Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić

  • 21 Nov. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 21 Nov. 2023 12:10

(As delivered)

President Vučić, dear Aleksandar,

Thank you so much for the warm welcome. It's great to be back in Belgrade and to meet with you again.

Serbia is an important regional actor and a long-standing partner of NATO. A good example of our cooperation is the joint work we have done over the past 10 years through NATO’s Science for Peace Programme. And the way we work together also in different fields under the Science for Peace Programme we work on energy and environmental security, advanced technologies, and cyber-defence. 

I look forward to seeing some of these activities, some examples of our important cooperation between NATO and Serbia when I meet some Serbian scientists later on today, demonstrating how NATO scientists and Serbian scientists are working together. 

During our breakfast and our meeting we also discussed the possibility of resuming joint military exercises. NATO and Serbia have had joint military exercises before and actually you and I also visited the joint Serbian NATO civil preparedness exercise some years ago and we would welcome the possibility of resuming these kind of exercises in the future. And I look forward to further strengthening our cooperation.

President Vučić and I, we just discussed the recent tensions in the north of Kosovo. And the continued importance of NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping mission. For two decades, KFOR has ensured a safe and secure environment in Kosovo for all communities. We will continue to do so impartially, and in line with our UN mandate.  
In May, our KFOR troops were attacked. 93 of them were wounded. Some suffered life changing injuries. In September, we saw another outbreak of serious violence in Kosovo. This is unacceptable. The facts must be established. The perpetrators must face justice. Therefore I welcome that Serbia is prepared to cooperate in these efforts as we also discussed during our meeting.

In the wake of the violence, NATO has deployed around 1,000 additional peacekeepers and heavier armour to Kosovo. This has been the biggest reinforcement of our contingent in Kosovo in a decade. And it shows that NATO stands ready to preserve peace.

I welcome the close and continued coordination between the Serbian armed forces and KFOR. This is important to ensure timely information sharing to avoid any misunderstandings. I count on all sides to reduce tensions and to refrain from escalatory actions. 

As I said, President Vučić, during our meeting, the Serbian military build-up of forces near the administrative boundary line again would not help the situation. 

I welcome the EU’s latest proposals for the establishment of the association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo. This would be a key step toward normalisation of the relationships. I call on Belgrade and Pristina to engage constructively in the EU-facilitated dialogue. This is the only path to a lasting peace and stability. 

We also discussed Russia’s war against Ukraine. We should continue to clearly condemn Russia’s unacceptable aggression. As Ukraine enters a second winter of war, support from NATO Allies and partners remains essential. 

So President Vučić, dear Aleksandar, it’s great to be back and thank you for a very constructive and good meeting.


Moderator: Thank you, Mr. President. We can now move to your questions. Tanjug agency, Marija Stošić.

Marija Stošić (Tanjug): Good afternoon. The first question is for Mr. President, Mr. President, until when the objective for Serbia will be moved? There were speaking about the resignation of Albanian mayors. It did not happen. You mentioned the signed agreement on the community of Serbian municipalities as of 2013 Now, there is going to be a new one with much less authorities than in the Brussels agreement. How far will the scale of Serbia will go? On the condemnation of Banjska action, will someone be accountable for persecution and attacks against Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija? And a question for Mr. Stoltenberg. Will NATO ask for apprehension and bring to justice those who shot [inaudible], who was shot with two bullets by the members of the so called Kosovo Special Police Forces? Thank you.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: NATO is based on some core values and principles and one of those core values and principles is of course, the rule of law and any violation of the rule of law and killings of civilians is absolutely unacceptable. And as always those responsible must be held accountable regardless of who's the perpetrator or who is responsible. Because this is about upholding some core principles, about the rule of law.

Then I think it is important to understand, as also President Vučić alluded to, the role that NATO has: the first responder when it comes to the rule of law is the Kosovo authorities and the Kosovo police, then the second responder is EULEX. And then, NATO's military presence, it is not a law enforcement presence. Our presence is there to ensure stability and to ensure that we live up to our UN mandate in an impartial way. So NATO is not a law enforcing authority in Kosovo, we are there with a military presence and we have actually increased our military presence with around 1000 personnel because of the increased tensions and violence. But rest assure, every time we see violations of the law, we see innocent people killed, then of course, the message is the same, that those responsible must be held accountable.

Then let me just sort of briefly say that I welcome the message from President Vučić on the resumption of joint military exercises. I really believe that NATO and Serbia can do more together and it demonstrates that we have a partnership that goes far beyond the issues we address in Kosovo. We work together on different Science for Peace projects. We work together on joint exercises. And we also are grateful for what Serbia has done in support different activities by NATO and how NATO has helped to work together with Serbia over many years.

The fact that we have exercises together and that we have joint military exercises between Serbia and NATO, doesn't mean that that undermines Serbia’s neutrality. Serbia has made it very clear that it will remain a neutral country, outside military blocks. We totally respect that. But we continue to believe that as a neutral country, outside the military blocks, Serbia can work closely with NATO and that will benefit NATO and benefit Serbia.

Moderator: Mustafa Öztürk, Anadolu Agency. Mustafa.

Mustafa Öztürk (Anadolu): Secretary General, after the armed clashes in north of Kosovo, Pristina demanded NATO to guard its border with Serbia while Serbia demands NATO to provide more security for Serbs living in Kosovo. Is NATO planning to take some steps to provide the requested security?

And also, Serbia will hold the general elections soon, so is there any planning to a secure environment in the north of Kosovo for Serbs living in Kosovo to participate in the elections? Thank you very much.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Again, NATO's presence in Kosovo is based on a UN mandate that gives us an important role to protect all people and to protect the free movement of people in Kosovo, but it doesn't put NATO into the law enforcement role. We are not a police, we are a military force. The law enforcement role and the police authorities tasks, that's partly Kosovo authorities, the Kosovo police, and partly EULEX. So again, I think it is important to understand what NATO is doing in Kosovo and what we are not responsible for in Kosovo.

Since the increased tensions, the increased violence, NATO has decided to increase its presence. I met with the KFOR troops in Kosovo yesterday. I also went to the north to one of the NATO bases up in the north. And, of course, what I saw there was a strong committed NATO force, which is there, of course, also to ensure the protection of the Serbs living in the north. We are now conducting a review of our presence. We had many more troops, not so many years ago. It has gradually been reduced.

The additional 1000 troops is the biggest reinforcement of our KFOR presence for at least a decade in Kosovo. As we have seen over the last weeks, the review which our military authorities are conducting is looking into whether we should strengthen the mission on a more enduring basis because what we have done so far as to call in reserves, and now we are looking into whether to have a more enduring increased presence. No decision has been made. And this is done about not only using the reserves, but having a higher baseline for our presence. Again, we are looking into different options now. No decision has been made, but what has happened is that we have added 1000 extra reserves to the KFOR troops in Kosovo.

Moderator: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Secretary General. Dear colleagues, we thank you, we hereby end today's press conference. Thank you very much.