Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following a meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Defence Ministers' session

  • 13 Feb. 2020 -
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  • Last updated: 13 Feb. 2020 16:58

(As delivered)

Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Good afternoon.

Today, we focused on deterrence and defence.

We discussed the challenge posed by Russia’s missiles. This includes the development and deployment of the SSC-8 missile, which led to the demise of the INF Treaty last year. NATO Allies have stood united on Russia’s breach of the Treaty.

We have consulted closely over many years. And all Allies have agreed on every step. Including on a package of defensive, measured and coordinated measures in response to the demise of the Treaty. This includes adapting our planning and exercises, as well as our conventional, nuclear, and air and missile defence posture. We will not mirror what Russia does. We have no intention to deploy new land-based nuclear-missiles in Europe. But we will keep our deterrence and defence effective to protect our people. The SSC-8 is only part of Russia’s missile build-up.

So today we discussed the broader challenge, which includes other Russian missile systems. Conventional and nuclear.

Currently deployed or under development.

Many are dual capable systems that create a greater risk of escalation or miscalculation.

At the same time, ministers stressed NATO’s strong commitment to arms control and disarmament. NATO must continue to be the platform for Europe and North America to discuss these issues. We will continue this important work with the aim of taking further decisions later this year.

Ministers also discussed our progress in ensuring fairer burden-sharing across the Alliance.  We have seen an unprecedented increase in defence spending across Europe and North America. With an extra 400 billion US dollars invested by the end of 2024. This is making NATO stronger. But we need to keep up the momentum. To keep our nations safe in a more unpredictable world.

This morning, Allies and the Ukrainian Defence Minister Andriy Zahorodnyiuk had a good discussion about the security situation in and around Ukraine.  At a breakfast hosted by Canada, Allies expressed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. NATO continues to provide strong political and practical support. Allies welcomed the progress being made in the reform process and encouraged Ukraine to continue along this path.

This afternoon we will have a meeting with all nations contributing to the Resolute Support training mission in Afghanistan. The situation remains difficult. But we remain firmly committed to Afghanistan’s long-term security and stability. Our focus remains on the same: to provide the Afghan security forces with training and financial support. So that they can fight terrorism and create the conditions for peace.  As a result, we see that the Afghan security forces are getting stronger, more professional, and better led. We fully support the efforts led by the United States to achieve a peaceful solution. And Allies continue to coordinate closely on the way forward.

We welcome any steps that can lead to the reduction of violence. The Taliban have to show a real will and a real ability to deliver a reduction of violence on the ground. And to show that they are really committed to achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan.

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

OANA LUNGESCU [NATO Spokesperson]: Okay, we’ll start with the lady in the middle from Kabul Times.

LAILUMA SADID [Kabul Times]: Thank you, Lailuma Sadid, freelance journalist. I understand not will be press conference after Resolute Support meeting. What do you expect to come out of the meeting? Is Secretary Esper briefing on the latest development? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: So I expect the meeting to reconfirm a strong commitment from all the Resolute Support partners and NATO Allies to Afghanistan. And to continue to be committed to our Resolute Support mission, to continue to train, assist and advise, and also provide financial support to the Afghan security forces, the Afghan army.

Because this is in our interest, because a more stable Afghanistan is, of course, good for the people living in Afghanistan. But it is also important for people living in NATO-Allied countries.

We have to remember that the reason why we went into Afghanistan was the 9/11 attacks against the United States. And we are in Afghanistan to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists. That is in our interest to prevent that from happening. The best way to do that is to create the conditions for a sustainable, peaceful, negotiated solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

And as I said, we support strongly the US talks with the Taliban, because we hope that they can lead to a peace process and create the conditions for intra-Afghan talks, intra-Afghan negotiations. And we will welcome any steps towards reduction of violence, because that is important to create the conditions for a real peace process. But again, Taliban has to show a real will and a real capability to deliver reduction of violence. And the best way for us to make that happen is to send a message that we stay committed to provide support to Afghanistan. And this is the message I expect from the Resolute Support Mission meeting.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, Arabs Today. Gentleman over there.

