Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Washington, D.C. on 3 and 4 April 2019

  • 01 Apr. 2019 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 01 Apr. 2019 19:53

(As delivered)

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Foreign Ministers in Washington DC on 3 and 4 April 2019

Good afternoon.

Later this week, NATO Foreign Ministers will meet in Washington D.C. to mark the seventieth anniversary of the Alliance.
Tomorrow I will meet with President Trump at the White House.
On Wednesday, all the Foreign Ministers are invited to a joint session of the United States Congress. Where I will deliver a speech on behalf of the 29 Allies.
On Wednesday evening, we will gather in the Mellon Auditorium. Where the original twelve members signed the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949.

This will be an opportunity to celebrate seven decades of peace and prosperity for our nations. And it will be an opportunity to look to the future together.

On Thursday, we will begin by addressing NATO’s relations with Russia. Russia continues to violate the INF Treaty by developing and deploying SSC-8 missiles. These missiles are hard to detect, lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, and make us all less safe. Russia continues to defy our calls to return to compliance with the INF Treaty. And time is running out. So we will discuss NATO’s next steps.
The Alliance remains strongly committed to arms control. But we must also continue to maintain credible and effective deterrence and defence.
NATO is also concerned by Russia’s pattern of aggressive behaviour. Including its ongoing actions against Ukraine, and the seizure of Ukrainian sailors and ships near the Sea of Azov. NATO has already stepped up its presence in the Black Sea. And we continue to work closely with our partners in the region. Just last week, I saw for myself this cooperation at the 2019 NATO-Georgia exercise. And today, ships from one of NATO’s naval groups are in Ukraine and Georgia. These ships will take part in exercise Sea Shield in the Black Sea.
I expect Ministers this week will agree new measures to improve our situational awareness in the region. And to step up NATO’s support for both Georgia and Ukraine. In areas such as training of maritime forces and coast guards, port visits and exercises, and sharing of information.


Ministers will also discuss NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism. And US efforts to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan.
Ambassador Khalilzad held consultations with Allies here at NATO just last week, for the fourth time. And our commander of the NATO Resolute Support Mission, and NATO's Senior Civilian Representative in Khabul, are closely coordinating with Ambassador Khalilzad. We are in Afghanistan together and we will take any decisions on our future presence together.

We also stand together in the fight against ISIS, and we have made major progress. Millions have been freed from oppression.
And this terrorist group no longer holds any territory. But we are not complacent.
We are now doing more training in Iraq to help ensure that ISIS can never return.
Hundreds of trainers from Allies and partners countries are in the country, providing support to the Ministry of Defence, the Office of the National Security Adviser and to military schools. Training local forces is one of our best tools in the fight against terrorism.

And we are committed to doing more, including with other close partners in the region, Jordan and Tunisia and other partners.
We will close the meeting in Washington, the Foreign Ministers meeting with a session to discuss burden sharing.
After years of cutting billions from defence budgets, now we are adding billions. And we have seen four consecutive years of rising investment in defence.
Since 2016, European Allies and Canada have added $41 billion dollars to their defence budgets. By the end of next year, this will rise to $100 billion.
Allies are also investing more in major capabilities, like missile defence, drones and new fighter aircraft.
And NATO has just agreed a new substantial investment in military infrastructure.
We will invest more than $260 million in a project to support US forces in central Poland.

This will fund storage and maintenance of pre-positioned military equipment – which will speed up reinforcement for Europe.
This project is part of a bigger picture:
Around $2.3 billion in NATO funding for military mobility projects over the last four years.
So Allies are really stepping up. Spending more, and better, on defence. But we still have to do more and we must keep up the momentum.

For seventy years, the bond between Europe and North America has made NATO the strongest alliance in history.
In an unpredictable world, we work together every day to prevent conflict and preserve peace for nearly one billion people.

And with that, I am ready to take your questions.

OANA LUNGESCU [NATO spokesperson]: Okay, we’ll start with Jane’s, third row, yeah?

