by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Brussels
I look forward to welcoming all the Defence Ministers to the meeting today and tomorrow. They will address a wide range of different issues. Including NATO's role in Afghanistan and we will discuss how NATO can do more to support the fight against ISIS, Daesh, and international terrorism.
We will also address the situation in Afghanistan. NATO is committed to our training mission there. We strongly believe that that's the best way for NATO to support the peace process in the efforts to find a political, negotiated solution to the crisis in Afghanistan. And we would welcome any steps that can lead to reduction in violence.
At the same time it is extremely important to convey a clear message to Taliban that they have to show and demonstrate a real will and ability to reduce violence and to engage in credible peace talks.
We will also take stock of the work which is going on at NATO and comes to our response to new Russian missile systems. We have seen the demise of the INF Treaty because of the new Russian SSC-8 missiles. We will not mirror what Russia is doing but we will make sure that NATO maintains credible deterrence and defence also in a world with more Russian missiles and without the INF Treaty.
I'm also looking forward to welcoming Josep Borell, High Representative/Vice President. He has been at NATO meetings before in his capacity as foreign minister but this will be his first meeting with NATO in his new capacity.
We will also meet with our colleagues from Sweden and Finland.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO Spokesperson]: Okay, we'll start over there, with Salam Watandar.
NASIR MAIMANAGY [Salam Watandar]: Thank you very much, this is Nasir Maimanagy from Salam Watandar. Can you comment on the recent development around peace in Afghanistan with the possible announcement to significantly . . . announcement of significant and enduring reduction of violence? And also, how that could influence the discussions on Afghanistan today and tomorrow here? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: We will discuss Afghanistan, both with the 29 NATO ministers today, but also in a bigger meeting with all the Resolute Support partners tomorrow. So we will have a good opportunity to address the situation in Afghanistan.
And we would welcome any step that can lead to a reduction of violence. We strongly believe that the best way NATO can support the peace process is to stay committed to our train, assist and advise mission in Afghanistan. Because when we train and support the Afghan forces with training, but also with funding, we are helping the Afghans to send a very clear message to Taliban that they will never win on the battlefield. They have to sit down at the negotiating table and engage in real compromises, in real negotiations for peace. And Taliban has to demonstrate a real will and ability to deliver reduction in violence to see any progress, or to make it possible to have any progress towards a lasting and sustainable peace solution in Afghanistan.
So, of course, NATO Allies are present in Afghanistan. The United States is in Afghanistan together with other NATO Allies, and United States is also engaged in the dialogue with Taliban. Ambassador Khalilzad has been here several times, briefing, consulting with NATO Allies and I'm looking forward to then have a real discussion and also address how NATO can continue to provide strong support to the peace process.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr Secretary General. Any plan for NATO Allies to engage in Afghanistan under current peace efforts and especially post-peace process?
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO Allies are committed to Afghanistan and we provide support through our train, assist and advise mission. We provide support through funding for the Afghan security forces. And of course, also NATO Allies provide also support on bilateral basis, development aid and other kinds of support.
Then Norway and Germany have offered to facilitate intra-Afghan dialogue. So if we now see progress and if we now are able to launch intra-Afghan dialogue, then two NATO Allies have offered to facilitate that – Norway and Germany – and we are grateful for the offer from Norway and Germany.
QUESTION: What does the . . . what do the current events mean in Germany for the role of Germany in the NATO?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Germany is a very committed NATO Ally and Germany contributes to many different NATO missions and operations. You are part of our Enhanced Forward Presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, leading one of the battlegroups there in Lithuania. Germany is one of the lead nations in Afghanistan. Germany leads our presence in the Aegean Sea, helping to implement the agreement on refugees and migrants between Turkey and the EU.
And Germany is contributing to our collective defence in Europe in many different ways. So, we are extremely grateful for the strong support of Germany to NATO in so many different ways over so many years.
QUESTION: And you don't see any change in the role, with the current events in Germany? But the popularity of the NATO is also decreasing in Germany at the moment?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, first of all, it's a very natural thing that we have political discussions in NATO-Allied countries. That's something that takes place all the time. And we sometimes we have changes of governments, change of ministers. That's part of a natural process in all NATO Allies over the years.