ZAKI MOUSSA [Arabs Today]:  Zaki Moussa from Arabs Today. It is not clear for us, as Arabs, you know, where NATO stands along the activities carried by Turkey, either in Syria or Libya, which most of us feel that is not in line with what . . . what NATO Allies try to achieve in the region.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well then, NATO is not present on the ground in Libya. We strongly support the UN-led efforts to find a peaceful negotiated solution. And that’s the message from NATO and from NATO Allies: is that we need a UN-led effort to find a negotiated solution and we support that.

Then we have also stated that we stand ready to help Libya with capacity-building if they ask for that. And if the conditions make that possible. But there is no NATO presence on their ground.

We support the efforts of, also, NATO Allies, for instance, the meeting in Berlin, which took place a couple of weeks ago. We believe that’s a good and important initiative to get the peace talks and the political process moving.

On Syria, I would just briefly say that what we see now in Idlib is really, really serious. Again, hundreds of thousands of civilians are forced to flee. People are killed. We see indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets. This is horrendous. And we call on the Russian-backed Syrian regime to stop all the attacks and to engage in UN-led talks to find a peaceful solution.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay. Associated Press, up there.

LORNE COOK [Associated Press]: Lorne Cook, Associated Press. Secretary General, I just want to take you back to the discussion yesterday about Iraq, the Iraq Mission. Obviously, I and quite a few of my colleagues were writing about it and you’ve suggested that Friday there might be some more movement to signal. Is there anything that perhaps you can . . . you can tell us that’s happened in between time yesterday?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, between the press conference yesterday and today, we have slept and we had one meeting where we discussed deterrence and defence. So not so much has happened.

But it’s right that I will meet with the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh tomorrow morning. And that just reflects the fact that NATO, of course, is closely coordinating and consulting with the Global Coalition, because we are working together with them in Iraq. And NATO is a member of the Coalition and we support the Coalition.

And now we are looking into how we can better coordinate and also whether we can change some of the responsibilities between the between the Coalition and NATO. We do this in close coordination with the Coalition. We do it also, of course, in close consultation with the Iraqi government. I have spoken several times with the Iraqi Prime Minister and NATO is in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government. The government of Iraq has confirmed to us their desire for continuation of the NATO training, advising and capacity-building activities for the Iraqi armed forces. And we will only stay in Iraq as long as we are welcomed.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, lady over here.

QUESTION [Ukrainian TV]: Mr General Secretary, I am from Ukrainian TV, and you have mentioned your morning meeting with the Ukrainian Defence Minister. In conclusion, after these negotiations, how do you estimate reforms in Ukraine and how can we extend our deep cooperation with NATO? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG: We had a very good meeting with the Ukrainian Defence Minister. All Allies met with him and the Allies expressed strong support to Ukraine, to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, to its sovereignty. And they also promised and stated clearly that we’ll continue to provide practical support and political support.

The North Atlantic Council, I, we all visited Kiev and Ukraine not so long ago. And then we also went to Odessa, where we saw the Naval Academy, where we have NATO advisers, NATO trainers. We saw Allied - NATO-Allied ships in the harbour of Odessa. And I think this demonstrates very clearly that we speak about both practical cooperation and political support.

Several NATO Allies and also Canada hosted the breakfast. They actually help with training, help train, they have trained thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. And it is important for us to continue to support Ukraine.

To do so, it is also important that Ukraine continue on the path of reform. We commend Ukraine for the progress they have made. We commend President Zelenskyy for the initiative he has taken to renew the efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine. We welcome also, therefore, the new high-level meetings within the Normandy Format. We welcome the fact that we have seen some prisoner exchanges and also some disengagement zones have been expanded. So we have seen some progress.

There are many problems, for instance, we see constant violations of the ceasefire. We see that the OSCE monitors are not able to operate freely and safely. But we strongly support the efforts to find a peaceful solution. This is a war going on in Europe, not far from NATO. And of course, this matters for all of us.

OANA LUNGESCU: OK. We’ll go over there - gentleman over there.

