Online press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the second day of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers

  • 23 Oct. 2020 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 24 Oct. 2020 09:36

(As delivered)

Online press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the second day of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers

Good afternoon.

NATO Defence Ministers have just finished a meeting on NATO’s missions in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

The next months are decisive for Afghanistan.

The negotiations in Doha are fragile, but they are best chance for peace in a generation.

And all Afghans should seize this historic opportunity.

NATO backs the peace process.

And we have adjusted our presence to support it.

A few years ago, we had over a hundred thousand troops engaged in combat operations.

Now, we have reduced our presence to under 12,000.

We decided to go into Afghanistan together; we will make decisions about future adjustments together; and we will leave together, when the time is right.

The Taliban must reduce the unacceptable levels of violence. To pave the way for a ceasefire.

They must break all ties with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

So that Afghanistan never again serves as a platform for terrorist attacks on our countries.

And it is important to preserve the gains made over the last two decades with so much sacrifice. Not least for women and girls, so that peace benefits every Afghan.
And is sustainable in the long-term.

We also discussed NATO’s training mission in Iraq.

While the security situation remains challenging, NATO remains committed to stepping up our support.

Our aim is to help build self-sustaining Iraqi forces able to fight terrorism,
prevent the return of ISIS,
and stabilise their country.

Today ministers tasked our military commanders to expand our mission in Iraq.

We will continue to consult with the Global Coalition and the Iraqi authorities about the way ahead. 

We discussed the rise in the number and sophistication of attacks against the international presence in Iraq, which is concerning.

And I remain in close contact with Prime Minister Kadhimi and his government.


Finally, NATO ministers marked the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

We recognise the disproportionate impact that conflict has on women and girls,
the vital roles women play in peace and security,
and the importance of incorporating gender perspectives in everything we do. 

From protecting civilians in our missions,
to our training and operations with gender advisors working with local communities.

We must continue this work.
Because none of us can succeed unless we  use everybody’s potential – men and women.

And with that I am ready to take your questions.

OANA LUNGESCU [NATO Spokesperson]: And for the first question we’re going to Kabul, to TOLOnews, Mir Aqa Popal.

MIR AQA POPAL [TOLOnews]: Yeah, thank you very much, Mr Secretary. As you know, the level of the violence in Afghanistan have increased by the Taliban, they have increased their attacks in various provinces of Afghanistan and we see tens of Afghan forces have . . . are being killed. Recently there was an IED attack, even on NATO troops, for the first time after the Taliban signed the peace agreement, with the Taliban. So what’s your message to the Taliban? And if they don’t reduce the violence, what will happen?  Also, the next part of my question is that if your withdrawal from Afghanistan is conditions-based or not. Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]:  The attack on the NATO forces demonstrates that the situation in Afghanistan remains difficult and challenging, including for the NATO Mission there. And at the Defence Ministerial meeting today, ministers expressed their support to Romania and expressed the best wishes to the wounded Romanian soldiers and wished them speedy recovery.

The attack demonstrates the need for Taliban to do whatever they can to reduce the levels of violence. The Resolute Support Mission, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, is now investigating this attack. But anyway, it’s clear that it is important that we see a reduction in the force, in the level of violence, in the number of attacks in Afghanistan. That is the only way to a lasting peace. And that’s, of course, also the only way to achieve a lasting ceasefire.

What is clear is that NATO Allies are committed to Afghanistan. We are committed to our joint fight against international terrorism and we are committed to the peace process.

It is stated clearly that our presence is conditions-based, and that’s exactly why we call on Taliban to live up to their commitments and reduce violence and also make sure that they break all ties with al-Qaeda.

And then Allies will together assess the situation. And I think it is clear that we will face a dilemma in the coming months, because we can either decide to leave Afghanistan and then risk to see that the gains we have made will be lost and that Afghanistan again, can become a safe haven for international terrorists.

Or we can decide to stay, but then, of course, risk to continue a long-term commitment in Afghanistan and also continue to face intensified fighting with Taliban. So this is a dilemma we will face as an alliance. We will discuss and assess the situation together and then make our decisions.

OANA LUNGESCU: For the next question, we go to London, Nick Fiorenza from Jane’s Defence.

