by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO Public Forum

  • 11 Jul. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 11 Jul. 2023 11:29

(As delivered)

Andrea Mitchell, News Chief Foreign Correspondent, MSNBC: Good Morning, I am Andrea Mitchell, Correspondent for NBC News and host of Andrea Mitchell Reports on MSNBC, and it is my great honor to be here to have a conversation with the Secretary General. And thank you so much for the invitation to this forum. Secretary General, first congratulations on the extension of yet another year. In the middle of a war. I think the world is grateful that you are here to continue to lead this organization. I want to talk to you about the message that you want to send from this meeting at this Summit. First, importantly, of course, there is what the news that you have announced that you have persuaded Turkey to accept Sweden's entry. [Inaudible] do you have that? What concessions has NATO given or others given, the US perhaps, to get Erdogan, President Erdogan to agree?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: So first of all, you can read everything the statement we issued yesterday. So, you can just log on the NATO homepage.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: You have to give us the back story.

Secretary General: No, no, but that tells actually what we have agreed. And first of all, the most important message is that this Summit is already historic before it has started. Because we have now in place, Swedish membership. Sweden will become a full-fledged member of this Alliance. That's good for Sweden. It's good for Türkiye, and it's good for the whole of NATO and it's also good for the Baltic region. And we have the president of Lithuania, our host nation for the Summit, President Nauseda and also Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and they know that with both Finland and Sweden into the Alliance the whole task of protecting the Baltic area becomes so much easier for this Alliance. So this is important for the whole of NATO, but in particular this region. So this is an historic decision, an historic moment and an historic Summit. And then people think it's very mysterious, but it's not very mysterious. It's actually the fact that this is in the interest of Türkiye. And then of course, Türkiye very early raised some legitimate security concerns related to terrorism. And since Madrid when we agreed to invite both countries Finland and Sweden, we have stepped up and in particular Sweden and Türkiye have stepped up what they do together to fight terrorism. Sweden has amended its constitution, Sweden has strengthened counterterrorism laws, they have established mechanisms to work more closely to change intelligence and information between Sweden and Türkiye. And just few days ago, we had a decision in the Swedish court where a member of PKK was convicted to help to finance terrorism. These are the kinds of examples and the implementation of the agreement in Madrid that enabled the announcement yesterday. So as a neighbor of Sweden, it's great to have Sweden as a full member and we will all be safer.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: But would you expect that Turkey will be getting F-16s from the United States?

Secretary General: That's a decision by the United States and it has been made very clear by Türkiye that they don't see any link. Because we have stated, I have stated, and NATO has always been clear that we should do what we can to remove and eliminate restrictions on arms exports between Allies. And I welcome any dialogue between Türkiye and the United States on F-16, but that's not part of the agreement we reached yesterday.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: How quickly can Sweden be admitted?

Secretary General: First of all it was promised yesterday to submit the ratification papers as soon as possible to the Grand National Assembly. Then of course they have to have their parliamentary process in Türkiye. So it's not for me to go into the details about exact timelines. The Turkish Parliament's is not in session now. But the most important thing is that we have a clear decision by Türkiye that they will ratify, they will submit the accession protocol and therefore, I'm absolutely confident that we have now solved the main issue that there will be also ratification in Türkiye.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC 
I know that there is a great interest in projecting the unity of the Alliance which you have helped bring together in which our countries have all worked very hard on but there are disagreements. Let me talk about cluster bombs, because there are so many countries, the UK, France, Germany, more than 100 nations have banned their use of the cluster munitions. President Biden has indicated it was a very difficult decision, and that he thought it was necessary because of the shortage of ammunition. We all knew the counter offensive was going to begin. Why haven't the countries provided enough ammunition, enough munitions, Conventional Munitions, so that there would be no need for these dreadful weapons?

Secretary General 
A big role you have to realize that this war has now become and actually been for many months a war of attrition and a war of attrition is a battle logistics. The need to supply with ammunition, with spare parts, with fuel, with repair, with maintenance is enormous. And of course we realize that also, just last fall, so we started to engage with industry from the NATO side, individual allies and slowly production is now increasing, ramping up I welcome that. But the problem is that as since we didn't have big enough stocks in the beginning and since production capacity was not big enough when this war started, it takes some time before we have all the production capacity in place. So in that meantime, the supply of ammunition is a challenge. So far allies have depleted stocks. But of course in the long run, that's not a sustainable option. We need to get up production and we are very focused on that. At the last NATO defence ministerial meeting we met with industry. And now gradually more and more allies are signing long term contracts. We also use NATO support and procurement agency to have joint procurement to utilize the economy of scale to get our unit costs, the EU is also doing a lot to increase production. So all these efforts are gradually having an impact we welcome that. But the remains the fact that at least in the short term, there is a –there's a challenge that Ukraine is running low on ammunition and therefore we need to do whatever we can to supply them with as much ammunition as we can. Then on the specific issue of exactly what kind of ammunition that's a national decision of each and every ally. Some allies have signed the Convention on Cluster ammunition, some allies have not. So this is not a NATO position. Allies have different positions on that convention. What we need to understand is that cluster munition has been used on both sides in this war already, they are already in use in the conflict. The difference is that Russia is using cluster munition to invade another country to occupy Ukraine, while Ukraine is using cluster munition to defend itself against the Russian aggression.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC 
President Zelenskyy has acknowledged that it is very hard-going Russia’s defences are embedded in the terrain, is much more difficult. How critical is this counter offensive? Are you concerned that this could become a frozen conflict?