QUESTION [Polish Radio] … [Inaudible], Polish Radio. Secretary General, I would like to take the follow up to the issue of INF Treaty, which you’ve mentioned, you’ve discussed this morning. What exactly does this package of measures contain? Will it be more exercises in Europe? Or will they be more massive? And when this package will be fully ready I would say? Thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG: I think that it’s important to understand that the deployment of the SSC-8 missiles, which violated the INF Treaty and led to the demise of the INF Treaty, they are part of a pattern we have seen over several years. Russia investing heavily in new, modern capabilities, advance missile systems, dual-capable systems. And also systems that are reducing the warning times significantly and increases the risk for miscalculation, misunderstanding and therefore, also, are serious challenges to the stability of, and the security of European Allies.

That’s the reason why we have already started to respond to this pattern of Russian behaviour. So we have already started to respond by implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War, with higher readiness of our forces, with combat-ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, with investment in new, high-end capabilities and with increased defence spending. So we have to put the SSC-8 into a broader picture. And NATO has already started to respond to this broader picture.

Then we are looking into more specific issues related to the SSC-8 and also other missile systems. And this is partly about exercises, partly about air and missile defence, conventional capabilities and our nuclear posture. And, of course, also new initiatives on arms control, because the best way of addressing this is to re-establish systems for arms control. We do whatever we can to prevent a new arms race.

A new arms race, especially nuclear weapons, is not good. It’s dangerous and it is expensive. So, therefore, we will continue to work for arms control to address the challenges and the gaps we now see after the demise of the INF Treaty.

But let me underline that we will not mirror what Russia has done. We will have no intention of deploying land-based nuclear missiles in Europe. But we have to make sure that we have credible deterrence and defence also without the INF Treaty.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, we’ll go over there.

SIARHEI PELESA [BELSAT TV]: My question is also about INF Treaty. As we know, Belarus is respecting the INF Treaty, even after it’s over last year. But we see that Putin’s pressure on Belarus is stronger and stronger. We’re talking about so-called incorporation or integration. What do you think NATO can do to avoid potential dislocation of Russian missiles also in Belarus, not only in Kaliningrad? Do you think it’s a good time to meet with Belarussian officials to talk about it . . . to talk about it, to talk about these initiatives?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Belarus is a partner of NATO and we appreciate the partnership with Belarus. And Belarus is a sovereign nation and take sovereign decisions and we respect those decisions.

We also urge, of course, Russia to respect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of all nations in Europe, including Belarus. So, for us this is about respecting that all the nations in Europe are sovereign nations, with the right to make their own decisions without interference from neighbours.

OANA LUNGESCU: One last question, Jordan Times.

MOHAMMAD GHAZAL [The Jordan Times]: As Daesh threat remains, do you believe that your plan for beefed-up training in Iraq is enough at this stage? And could it be developed into something more in the future depending on circumstances? And how do you believe your plan will satisfy US President Donald Trump? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: We have now started the process where we are going to increase our presence in Iraq. We are going to do it step-wise and we will also look into what we can do beyond the current presence of NATO troops. So we are going to increase our presence. But, of course, we do that in close coordination with the Iraqi government. And every step we take will be in consultation and based on invitation and only when we are welcomed by the Iraqi government.

I think what we have seen is that the Iraqi forces have proven that they are capable of fighting Daesh. Because the Iraqi forces have been on the forefront, liberating the territory and the millions of people that ISIS controlled in Iraq not so many months ago. We supported them, meaning the Global Coalition and NATO, we supported them – all NATO Allies are part of the Global Coalition – we supported them, but the heavy fighting, the soldiers on the frontline, almost all of them were Iraqi soldiers.

So I strongly believe that the best thing we can do to make sure that ISIS does not return is, of course, to enable the Iraqis to fight Daesh in Iraq themselves. So, training local forces is one of the best weapons we have against ISIS.

Then we have to assess the need, and to follow the developments closely and in close consultation and coordination and based on invitation from the Iraqi government. We will also, of course, consider to step up. But those are decisions we have to take later on, based on developments.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. This concludes this press point. Thank you.