by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the informal meeting with EU Defence Ministers
It’s good to be back in Berlin. And it’s good to also have this opportunity to meet with EU Defence Ministers. I think the fact that the NATO Secretary General attends the EU Defence Ministerial meeting demonstrates the close cooperation between NATO and the European Union.
We will address missions and operations. I will update the ministers on NATO's presence in Afghanistan. We stay committed to our presence there because we believe that's the best way to support the peace efforts and we see some encouraging progress. When it comes to moving towards starting inter-Afghan dialogue, inter-Afghan negotiations to create a lasting and peaceful solution to the crisis in Afghanistan.
I will also update the ministers on NATO's work on how to step up our presence in Iraq. Training local forces, training Iraqi security forces, building local capacity is the best way to prevent that ISIS is able to return, and both in Afghanistan and Iraq, NATO and the European Union are working very closely together, and we are now stepping up our efforts in Iraq.
Then of course we are following the crisis in Belarus very closely. It evolves at our borders. The people of Belarus must have the right to decide their own future. All Allies respect the sovereignty, the integrity, the independence of Belarus and NATO remains a defensive Alliance. We are vigilant, we are ready to protect and defend all Allies. But there is no military NATO build up in the region. So any attempt by the regime built in Belarus, to use NATO as an excuse or as a pretext to crack down on the demonstrators in their own country is absolutely wrong, is absolutely unjustified.
We are concerned about the situation in the eastern Mediterranean. What we need is de-escalation, is dialogue. Turkey and Greece have both been important NATO Allies for many years. And we need to find a way to resolve the situation in the eastern Mediterranean, based on the spirit of Allied solidarity and international law, and I welcome the efforts by Germany to mediate to find a way forward. And I'm also personally regularly in contact with both Ankara and Athens. I spoke recently with the Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis. And we continue to provide NATO as a platform for Allies to meet and discuss how to find the solution to this situation in eastern Mediterranean.
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: NATO provided support to the previous EU mission in the Mediterranean, Operation Sophia. Now we are looking into how we can work together with the EU mission, but there’s nothing new about that today.
QUESTION: I have two questions, how much are you worried about the increasing protests in Belarus and the potential influence of Russia. And would you please comment on the assassination attempt of Mr Alexei Navalny?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We are very concerned about the situation in Belarus. We have seen how the regime, how the government has used violence against peaceful demonstrators. And we call on them, the regime, the President, to respect fundamental values, fundamental rights, including the freedom of speech, including the right for peaceful demonstrations, which are part of any democratic society and which are fundamental rights. And, of course, in NATO we are following these developments very closely. They evolve at our borders. And it’s absolutely clear from all NATO Allies that the people in Belarus, they have the right to decide their own future without interference from abroad, interference from Russia. And, of course, have the right to have free and fair elections. And we see attempts to use NATO as a kind of excuse for cracking down on demonstrators, on political opposition in Belarus, which is absolutely wrong, because there is no military build-up by NATO in the region and any attempt by the regime in Minsk, in Belarus, to try to shift the focus from domestic issues to external issues, to create an excuse for using violence against their own people, is not acceptable and it’s wrong and it’s unjustified.
When it comes to Alexei Navalny, we are, of course, concerned about his health. I wish him a speedy recovery. We welcome the efforts of Germany to help him. And the hospital here in Germany that provides medical care for him now, we have no reason to doubt the finding of the doctors in the hospital. And what we need now is a transparent investigation to find out what happened and to make sure that those responsible are held accountable.