QUESTION [Brooks Tigner, Jane’s Defence Weekly]: I was interested about the Black Sea measures, you know, to boost security in the area, you mentioned several things including port visits. Given that the Azov Sea is supposed to be a free and open sea, wouldn’t it make sense for NATO to send some ships in for a port visit to Mariupol? And if it doesn’t, would you not agree that, or would you agree that this, de facto hands control, perhaps permanently over to Russia, thank you, of that sea, thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: For NATO the important thing is that the law, the international law and the law of Sea is fully respected. And that’s also the reason why we reacted so strongly when Russia seized Ukrainian ships some months ago. And that’s also the reason why we continue to call on, on Russia to release the ships and the sailors. And, as I said, we have increased our presence in the Black Sea, with more naval presence, with NATO’s maritime groups taking part in exercises and also with different port visits, just now both to Ukraine and to Georgia. But I will not comment exactly on which ports we are going to visit when and how, we are in the Black Sea, we operate there, and we strongly urge all countries in the region and especially Russia, of course, to respect the international law.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, Deutsche Welle, NPR, lady in red, over there. Yeah.

QUESTION [Teri Schultz, Deutsche Welle and NPR]: In a report written by two former US ambassadors to NATO, Doug Lute and Nick Burns, they concluded after interviewing dozens of people on both sides of the Atlantic that the biggest challenge, or threat, to NATO is the absence of strong presidential leadership from the United States. And this was taking into account all of the things that you say, you know, the additional spending on the ground, the additional troops. So even with experts who know those things, they still say that this is the . . . the biggest problem NATO is facing. So, I mean, is even the perception of this a weakness for the Alliance at 70? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO is an Alliance of 29 democracies, and in democracies there are different views, different experts, different opinions about many things. So part of being open societies is that we also have open discussions about strength and . . . and challenges we face. And then you may find, or, you not only may find, but you will always find experts which have different assessments on where we are and where we stand and what’s the main challenges. What I am absolutely convinced about is that what we see now is a strong commitment by the United States to NATO, and I say that partly because that is what has been stated by the President. He has stated again and again, for instance, in the State of the Union speech, that he is committed to NATO, he said so when he met NATO leaders here at the Brussels summit. But also we see a very strong bipartisan support from the US Congress to NATO. And not only that, but we see also an increased presence of US troops in Europe. And I can hardly think about any stronger expression of US commitment to the security of Europe than the US sending more troops to Europe, with a new armoured brigade in Europe and, for instance, with the US Marines in Norway they’ve not, never been there before. So . . . so it’s just not possible to say that, that the United States is not committed to NATO, because the United States is increasing their military contributions to NATO in . . . with more troops, with more exercises. I mentioned the examples now where we are actually, with NATO funding, investing in new facilities, new infrastructure for US military presence in Poland. One of the biggest investments we have done for many years and over four years 2.3 billion NATO-funded investments in infrastructure, very much of that is relevant for US presence in Europe. So, and then the fact that I will speak to the US Congress too on Wednesday, I , I regard that as a very strong bipartisan expression for that commitment and for the support for NATO. So, I know these former ambassadors well. I . . . sometimes I agree, sometimes I disagree, but the fact is that we see that North America and Europe are doing more together than they’ve done for many, many years.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, Washington Post.

