned also a safe haven – what about NATO credibility of a safe haven for a politician who is fleeing from justice? I mean the Gruevski case in Hungary?

Jens Stoltenberg: First, on Skopje - it’s for the parliament and for the authorities in Skopje to make the decisions. I cannot guarantee on behalf of Skopje - that’s for them to decide. But, what we have seen is that the first vote in the parliament where it was required two-third majority – it was a two-third majority for initiating this process.  Whether there will be a two-third majority the next time when they have the final vote, that’s not for me to speculate. But, what I can say is that as soon as the name deal or agreement is implemented then we are ready to sign the accession protocol and as soon as we sign the accession protocol with Skopje, the government of Skopje will start to meet at our ministerial meetings and then we need ratification of all Allies before full membership. So, I really hope that Skopje and the people of the country use this historic and once-in-a-life-time opportunity to join NATO and we are ready to welcome them as our thirtieth member.

I think that it is not for me to comment on the other issue. I think that’s an issue that has to be addressed between Budapest and Skopje and not for NATO.

[Kosovo Media]:  As Madam Mogherini will participate on the second day of ministerial – I guess the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade will come up as an issue as well – does NATO feel that it will face a security consequences after the possible implementation of the agreement between both sides which hypothetically might include border corrections?

Jens Stoltenberg: First I think it’s important to highlight how strongly NATO supports the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue because that’s the only way to solve the outstanding issues and we welcome the efforts by the European Union, by the High Representative, Federica Mogherini – I recently visited Belgrade and one of my main messages there was the importance of the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue. Second, I think it is important that all actors refrain from provocative actions and provocative rhetoric to try to reduce tensions and to try to make progress. And NATO will continue to be present in Kosovo – we have our KFOR operation there which is important for stability and KFOR will continue to be impartial helping to make sure that we have the necessary stability and security to see progress on the political efforts to find a political  negotiated solution. When it comes to potential border adjustments I think that … I will only say that we support the dialogue and I hope that they will be able to find a solution which is accepted both by Belgrade and Pristina.

[Al-Arabiya News Channel]:  You have spoken on the INF Treaty, Russia, United States, Black Sea situation, the serious threats.  What is your assessment to the violent extremism in North Africa and Middle East.  Do you consider these threats as a military threat or maybe because of the weak states like some part in Libya, of course, maybe Tunisia, maybe Iraq – do you see military threats for the NATO security in North Africa or mainly because of weak states there? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg:    When we look to the South and Middle East and North Africa we see many different threats and we see unpredictability and instability, so NATO has to be prepared for the unforeseen. We saw, for instance, not so many years ago that ISIS was able to actually establish control over large parts of territory in Iraq and Syria, controlling eight million people and we started to speak about terrorist organisations with state-like capacities and, of course, ISIS was a real military threat to both Syria and Iraq. And that’s also the reason why NATO Allies and NATO has worked so hard to push back ISIS and we have made real and significant progress in doing that. Then we have terrorist organisations, we have different kinds of criminal groups, so we had to address all this variety of threats and challenges. We work also together with the European Union.  NATO has naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea providing support to Operation Sofia, and we also work with partners like Tunisia and Jordan in the region to help keep them stable.

[Bosnian Media]: Does the invitation to the Bosnian … [inaudible] to submit this Annual National Programme means the activation of MAP?

Jens Stoltenberg:  First of all, I think that we have now to wait and see whether Bosnia and Herzegovina uses this opportunity. We have given them an opportunity then it is for Bosnia and Herzegovina now to decide. Bosnia and Herzegovina already has MAP. We are now ready to accept their submission of an Annual National Programme and it’s for them to decide whether they do that.

[Ukrainian Media]: Secretary General, why in your opinion strong deterrence, strong defence as a core task of NATO from 2016 and meaningful dialogue with Russia do not bring any positive results instead we see Russia more aggressive and latest example is Azov situation. Should NATO do more to convince Russia … [inaudible]. We are dealing with somebody whom we simply cannot trust. Please answer.

Jens Stoltenberg: You are right that NATO has a dual-track approach to Russia: defence and dialogue, credible deterrence, credible defence combined with political dialogue. And I strongly believe in that dual-track approach to Russia because it is a very robust strategy, which is working in a way regardless of whether you believe that Russia will change in the near future or will not change in the foreseeable future. Because this combination of having both strength but also an openness for dialogue is able to accommodate different scenarios. And, therefore, I welcome the fact that we have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.  That we continue to invest more in our defence capabilities.

But, at the same time that we have been able to have political dialogue with Russia. For instance, on the INF issue the INF issue and the concerns all Allies have about Russian compliance has been discussed in the NATO-Russia Council.  We raised our concerns directly with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council a few weeks ago. So, as Allies we have raised this issue with Russia several times but also in the NATO-Russia Council and we know that US as party of the INF Treaty have raised it many times directly with Russia calling them to ensure compliance. So, for me there is no contradiction between strength and dialogue. I actually strongly believe that we need both and as long as we are strong, as long as we are united, we can also engage in political dialogue with Russia.  And let me add one more thing and that is the following: even if you don’t believe in an improved relationship with Russia in the foreseeable future even then we need political dialogue with Russia to manage a difficult relationship. For instance, with more exercises, more military presence, higher tensions – we need to avoid incidents and accidents.

And therefore, the fact that we use the NATO-Russia Council, the dialogue with Russia, to brief each other on military exercises, on military posture, to raise issues, as the INF Treaty, helps to manage a difficult relationship, which is also important because the alternative is that incidents, accidents may happen and then spiral out of control and create really dangerous situations. So, for instance, out of that we have military lines of communications and I welcome that SACEUR, the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO has met with Gerasimov and they continue to have direct contact, which I think is useful for all of us.

[Russian Radio]: Thank you very much - Mr Secretary General, as the president of Ukraine to urged NATO to send battle ships to the Sea of Azov – will they be there and how will NATO respond to such requests?

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO has already increased our presence in the Black Sea significantly more.  As an example just significantly more days with NATO ships at sea in this year than last year – the previous year and we have more air policing, we have more ISR, we have more presence in the Black Sea in general and we will, of course, closely monitor the situation in that region also in light of what we saw a few days ago.