NICHOLAS FIORENZA [Jane’s Defence]: Hello. Yes, thanks for taking my question. I had a chance to look at some of the figures on defence spending and was just wondering, first of all – I’ve asked you this before, but time has passed since . . . since then – do you think that COVID-19 could have an impact on the increase in defence spending? I mean, we see some countries already reducing defence spending as a result of COVID-19. And then a second question, something that came up since I submitted that subject as a question. What is your reaction to President Erdoğan’s confirmation that the S-400 has actually been tested by Turkey?

JENS STOLTENBERG: First on the defence spending figures. The figures we published actually this week, updated figures for defence spending for all NATO Allied countries. They confirm that all Allies are increasing defence spending and all Allies are investing more in defence. And we have no indication that this will change. Actually, we expect the trend to continue, that Allies will continue to invest more in defence. And that’s also what they have submitted to us in their different national plans.

Then, of course, I understand that it is difficult to invest in defence in the midst of a health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, we all know that the threats and the challenges that made us make the commitment together, all Allies, to invest more, those threats and challenges have not disappeared, they’re still there. So the reasons why we committed to invest more are still there. And that’s the reason, also, I urge Allies to continue to make good on their promises.

And second, we have also seen during the pandemic that the military, they are playing a key role in providing support to the civilian health services in coping with the pandemic. NATO provides support. We provide support to Allies. Just today, it was announced that NATO and NATO Allies will provide medical support to the Czech Republic with ventilators, but also with medical military personnel. And in that way, the value of military capabilities is also helping to cope with a health crisis has been demonstrated over the last years.

So what we see is that Allies continue to invest and that across Europe and Canada defence spending has now increased for six consecutive years, including this year with 4.3 percent growth.

Then on the S-400, I have stated several times that I am concerned about the consequences of the Turkish decision to acquire S-400 system. And this is, of course, a national decision. But at the same time, what matters for NATO is that we have interoperability when, especially when it comes to air and missile defence and the S-400 system cannot be integrated, cannot be part of the NATO integrated air and missile defence.

OANA LUNGESCU: The next question goes to Ansgar Haase from the German news agency DPA.

ANSGAR HAASE [DPA]: Secretary General, a quick question on Iraq. When do you expect the start of the extended mission? And can you please give us a rough estimation how many troops could be necessary to fulfil the new tasks? And perhaps a second question on the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. There are rumours that there is an agreement on a moratorium on military exercises. Can you confirm this? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: What was the first question, to be honest?

ANSGAR HAASE: The first question was on Iraq.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  Yeah, yeah. Sorry. Now, well, on Iraq, I can say that we were forced to reduce the number of personnel in the current Training Mission, partly because of COVID and partly because of the health situation earlier this year. Now we are almost at full capacity again. So we have moved some of the trainers and the personnel back into Iraq and the size of their current mission is roughly 500 personnel.

It’s too early to say anything exact about the size of the enhanced mission, but it will be significantly larger than the current mission. We have now started the detailed planning and we will agree the details, the new operation plan at our defence ministerial meeting in February. And I am, we are, closely consulting both with the Iraqi government, but also with the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh. So, what we envisages is a significantly larger, an expanded NATO Training Mission in Iraq. But I think it would be too early to give you exact figures, because now we are conducting the detailed planning in close coordination with the Iraqi government and the Global Coalition.

On the Eastern Mediterranean, I can confirm that both Greece and Turkey have decided to cancel military exercises which were planned for next week on their national holidays. I welcome this decision. This is a very welcomed step. And I once again commend Greece and Turkey, two valued NATO Allies, for their flexibility and a constructive approach they have shown.

We discussed the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean at our meeting yesterday. It was also raised and discussed today. And I will say that we had good and constructive talks and Allies expressed strong support to the NATO deconfliction mechanism. I welcome now the fact that we have been able to see some concrete steps in that direction with the cancellation of the two exercises, which will help to deconflict and help to also, hopefully, move towards addressing the underlying dispute between the two countries.

And I welcome deconfliction, I welcome the cancellation of the two military exercises, the Greek and the Turkish exercises, partly because it reduces risks for incidents and accidents, but also because it helped to pave the way, to pave the way for negotiations on the underlying problem. And I welcome also the efforts of Germany to facilitate and to help these negotiations to start – and I hope the exploratory talks can start as soon as possible.

