by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the joint press point with the President of the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev
Prime Minister Zaev,
Happy birthday. It’s really a great honour that you are here today at the NATO Headquarters to celebrate your birthday.
And it is great to have you here, you are an old friend, and it is especially nice to have you here today because I can congratulate you on your birthday but also congratulate on your re-election, as Prime Minister.
We all know it’s hard to be elected, but it’s even harder to be re-elected. And now you are re-elected as the Prime Minister of North Macedonia.
This year, we welcomed North Macedonia to the NATO family.
A sovereign country in a strong Alliance.
With a seat at our table, and an equal voice in shaping our decisions.
Your country’s NATO membership is a remarkable achievement.
It comes after years of determination and commitment to reform.
It is good for the people of North Macedonia.
Because security that NATO helps to provide promotes prosperity and investments from abroad.
And it contributes to Euro-Atlantic security.
Your troops serve in Afghanistan.
You provide valuable support to NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.
And I welcome that you have increased defence spending, and plan to invest 2% of GDP in defence by 2024.
So North Macedonia is a reliable Ally and we are happy to have you in our midst.
At times like these, friends and Allies are more important than ever.
North Macedonia has not stood alone during the COVID-19 pandemic.
NATO’s disaster relief centre coordinated assistance to North Macedonia.
And Allies delivered medical supplies and financial aid to ease the burden on your healthcare system, and to save lives.
Today, I can announce that North Macedonia will receive a COVID-19 assistance package from NATO’s new medical stockpile.
This will include 60 ventilators and other urgently needed equipment worth approximately 1.4 million euros. And this comes of course in addition to the aid and support we have already delivered.
This is NATO solidarity in action.
At the same time, the security challenges we faced before the pandemic have not gone away.
We are responding to hybrid and cyber threats.
Including disinformation targeting our institutions, our values and our democracies.
NATO is here to help Allies. Our new Counter-Hybrid Support Teams are ready to help Allies counter a wide range of hybrid attacks.
NATO will not allow this health crisis to become a security crisis.
So Prime Minister, dear Zoran,
Thank you once again for being here today.
Whatever the challenge,
we are stronger and safer together.
So once again, welcome, good to see you.
Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Thank you very much. We now have time for a few questions. We'll start with Despina Todorovska, TV Sitel.
Question: Thank you. I have one question for Secretary General. In anticipation of the new Corona virus, the numbers in Macedonia are already starting to grow rapidly. Does NATO have any mechanism for systems that can be expected? What kind of assistance can Macedonia receive in next months? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: What we have seen over the last weeks is an increase in the number of COVID cases across Europe. It has increased not only in North Macedonia, but in almost all European countries, that's the case, because we see that. No country has yet been able to fully control the spread of the virus. And we are seeing significant increases in many European countries.
That's the reason why NATO has been planning and why NATO has been acting for a long time already. We have already done a lot by coordinating efforts of military personnel - our armed forces, in supporting the civilian efforts to deal with a pandemic. What we have seen across the lines is that our armed forces have helped to set up field hospitals to transport medical equipment, to transport patients, and also to help, for instance, disinfect public places.
So, one of the lessons we have learned from the pandemic so far is the importance of having military personnel and military capabilities ready to provide support to the civilian health services. And that's exactly what NATO is going to continue to do: to coordinate, to mobilise this kind of support. We have done it for North Macedonia; we are already providing critical support to North Macedonia, and we will do more.
Today I announced that we will provide ventilators, and we will provide other urgently needed equipment to help and support North Macedonia.
We are working to further strengthen our capabilities to provide support because we need to work together, stand together in the fight against this pandemic and NATO is playing its part in mobilising support from North Macedonia and other NATO Allies.
Oana Lungescu: The next question comes from Damon Wake, AFP. Damon can't connect right now so I'll read out his question to the Secretary General. What is your response to President Trump's announcement, his tweets, that he plans to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by Christmas? Has this plan been drawn up in consultation with Allies?
Jens Stoltenberg: NATO is in Afghanistan to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. And we have to remember that the reason why NATO is in Afghanistan is an attack on the United States. When the United States was attacked on 9/11 2001, then NATO for the first time in our history invoked our collective defence clause, Article 5. And hundreds of thousands of soldiers from Europe, from Canada have served shoulder-to-shoulder with US soldiers in Afghanistan to prevent terrorists from once again controlling that country. And we are committed to our mission in Afghanistan because it is in our security interest to make sure that Afghanistan does not once again become a platform where terrorists can plan, organise and conduct terrorist attacks on our own countries. We support the peace process, and we welcome the talks between the government in Afghanistan and the Taliban. And as part of the peace effort, we have reduced our presence in Afghanistan. Not so long ago we had more than a hundred thousand troops in the big combat operation. And now we have roughly 12,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, and they support, they train, assist and advise the African security forces.