Secretary General 
So wars are by nature unpredictable, wars tend to last longer than we expect. But our only answer is that we need to stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes and we need to step up and sustain our support to Ukraine. That will be the clear message from this summit. That has been the message from NATO allies and partners now since the war started. And then we had to remember that the war actually started in 2014. What we saw in February last year was the full-fledged invasion and NATO allies have been providing, have provided support to Ukraine since 2014 that we stepped up after full-fledged invasion. Yes, the counteroffensive is of course extremely important, the Ukrainians are gaining ground, pushing back to the Russian occupiers, but they meet fierce resistance that dug in Russian positions, prepared defences, minefields, dragon teeth and a lot of other fixed defences. Of course this is a challenge. But again, the only answer from our side is to support Ukraine.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC 
Are you confident that this Summit will agree on security guarantees for Ukraine post-war?

Secretary General 
I'm confident that we will make strong and united decisions on Ukraine both to sustain and step up our support. I'm also confident that on the membership issue, allies will reaffirm that Ukraine will become a member and I put forward at the [informal] foreign ministerial meeting in Oslo in May a package on how to move forward on the membership issue. And that was a package of three elements. One was to step up practical support not least to have a multi-year program to ensure that Ukrainian forces become fully interoperable with NATO forces. That's the first element. The second element is to strengthen the political ties with establishing the NATO-Ukraine Council and I expect us to have the –we will have the inaugural meeting tomorrow. And that will be a new body that actually ensures that we meet as equals Ukraine and other NATO allies and also a council that can make decisions. And the third element in the package I put forward at the [Informal] Foreign Ministerial meeting in May, was to remove the requirement for Membership Action Plan. Because Ukraine has come a long way since we made that decision in 2008 that the next step will be a Membership Action Plan. Ukraine is much closer to NATO. So I think the time has come to reflect that and in also the NATO decisions. So all put together, including that we make clear that Ukraine will become a member, we remove the Membership Action Plan we make their forces interoperable with NATO forces. We established the NATO Ukraine Council all that together, will send a very strong and positive message from NATO to Ukraine.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC 
Are you concerned about, as this probe war becomes more protracted? Are you concerned though about pressure, for pressure for negotiations and lack of support in the United States at election year, which we're hearing from some quarters in both parties?

Secretary General 
So what we have seen is, is an enormous will from all allies across Europe and North America to support Ukraine. And if we look at the opinion polls, the support remains very high. Of course, it varies a bit within countries it goes a bit up and down. But the main message is strong bipartisan support in the United States, but also across Europe, and Canada, to stand by Ukraine. And I think the support for Ukraine is strong, partly because people feel solidarity with Ukraine. It will be a tragedy for Ukraine if President Putin wins, but I think also people realize the very simple fact that if President Putin wins in Ukraine, it will be not only bad for Ukrainians, it will be dangerous for us, because then the message will be to all authoritarian leaders that when they use military force, when they violate international law, when they invade another country, they get what they want. And that will make the world even more dangerous, and we will become more vulnerable. So it's in our security interest to support Ukraine. And that's the reason why I also welcomed very strong support from NATO allies. Let me add one more thing, and that is that what you also see now is that allies are investing more in defence. We just published the latest figures a couple of days ago, 8.3% real increase in defence spending across Europe and Canada, it’s the biggest in decades. And it shows that allies are now also taking this extremely seriously and investing more in defence to ensure both our collective defence but also our ability to continue to support Ukraine.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC 
I think we have a couple of minutes for questions in the audience. There are microphone stands on either side. Yes, Sir, but please go to the microphone. It is in the centre, I am sorry.

Oleksiy Goncharenko, Member of the Parliament of Ukraine
Yeah, hello. Oleksiy Goncharenko, member of the Parliament of Ukraine. First of all, thank you very much for all you said in support of our country. But the most important from the ground I can tell you is that millions of Ukrainians are looking to Vilnius today with hope. We want to see the word ‘invitation’ or ‘to invite’ from NATO to Ukraine. I have a direct question to you. Will it happen? That would boost the morale of the Ukrainians enormously. If this would not happen, that would be really demoralising. Thank you very much.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC 
Thank you, Sir. I think we are just about out of time. If you could give a very brief answer, Secretary General.

Secretary General
You will see the language in a few hours because we are now finalising the communique. There we will have the language. I said something about the elements I believe will be in there. But it is for the leaders to finally endorse and agree the communique. Then you can read the exact language. But what I can say is that I am confident that it will be a positive and strong message on Ukraine and the path forward for membership.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC 
Thank you so very much. Thanks to all of you.