QUESTION [Michael Birnbaum, The Washington Post]: If Germany is spending 1.5 percent of its GDP on defence in 2024, as it’s currently planning to do, is that enough for it to meet its NATO defence capability targets? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, I expect Germany to make good on the pledge Germany made together with all other NATO Allies. And that’s partly about spending but also about capabilities. So I expect them to, of course, both meet the spending targets, the spending commitments and they have conveyed to, also they have submitted to NATO a national plan where they outline how Germany will increase defence spending in real terms by 80 percent over a decade. Then, in addition, we have agreed capability targets and . . . and we just expect that when Germany, as other Allies, when they agree to capability targets, that, of course, they provide the necessary funding to deliver those capability targets. So I will continue to . . . to follow up and to focus on this in all my meetings with . . . NATO leaders in Berlin, in . . . in Rome, in . . . in Paris, in all other NATO Allied countries, to make sure that when we speak about burden sharing, a fair Alliance, that’s about spending, but it is also about contributions to NATO missions and operation, and also, of course, capability targets. And let me just add that Germany is delivering more contributions to NATO missions and operations. They have agreed, they have . . . they continue to be one of our largest force contributors to our mission in Afghanistan, they lead one of the battlegroups in the Baltics and they are now responsible for the High Readiness Force of NATO, which was certified during the NATO exercise in Norway, the Trident Juncture. So . . . so Germany is contributing to the Alliance in many different ways.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, Georgian TV, lady here.

QUESTION [Rustavi 2, Georgian TV]: Regarding to the Black Sea security, NATO official last week said that on the upcoming ministerial, ministers will agree new steps to co-operate with Georgia on Black Sea security. Can you tell us more details and which kind of new steps it +will be? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, first of all I . . . the ministers have to meet before they can agree. But I can say what I expect them to agree. And I expect that they will agree on measures related to training, meaning exercises like the exercises we see now. We have one exercise which is hosted by Romania and then we had recently this exercise which I took part in, NATO and Georgia exercise just a week ago. But especially training of maritime forces and NATO provides help to the Georgian Coast Guard, we are looking into how we can step up that, do more of that. That was also something I discussed when I visited Tbilisi a few days ago. So that’s training maritime forces and training and helping to strengthen coast guards. The other is port visits, meaning . . . and also, then, participation in different exercises. And, for instance in . . . last year, in 2018, NATO ships spent 120 days in the Black Sea, and that is a significant increase from the 80 days we spent in the Black Sea in 2017. So that’s actually a 50 percent increase in the number of days where you have NATO ships in the Black Sea. That shows a presence. That improves our situational awareness and we often, when we are in the Black Sea, we do something together with our partners. Georgia, Ukraine and, of course, we have three littoral states – Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria – and, of course, whatever they also do is also relevant for the Black Sea, and they are also strengthening their . . . their maritime capabilities. And then, sharing information, because to have the best possible situational awareness, to be able to see what is going on, is key for the three NATO littoral states, but also, of course, for our two close partners, Georgia and Ukraine. So, yeah.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, we’ll go to the gentleman in the second row.

QUESTION: [Barzan Hassan, Kurdistan 24]: Can you give us last update information about the NATO mission to Iraq and Kurdistan region? And let’s just take a listen, this President Trump, he said something and then I will have a question please?

PRESIDENT TRUMP [Audio recording]: We lost . . . tens of thousands of Kurds died fighting ISIS. They died for us and with us and for themselves. They died for themselves. But they are great people and we have not forget . . . we, we don’t forget, I don’t forget, what happens some day later, but I can tell you that I don’t forget.

QUESTION: [Barzan Hassan, Kurdistan 24]: So what’s your reaction please? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: But did you ask about the NATO mission in Iraq?

QUESTION: [Barzan Hassan, Kurdistan 24]: [Inaudible, off-mic]

JENS STOLTENBERG I understand, I understand. Well, NATO is part of the global coalition to defeat ISIS and all NATO Allies participate. And . . . and NATO has provided support in different ways to the global coalition. And the global coalition has made remarkable progress, meaning that not many years ago, or actually, not many months ago, ISIS was controlling a territory, almost equal the size of the United Kingdom and millions of people were under the control of ISIS. ISIS does not control any territory anymore. And that is, of course, very much because of the efforts of the Global Coalition, and that’s a huge achievement, or a significant achievement. But that doesn’t mean that the fight against terrorism and . . . and that we can be . . . is over or that, that we can be complacent. We know that they still tried to mobilise support for their twisted ideology. ISIS exists many places in the world. We see them also in Afghanistan. So we need to continue to fight ISIS and terrorism in different places of the world. And we have to make sure that ISIS doesn’t return in the way it was in Iraq and . . . and Syria, where they controlled territory. That’s the main reason why, or that’s the reason why we now are training more Iraqi forces, because we strongly believe that the best way of stabilising Iraq, the best way of preventing Iraq from once again being threatened by ISIS, is to train, build local capacity, and that’s what we do in Iraq.

