Joint press conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal - Secretary General's remarks and Q&As

  • 26 May. 2021 -
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  • Last updated 31-May-2021 08:29

(As delivered)

Prime Minister Costa,
Dear António,

Thank you for your warm welcome. It is always a pleasure to come to Lisbon and to meet with you. 
And also many thanks for your strong personal commitment to our transatlantic bond and your leadeship.
I welcome this opportunity to meet with you and since NATO’s founding, Portugal has been a steadfast and highly valued Ally.
An Atlantic nation at the heart of our transatlantic Alliance. Your armed forces take part in our multinational presence in Romania. You helped to fight international terrorism and instability, through our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and through your presence in Africa.

And Portugal hosts different NATO facilities.
Including our new cutting-edge cyber academy. Which I am proud that you and I will inaugurate together later today. 

Tomorrow I will attend Steadfast Defender 2021. An important exercise, involving over 9,000 troops from more than 20 NATO Allied countries and partners. 

This demonstrates NATO’s readiness. It showcases our ability to project maritime power in an age of geopolitical competition.  

And let me also commend Portugal on your presidency of the European Union. And for making NATO-EU cooperation one of your main priorities.

During our meeting today, we discussed preparations for our Summit next month. 
At the heart of the NATO Summit in Brussels is the NATO 2030 initiative to prepare our Alliance for the future. We face many different challenges which no country or continent can tackle alone. So we must take ambitious decisions. And demonstrate our commitment to the transatlantic bond. Both in words and in deeds.

We also discussed a range of different pressing topics, including as you mentioned, the situation in Belarus.

I strongly condemn the forced landing of a passenger jet on its way from one NATO capital to another. This amounts to state hijacking. Put at risk a large number of citizens of Allied countries. And is a blatant attack by the Minsk regime on fundamental democratic rights and independent media.

I welcome the sanctions agreed by the European Union. And demand the immediate release of journalist Raman Pratasevich and his companion Sofia Sapega. As well as all other political prisoners,  including the members of the Union of Poles.
There needs to be an urgent international investigation into this outrageous incident.

We also addressed Afghanistan, where the drawdown of our troops continues in a coordinated way.
At the same time, NATO remains committed to our enduring partnership with Afghanistan.
This includes continued training and financial sustainment of the Afghan forces,
and supporting all efforts towards a sustainable peace.

We also discussed what more NATO can do to help in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. I commend Portugal’s commitment to this region, which is of strategic importance to NATO. We are looking at ways to step up our support, including through the G5 Sahel and our NATO partner Mauritania.

So once again Prime Minister Costa, thank you for Portugal’s strong commitment to our Alliance and for hosting me and my delegation today. Thank you.

QUESTION: Secretary General Stoltenberg, this is Victoria Waldersee from Reuters. Just a quick question on NATO’s position on the forced landing of the passenger flight. You have called for an international investigation and the release of those captured. Can you expand any further on what specifically NATO's response will be to this incident?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: We condemn strongly the forced landing of a civilian jetliner actually leaving one NATO capital, Athens, and then on its way to another NATO capital, in Vilnius, in Lithuania. And this is absolutely unacceptable. And I think also, it reveals how far the regime in Minsk is willing to go to crack down on democratic forces in its own country. And that it's not only an attack on fundamental democratic rights but also on the important role of independent media.

We support the EU sanctions. Other NATO Allies are imposing similar sanctions. We call on the immediate release of political prisoners in Belarus, and we will continue to push for an independent international investigation into this outrageous incident. So we need to stand together, the international community, and I think it also highlights the importance of NATO and the EU working closely together.

QUESTION [interpreted]: I would like to [inaudible] as President emphasized - of the European Union - there are some red lines which have been crossed by foreign powers. Do you agree with the position of Lukashenko? Is it possible that this action by Belarus might have been led without knowledge of Lukashenko. There is also the question of measures against… to fight the pandemic. My question is whether a situation of calamity, which is everything, which is foreseen [inaudible] civil protection is sufficient to fight against the pandemic?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Okay, first of all the pandemic. I think what we have seen is that it has reminded us of that we need to be prepared for a crisis and for the unforeseen. Of course, throughout NATO, we have seen how the civilian health services has been on the front line, but also how our armed forces have supported those civilian efforts.

Our militaries across NATO, and also organized and facilitated by NATO, have helped to transport critical medical equipment, to transport patients, to set up field hospitals, to help with the rollout of the vaccine. So for me, it is good to see that NATO as Alliance, and also the armed forces throughout the Alliance are able to step up and provide support to governments and civilian efforts to cope with pandemic.

And I think also it illustrates the importance of increased readiness and preparedness for different types of crisis. And then I would like to commend also the leadership of the government in Portugal, and the Prime Minister, in standing up and mobilizing so much strength in the fight against this pandemic.

Prime Minister of Portugal António Costa [interpreted]: I think that [inaudible] has crossed all the possible red lines. It is Belarus which has crossed all possible red lines, Belarus and Lukashenko.

Of course, why did they launch an act which is unimaginable, to organize the hijacking of a civilian airplane, which is flying between two NATO capitals, with the objective of arresting…holding a journalist and […]. It is unacceptable from the point of view of the international law. From the point of view of the defence of human rights. And this is why the European Union has a very clear position forbidding the European air space to any airplane from Belarus and forbidding all European companies to get close to the Belarus… in airplane. And also demanding the immediate release of the two… the couple, and of all political prisoners in Belarus. Of course it was Belarus who crossed the red lines.