I think also it demonstrates that NATO is a platform where Allies meet every day. And when we see differences and disagreements, they can meet, discuss and then address these differences. And that’s exactly what we have done at the Defence Ministerial meeting today and yesterday.

I will also just say that it is important that we now try to avoid inflammatory words and actions so we can further reduce the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

OANA LUNGESCU: And for the next question, we go to Teri Schultz from NPR/Deutsche Welle.

TERI SCHULTZ [NPR/Deutsche Welle]: Hello. Thank you very much. The latest news today on Libya is that there has been a ceasefire agreed between the two sides. This is, of course, something that NATO, I would imagine, takes great interest in. I’m wondering if you’ve reached out to . . . to any of the parties, given that you do talk to them. And if we have any reason to believe, since there was one I think announced already just back in August, that this . . . that this ceasefire would hold? And what can NATO do? What responsibility does NATO have to try to, you know, reinforce this and also bring the . . . bring NATO Allies together on this issue? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So we welcome the announced ceasefire. We strongly support the UN efforts to try to find a political peaceful solution to the conflict in Libya. And, of course, the first important step of any lasting peaceful solution is a ceasefire.

Then it is important that all parties respect the ceasefire, implement the ceasefire. And we have seen before that that’s not always the case. Therefore, I think we need the strongest possible call on all parties to, at this time, respect and implement the ceasefire.

NATO is not on the ground in Libya, but we support the UN efforts and NATO Allies are supporting also their efforts in different ways. We have the Berlin Process and again, NATO supports also that initiative, which is actually underpinning the UN-led effort.

So I think the message from all of us is that now we have one important step in the right direction and let’s do everything we can to make sure that this is implemented and turned into reality, that we really see a ceasefire which is fully respected and implemented.

OANA LUNGESCU: Now for the next question, Czech Radio, Martin Balucha. The next question then, we seem to be having some problems with Martin and so we’re going over to Lailuma Sadid from Afghan Voice.

LAILUMA SADID [Afghan Voice]: So, thank you very much. Just a follow-up question, regarding to my colleague, he said, also, Secretary General, you mentioned that the Taliban must reduce the violence of . . . the level of violence, but the Taliban always refusing. What’s your solution on that? And also, how does NATO see the future of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the global force from Afghanistan? Thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG: We are in Afghanistan to fight international terrorism. And we went into Afghanistan after a terrorist attack on the United States, 9/11, 2001. And, of course, our aim is not to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary. No-one wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than we have to.

But at the same time, it is important that we don’t leave too early, because we need to make sure that Afghanistan doesn’t once again become a safe haven for international terrorists, a platform where they can organise, plan, train, finance terrorist attacks against our nations.

 And then there will be a difficult decision, there will be some difficult decisions to make, some dilemmas we are faced with, and that is to assess the situation: when is it possible to leave? Or are we forced to continue to stay? And that’s exactly these kind of decisions we have to make, therefore, in the coming months. And we had a good discussion about this at the Defence Ministerial meeting yesterday and today. And we will, of course, then assess the situation, we will consult between Allies and partners and then make our final decisions.

At the end of the day, peace in Afghanistan has to be created by the Afghans themselves. We can help. We can support. NATO Allies and partners have been supporting and helping Afghanistan for close to now two decades, with military support, with financial support, and we will stay committed to Afghanistan. But our military presence is, of course, something we have to assess in light of the peace process, in light of the negotiations and then make our final decisions. Because what we are working for is a situation where the Afghans themselves can stabilise their own country and where they are able to prevent Afghanistan again being a place where terrorists can operate freely.

So these are the dilemmas, these are the decisions we have to take in the coming months, and we have started that discussion now in NATO.

OANA LUNGESCU: For the next question, we have Tommaso Gallavotti from Adnkronos Agency, Italy.

TOMMASO GALLAVOTTI [Adnkronos, Italy]: Yes. Can you hear me?

OANA LUNGESCU: Yes we can.