QUESTION: [Barzan Hassan, Kurdistan 24]: [Inaudible, off-mic]

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah, but then, so that’s, that’s . . . that’s the training mission in Iraq, and NATO support for the global coalition. As you know, NATO as an Alliance is not present on the ground in northern Syria. Some NATO Allies are, but we also know that there are some different views among NATO Allies on how to deal with the challenges we see in northern Syria. What I welcome is that NATO Allies are talking together, that they address the common challenges we see in northern Syria, but it’s not for me to go into the different issues, because that will only make that dialogue more difficult.

OANA LUNGESCU: Interfax-Ukraine, lady with a red scarf.

QUESTION [Iryna Somer, Interfax-Ukraine Agency]: On 16th March, President Poroshenko wrote to you a letter, a congratulations letter, it’s your birthday. In third paragraph, he mentioned that in London during a summit he will raise issue of MAP for Ukraine. Did you actually see this letter, and how do you consider it, like official request or just friendly letter from a friend, ‘happy birthday.’? And can we have your comment on the yesterday first round of the presidential election in Ukraine where comedian got 30 percent of votes? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, I am grateful for the happy birthday wishes from President Poroshenko. And as long as I am younger than the NATO Alliance I feel young. So . . . so, and it will remain like that for a long time. Then . . . then when it comes to Ukraine and NATO membership, we recognise the ambitions, the aspiration of Ukraine to become a NATO member. We work with Ukraine to help Ukraine move forward towards its transatlantic integration. We . . . and that’s the reason why we have all the different frameworks, programmes to provide help and support, to help Ukraine focus on the most important thing, and that is reform: to modernise to meet the NATO standards, we help Ukraine, we modernise their defense and security institutions, we have trust funds, we have training, we have different kinds of activities where we are helping Ukraine. And NATO Allies also provide different kinds of bilateral support. We strongly believe that this has to be the main focus: reform and to continue to modernise and to strengthen their defence and security institutions, including fighting . . . fighting corruption. So this will be our focus. When it comes to the meeting in December, that’s a short meeting, it’s not a full-fledged summit. It will be leaders meeting, an important meeting, but not a full-fledged summit with all the different sessions. We . . . we will meet in London to mark the 70th anniversary of the Alliance, we meet in London because London was the place we had NATO’s headquarters at the beginning.

QUESTION [Iryna Somer, Interfax-Ukraine Agency]: [inaudible, off-mic]

JENS STOLTENBERG: The elections? Well, the elections are ongoing and therefore I think it will not be appropriate if I started to comment on the outcome of those elections. There will be a second round. But the . . . NATO . . . NATO and our partners they have elections almost all the time and that’s . . . that’s part of being a democracy. And I think it’s important that those elections are conducted in a way which is fair and free and . . . and then I think we should wait to comment on the outcome until we see an outcome of the final round.