Germany has been very strong and committed to NATO, since it joined NATO in the 1950s, and there's strong support for NATO in Germany. Then, the opinion polls varies a bit over years and between NATO-Allied countries. But the recent opinion polls we have seen, also from Germany, confirms strong support for NATO.
OANA LUNGESCU: Associated Press.
LORNE COOK [Associated Press]: Lorne Cook from the Associated Press. Some of the Allies in the east seem to be a little bit concerned about the US focus on China. How difficult is it for NATO to focus both on Russia as a traditional adversary and China as it evolves?
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO has to be able to address many challenges and threats at the same time. So we don't have the luxury of choosing. We have to be able to address many different challenges at the same time.
We all agreed – and that's for the first time in NATO's history – at the leaders meeting in London, that we had to address the consequences for our security of the rise of China. China will soon have the largest economy in the world. It already has the second-largest defence budget. It is developing and investing heavily in new, advanced military capabilities.
What we see is that there are both challenges and opportunities related to the rise of China. And I welcome the fact that NATO Allies are now together addressing both the opportunities, but also the challenges.
OANA LUNGESCU: Jordan Times.
QUESTION [The Jordan Times]: Mohammad Ghazal of The Jordan Times. What new developments are there on resuming your training in Iraq? And the US President is asking for more involvement by NATO in the Middle East? Where in the Middle East do you believe there is a NATO intervention possibility? And is Libya, for example, where other players are taking the lead a possibility, or Syria? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO has a Training Mission in Iraq. And we are in Iraq on an invitation by the Iraqi government. And we will only stay in Iraq as long as we are welcomed by the Iraqi government.
What we will do now at the Defence Ministerial Meeting is that I expect ministers to recommit to our Training Mission in Iraq, but also agree to step up and be ready to do more, provide more support to Iraq. Because it is extremely important that ISIS never return. That ISIS is not able to return and that ISIS never returns. Because we have seen the brutality, we have seen the horrendous violence they have been responsible for. And this is a huge problem for the people – people in Iraq have suffered – but also a threat to all NATO Allies, because ISIS is an organisation which has proven a will to also use terrorism as a way to attack NATO-Allied countries.
So I commend the sacrifices, the role Iraq has played in fighting ISIS. Iraq has been on the forefront. Iraq has shown courage and bravery. The Iraqi security forces have shown courage and bravery in the fight. And we train them to make them even better in the fight against ISIS/Daesh.
We will also look into what we can do beyond Iraq. NATO is already in the wider Middle East region with the Training Mission in Iraq, but also with our presence in Afghanistan. We work closely with countries like Jordan and Tunisia, helping them with intelligence, special operation forces. This is both about military activities, but also political support and cooperation with countries in the region.
It's too early to conclude exactly what we will do, but we are now . . . to further step up, but we have a very good and constructive dialogue with countries in the region, and a very good and constructive dialogue with the government of Iraq.
OANA LUNGESCU: The lady in red.
QUESTION: Mr General Secretary, what kind of response NATO can prepare regarding to the Russia's weapon in particular, SSC-8?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We are very concerned about the new Russian missile systems, not least because the new Russian SSC-8 missile is violating the INF Treaty and that led to the demise of the INF Treaty last year.
We will respond, but we will not mirror what Russia is doing. So we have no intention of deploying new land-based nuclear-capable missiles in Europe. But we have to make sure that we have credible deterrence and defence, also, without the INF Treaty.
We are working on different strands of effort, which includes both conventional capabilities; we are looking at our nuclear posture; we are also looking into air and missile defence, and exercises. But again, we are not going to mirror what Russia is doing.
We want to avoid or prevent a new arms race. And therefore, we will also look into what more we can do related to arms control. A new arms race will be dangerous, but also extremely expensive. And therefore, we regret very much the demise of the INF Treaty and we will continue to work for effective arms control, because that's the best way to keep tensions down and to prevent a new arms race.
OANA LUNGESCU: This concludes this press point, thank you very much.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you.