We will consult on the future or mission in Afghanistan. It is important that we coordinate our efforts; and out of the 12,000 troops, which are now in Afghanistan, a significant part of those are European troops (...) And then of course we have the American troops in addition, in addition. So this is really an effort of all allies and partners and our approach is a conditions based approach. We will make decisions based on the conditions on the ground, because we think it is extremely important to continue to be committed to the future of Afghanistan, because it is in our interest to preserve the long term security of Afghanistan.
We decided to go into Afghanistan together; we will make decisions on future adjustments together; and when the time is right, we will leave together. And this has been the message from NATO Allies for many, many years and it continues to be the message from NATO Allies.
Oana Lungescu: We can now go I think to Tamara Grncharoska,TELMA TV.
Question: I have a question for the Secretary General, and for the Prime Minister. Secretary General, is there any problem with the approval of a military representative of North Macedonia to NATO requested ten, nine months ago, and still is pending? Will NATO ask to submit - North Macedonia to submit a new name for military representative? And one short if it’s possible. Why NATO still use NMK like code for the country, because with the PRESPA Agreement, the international code for the country is MK or MKD?
And for the Prime Minister: the transformation of the Macedonian army is in accordance with the NATO standards predicts change of some high-ranking army officers, as the case, worst case in some neighbouring countries, and to when this is planned to be finished? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: So, first of all, NATO has some standards and guidelines. And every time we have a new member there are some procedures we have to go through. We have to have a vetting process, and all this takes some time to have all the practical issues in place. We are well on track. We're working closely with the North Macedonians to fix all the remaining issues.
The most important thing is that the North Macedonia is now a member of the Alliance. It participates fully in all NATO decisions; it sits at the table as equal - as an equal voice as all other Allies. So, I appreciate that when I participate in ministerial meetings in NATO I have North Macedonia there, together with the 29 other NATO Allies.
In a few weeks we will have a Defence Ministerial meeting. Then, Minister Radmila Šekerinska will be there together with all the others, And she will take part as a full member. We are all welcoming the fact that North Macedonia is now a full member of this Alliance. There will always be practical issues, and we will sort them out, as we move forward, and they will be fixed.
Zoran Zaev [Prime Minister of the Government of North Macedonia]:
[in Macedonian language]
Oana Lungescu: Okay, we can now go to Tanja Milevska, MIA.
Question: My questions are for the Prime Minister. [in Macedonian language]
Oana Lungescu: Just a reminder that we don't have interpretation, either for the questions or the answers. But I think we have time for one last question from Ivan Mijanovic, Radio & Television Montenegro (RTCG). Go ahead.
Question: Thank you very much. I have a question for Mr Secretary General. Is it acceptable for NATO that members of pro-Serbian parties leave the intelligence services, and to be on the head of defence sector in Montenegro? And did you, did you receive the letter of one of the Montenegrin leaders of … [inaudible] majority where he informs you about the deteriorating security situation in Montenegro? Thank you very much.
Jens Stoltenberg: Again we have standards, guidelines, procedures to secure that everyone that deals with classified documents, information in NATO and in Allied countries meet the NATO standards and that this is done in a safe and secure way. And that's also, of course, the case for Montenegro. We also have an office, a NATO Office of Security, which is always making sure that these security requirements are met. So, that applies regardless of who is in charge, because then there is absolutely requirements which all Allies have to meet.
Then, I'm aware of some of the challenges that Montenegro has faced and we have seen differences during the election campaign, disinformation and attempts in a way to use hybrid tactics against Montenegro. We saw that also some years ago with the coup attempt.
That's one of the reasons why NATO is working together with Montenegro, but also with other Allies, to be able to counter disinformation, to deal with hybrid threats, to deal with cyber-attacks. And we will continue to work closely with Montenegro.
What matters for me is that Montenegro is a new Ally - it became a member just a few years ago. And it is a clear message from Montenegro that they decided, of course, by themselves to join, and Montenegro is very committed to staying a member of NATO. And then we will address difficulties and challenges as we move forward.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much this press point.