QUESTION [Philippe Regnier, Le Soir]: Regarding this new military infrastructure in Poland, do you see this as a sort of . . . of game-changer, compared to the rotating battalion which is already there? And if so, is it sort of escalation with Russia? And if I may, on INF Treaty do you expect some decisions during the Washington meeting regarding what has to be done in case of the non-return of Russia to compliance to the treaty? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The investment in the infrastructure project in central Poland is part of a broader effort to strengthen military mobility. This is one of the biggest airports, military air . . . airfields in Poland. And we will then invest in different facilities to enable maintenance and storage of equipment. And by prepositioning equipment, we can then . . . we will increase the readiness and . . . of our forces, because then we need to move in people and . . . also heavy equipment. So this is part of an ongoing process where NATO has been focused on military mobility, improved infrastructure, means of transportation, but also on preposition . . . prepositioning of heavy equipment and, for instance, improving airfields, harbours and other critical infrastructure for moving forces across Europe. So this is part of that, but it’s a major significant investment. And it also shows how NATO is working with the US, because this is a bilateral US presence, but underpinned by a NATO investment in infrastructure. Good for NATO, good for all of us. Then, on the INF, well, I expect the ministers to be very clear on their message to Russia, that Russia has to come back into compliance with the INF Treaty, because this is a cornerstone for European security, cornerstone for the whole arms control architecture. And now this cornerstone is in jeopardy, because Russia is violating the treaty, deploying new missiles. So therefore the withdrawal process which was announced early February, there is a six-month period before that is completed, and there is still time for Russia to come into compliance. So I expect ministers to be very clear on the need for Russia to come back into compliance, but at the same time I expect ministers to be equally clear on the need for NATO to prepare for a world without the treaty and with more Russian missiles in Europe. We will be coordinated. We will be measured. But we . . . and we don’t have any intention of deploying new ground launch nuclear weapons in Europe. But, of course, NATO has to always be able to deliver credible deterrence and defence, also in a world without the INF Treaty.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, Kabul Times, lady in the middle.

QUESTION [Lailuma Sadid, Kabul Times]: You mentioned that Mr Khalilzad updating you regarding the peace talk in Afghanistan. And you also said that NATO and US went in Afghanistan together, and they will make a plan for the future. Is that mean that if US decide to draw their troops in Afghanistan, NATO do the same? And also you mentioned that Daesh is very active in Afghanistan. Is that true because the situation is really worse than ever? And what’s the next plan, NATO decide to make fight against terrorism especially with Daesh and Al-Qaida or any other insurgents group in Afghanistan? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, the next step depends very much on the progress in the peace process. And since these are ongoing negotiations, no one can tell you when and exactly what the outcome will be. And therefore we have not made any decisions, because that will very much depend on the outcome of the peace process – if, and what kind of agreement, that will be reached and when. What we have clearly stated is that we are committed to our mission in Afghanistan. So NATO Allies provide the troops to the . . . to the mission. We have actually increased the number of NATO trainers in Afghanistan, because we know that the best way to reach a peaceful negotiated solution is to send a message to the Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield. So that’s the reason why we are training and supporting the Afghan forces. And as long as we are committed to that, we are also providing the necessary strength around the negotiating table, and then hopefully that can help us to reach a peaceful negotiated solution, which will allow us then, later on, to reduce our presence in Afghanistan. Again, how much, exactly when – it will just be wrong if I started to speculate, because it’s just too early. But as you know, the negotiations, they address the importance of Afghanistan not again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. How to make sure that, how to ensure that that’s the case. It addresses, of course, the issue of presence of international troops, NATO presence. And it also addresses another important issue and that is Afghan reconciliation. Of course, there can be no lasting peace in Afghanistan without Afghan reconciliation, and the Afghan government has to be part of that. That’s obvious. So . . . so we are working closely with United States. The message from all NATO’s Allies, including United States is that we went in together and we will make decisions on our future presence together. But that . . . those decisions will, of course, depend on what happens around the negotiating table. And therefore we also send the message that we are committed to the security of Afghanistan, providing both training, practical support to the Afghan security forces, but also continued financial support. We made a pledge to continue our financial support until 2024. So . . . so, yeah, we are committed. But at the same time, of course, we don’t want to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary. We would like to create the conditions for us to be able to draw down our presence. But that depends on the negotiations.

OANA LUNGESCU: Associated Press.

QUESTION [Lorne Cook, Associated Press]: You’ve just had your mandate extended again and part of the reason, I understand, is your ability to keep together some . . . some rather difficult, tricky, tricky meetings that you’ve had to manage. I just wonder, as you look ahead for your next three years, at NATO’s 70 years, how much of a challenge is this internal cohesion at NATO? How hard is it to keep together countries which have very assertive leaders, whether it be the United States, Turkey, Poland or somewhere else? Or is it perhaps that NATO’s bigger challenges are coming from the outside, rather than the inside?