TOMMASO GALLAVOTTI: Okay. Thanks a lot. Secretary General, good afternoon, thank you for taking my questions. It’s just about Turkey and Nagorno-Karabakh, because French President Emmanuel Macron said that Turkey has sent in a lot of jihadis from Syria into Azerbaijan to fight against the Armenians. I know you . . . you have already stated that NATO is not a part in this conflict. But do you think that it is an acceptable behaviour by a NATO Ally to sending proxies, notably jihadists, to fight a war? The second one is also about Turkey, if I may. The . . .  Erdoğan said . . . said once again, the ship Oruc Reis in Kastellorizo in . . . near Greek waters, I wonder if you have anything to say about this development? And the third one – I’m sorry to take advantage of your patience, but it’s just a curiosity about Italy, because it is widely reported that Matteo Renzi, a former Italian prime minister, would like to become the next Secretary General of NATO. Do you think that he would be good Secretary General at NATO? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, so, my focus is on doing a good job as Secretary General of NATO and it’s not for me to discuss what will happen after that.

Then, on the Oruc Reis, I believe it is important to avoid actions which can exacerbate the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. And while I do not take a position on the legal issues and the legal claims, it is a fact that refraining from seismic activities has had a positive effect on the situation.

And, therefore, I also welcome the flexibility we have seen both from Turkey and from Greece and the announcement Greece and Turkey made in a meeting today that they have cancelled their respective military exercises next week. These are steps in the right direction and it helps to reduce the risks for incidents and accidents and I hope, also, it can be something we can build on and hopefully also then support the efforts of Germany to facilitate exploratory talks about the underlying dispute between the two countries.  

Nagorno-Karabakh, we are extremely concerned about the situation. We call on cessation of all hostilities. Fighting has to stop. And, of course, we are also extremely concerned about the high number of civilian casualties. Any targeting of civilians is absolutely unacceptable and violating international law.

NATO is not part of this conflict. We support the efforts of the Minsk Group to find a political solution.

In the meantime, we convey a very strong message about the need to stop all fighting and then look for a diplomatic, peaceful solution.

OANA LUNGESCU: So we’ll try to go, for the final question, to go once again to Prague, to Martin Balucha from Czech Radio. Martin, I hope you’ve unmuted your microphone. Please go ahead.

MARTIN BALUCHA [Czech Radio]:    Good afternoon. Can you hear me now?

OANA LUNGESCU: Yes, we can.

MARTIN BALUCHA: Thank you so much for having me. NATO decided today to provide ventilators to Czech Republic in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic. Could you please briefly articulate how many ventilators will NATO provide? What form will provide, will it be a loan or a donation, when those ventilators will arrive to Czech Republic? You were also speaking a military presence, NATO military presence in Czech Republic, could you elaborate briefly on this? And the last question, will NATO provide a similar kind of help to other members of the Alliance? Thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The Czech Republic asked for 60 ventilators and we will provide 60 ventilators and they will arrive very soon, as far as I am informed. We will also provide, from NATO Allies, some medical personnel. The US has announced that they will send some medical personnel and I think also other Allies are looking into that.

This is part of a joint effort where NATO Allies go together. And we also have a Coordination Centre for responding to disasters, natural disasters, including health or pandemics. And we have used this mechanism throughout the crisis to mobilise support from Allies to other Allies and partners. So we have seen a lot of this over the last months, where Allies have provided critical support, everything from transportations of patients, medical personnel, setting up field hospitals and just, you know, lift capacity, strategic airlift, to move essential equipment from different storage sites to where they are most needed.

All Allies are affected by this pandemic, but not all Allies are affected in the same way at the same time. And, of course, some Allies have more capacity than others. So the fact that we are helping each other, increases the total capacity of NATO Allies to respond to this health crisis.

It also demonstrates that throughout the Alliance, the military is playing a key role in helping the civilian efforts to fight the pandemic, COVID-19.

So I welcome what we also see when it comes to support for the Czech Republic. This donation – which is a donation, not a loan – is made from our stockpile, which we have established. And the United States and Hungary have provided ventilators to the stockpile.

So we have established a financial mechanism, we have established an operational plan, and we have established a stockpile to further strengthen the way NATO and NATO military can provide support to the civilian efforts in coping with COVID-19 and we have done a lot, but I expect, of course, NATO Allies and our militaries to do even more, as we now face a second wave of the pandemic.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much, Secretary General. This concludes this press conference, ending the meeting of NATO defence ministers.