JENS STOLTENBERG: We have to be frank and recognise that there are disagreements between NATO Allies. There is no way anyone can deny that, because just by reading newspapers or watching the television you see that NATO Allies disagree on many issues. We see serious disagreements on issues like trade, energy, climate change, the Iran nuclear deal and . . . and also on other issues. But this is not the first time we see differences between NATO Allies. That has been part of our history for decades. Because we are 29 different nations, from both sides of the Atlantic, with different history, different geography, different political parties. And, therefore, actually, differences between NATO Allies, it’s absolutely nothing new. We had differences back in the . . . in 1956 on the Suez crisis. We had differences when France decided in 1966 to leave the military cooperation in NATO. Or we had differences between NATO Allies in 2003, when . . . in 2003 when . . . on the Iraq War some Allies strongly supported that, other Allies equal . . . opposed it strongly. The strength of NATO is that despite these differences we have always been able to unite around our core task, and that is to protect and defend each other. Because we . . . we see that we are so much, that we are strong and safe together. As long as we stand together we are . . . we are so much stronger and so much safer. And especially in a world where we see new challenges, we see the balance of power shifting, we see the importance of new technologies like artificial intelligence and many other technologies. And we see that the fight against terrorism is a generational fight, and we see that we have to deal with a more assertive Russia, then it’s even more important now we stand together. So yes, I’m not denying that there are differences. But my message is that, what we see is that NATO is able to overcome those differences. Because the best thing would be if we’re able to solve the differences, on trade and energy or whatever it is. But as long as these issues remain unsolved, that there are disagreements, then my main focus is to make sure that we, at least, are able to deliver on defence and security and that we are able to deliver on the core task of NATO to protect and defend each other. And that’s exactly what we’re doing, because despite all these differences, North America and Europe are doing more together now than they have done for decades, with more US presence in Europe, European Allies are stepping up, investing more, contributing to different missions and operation, fighting terrorism, modernising our Alliance. So I’m not saying that I’m not aware of the differences, but I’m only saying that I think what we see is that NATO once again is able to deal with differences without weakening the core responsibility, the core task of our Alliance. And then I guess that one other . . . I have been prime minister for 10 years in Norway, I have been prime minister in a coalition government and I would say that that was a good experience to have when I went on to NATO.


QUESTION [Stefan Leifert, ZDF German TV]: A question regarding your meeting with the US President tomorrow. How far do you expect burden sharing and especially the German defence expenditure to be a subject of discussion tomorrow?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First, I think it’s always important when we . . . when I speak about a meeting which has not taken place, to say that I am not able to tell you what the President will tell me tomorrow. I’m not able to tell you that today. But I expect that, of course burden sharing . . . burden sharing will be an important issue. And I expect that the message from the . . . from President Trump will be that the United States is committed to NATO, that . . . that NATO is important for our shared security. But, at the same time, that we need fairer sharing of the burden, we need fair burden sharing. And this has been a very consistent message from President Trump, yeah, since he took office and even before that. And my message will be that I agree. That NATO is a strong Alliance, but for NATO to remain a strong Alliance we need to be a fair Alliance. And therefore I have been so focused on the importance of making sure that NATO Allies are investing more. Partly, of course, because we need those capabilities, but also because to invest in defence is also a way to invest in our unity, invest in the strength of the transatlantic bond. And . . . and I expect the President to convey that message. But I will also then highlight that actually European Allies are stepping up, including Germany, and that if we just look at the accumulated increase it’s 41 billion dollars since 2016. At the end of next year that number will be 100 billion dollars. That’s significant. That makes a difference. And it shows that Allies are stepping up.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference and hope to see at least some of you in Washington D.C. Thank you.