Press conference

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

  • 27 Jun. 2019 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 27 Jun. 2019 18:48

(As delivered)

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers at NATO Headquarters in Brussels

Good afternoon.

We have just finished a meeting on Afghanistan, with all nations contributing to our Resolute Support Mission.

Our training mission is helping the Afghan security forces create the conditions for peace. 

Ministers were briefed by the mission’s Commander, General Miller, and by NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative, Ambassador Kay. While many challenges remain in Afghanistan, we now have a unique opportunity for peace.

Allies fully support the efforts of the US Special Representative, Ambassador Khalilzad, to achieve a political settlement.

He is regularly consulting with Allies at NATO, including earlier this month.

And we remain in close contact with him.

NATO is strongly committed to Afghanistan.

We have recently generated forces for the next rotation, throughout next year.

And we have confirmed our financial support for the Afghan security forces through 2024. We will stay in Afghanistan for as long as necessary, to ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists. We went into Afghanistan together.

And we will take decisions about the future of our mission together.

This morning, we discussed our work to strengthen NATO’s defence and deterrence.

This includes our readiness initiative, known as the “Four Thirties”. 

Allies will make available:

  • 30 combat ships;
  • 30 land battalions;
  • 30 air squadrons;
  • To be ready within 30 days.

We have already generated around three-quarters of the forces required.

There is still work to do, but by the end of the year, we aim to be at full strength.

Today, we took another important step in NATO’s adaptation, by approving a new overarching space policy. Space is essential to the Alliance’s defence and deterrence.

From the ability to navigate and track forces, to satellite communications, and detecting missile launches. Our new policy will guide our approach to space, the opportunities and the challenges. This is not about militarizing space. But NATO can play an important role as a forum to share information, increase interoperability, and ensure that our missions and operations can call on the support they need.

Fair burden sharing underpins everything we do as an Alliance. And we are making major progress. 2019 will be the fifth consecutive year of real growth in defence spending by European Allies and Canada. By the end of next year, they will have added a cumulative total of well over one hundred billion US dollars. This year, we expect 8 Allies to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defence.

That is up from just 3 Allies in 2014. And 16 Allies are expected to meet the benchmark of at least 20 percent of defence spending devoted to major equipment. These are encouraging steps. And we are moving in the right direction.

But I count on all Allies to step up their efforts even more. This is about our shared security in a more unpredictable world. Burden sharing will be an important topic at the meeting in London with NATO leaders in December.

And with that, I am happy to take your questions.

OANA LUNGESCU [NATO spokesperson]: Okay, Associated Press?

LORNE COOK [Associated Press]: Lorne Cook from Associated Press. A question on Afghanistan. Secretary Pompeo has signalled recently that intra-Afghan talks are likely to start reasonably soon, and there are some hopes that by September we can be looking at a deal. He’s also mentioned that the United States is talking to the Taliban about what it might do with its troops, it hasn’t given any timetable, but I am assuming that you here at NATO understand what the US plans to do, and how is NATO going to react, what are the next steps in terms of Resolute Support, please?

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: First of all, these negotiations are extremely important because they mean that we are now closer to a peace deal than we have ever been before in Afghanistan. That doesn’t mean that we know that there will be a deal, but a deal is closer than it has ever been before. And NATO Allies, all our partners, strongly support those efforts. Ambassador Khalilzad has briefed us on many, many times in the different meetings here at the NATO Headquarters, there are four elements. First is about Afghanistan never again becoming a safe-haven for international terrorists, so how to make sure that doesn’t happen. The second element is about the presence of international forces, NATO forces in Afghanistan. The third element is about an inter-Afghan dialogue, because to have a sustainable peace in Afghanistan, it has to be, of course, a dialogue between the Taliban, the government and the different communities in Afghanistan, to create a sustainable peace. And the fourth element is the comprehensive ceasefire. And the inter-Afghan dialogue is something which is supported by all Allies, and Germany plays a key role because, actually, they’re now trying to facilitate and also helping to, to support and organise an inter-Afghan dialogue. I will be very careful about any specific timelines, partly because, it is Ambassador Khalilzad which is responsible for the negotiations. And second because no one can predict exactly when or if there will be a deal, because a deal requires agreement between two parts, or the two parties, two sides. Our best way to support the effort to find a peace deal is to stay committed. To send a very clear signal to Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield. And the good news now is that actually we see that the Afghan forces are making progress on their own. They are retaking territory which was previously controlled by Taliban, now the Afghan forces are able to retake that. And by continuing to train them, advise them, help them and to fund them, the Afghan forces, that’s the best way to create the conditions on the battleground to enable progress around the negotiating table.

OANA LUNGESCU: Washington Post, up there. Yeah. Light jacket.

MICHAEL BIRNBAUM [Washington Post]: Thanks, Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post. I know that you’ve said there’s policy continuity, from the United States, from Secretary Mattis to Secretary Shanahan, and now to Secretary Esper, Acting Secretary Esper. But they are three different people, everybody is unique, can you tell us how Secretary Esper’s style at this meeting was different from his predecessors, different? And, second question, what was said about Iran during the discussions? I know it wasn’t on the agenda, but could you give us a general sense of whether there was any back and forth, and what was discussed? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, we discussed Iran, we discussed the situation in the Gulf, the importance of keeping the strait of Hormuz open, freedom of navigation is, of course, an important issue. We were briefed by Secretary Esper on the situation and also the US presence in the Gulf, and all Allies share concerns when it comes to Iran’s destabilising activities in the region, their support for different terrorist groups, the missile programme of Iran, and also the announcement that they will now start to enrich uranium again. So, I expect that we will continue to consult on these issues. And in NATO we also exchange intelligence, information on the situation in the Gulf, because this is, of course, an issue which matters, is important for all NATO Allies. I think that one important message is that the United States so clearly has stated that they don’t want a war. They actually said very clearly that they’re ready to talk with Iran without preconditions and it was a message from Allies today that we support efforts to deescalate, to avoid any miscalculations, incidents, accidents and especially that they spiral out of control and create really dangerous, a really dangerous situation. So we support efforts to deescalate and I welcome the very clear message from the United States that they’re ready to sit down and talk without preconditions. So for me it has been a great honour to work with different Secretary of Defense from the United States. Yes, of course, they are different, but they are conveying the same message: that the United States is committed to NATO and not only in words, but also in deeds. Because all the three last Secretary of Defense in United States have actually been responsible for increasing US presence in Europe, with more troops, more trainers, a new brigade, more prepositioned equipment and they also, of course, conveyed the message that we need fair burden-sharing in the Alliance. And my answer to that is that, yes I agree, and the good news is that NATO Allies, European NATO Allies are stepping up, are investing more. So, for me, they are three different persons, but for me what really matters is that they’re conveying the same strong message. And, as I said, about transatlantic unity, about US taking responsibility for their commitments in NATO, for the security guarantees to Europe. And, I think it’s also important aspect that Secretary Esper, he has actually served in Europe as a US soldier, and that just highlights that he really understands the transatlantic bond and the importance of the US military presence in Europe, which is now increasing.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, we’ll go to the front row here.

QUESTION [Khaama Press]: Thank you Khushnood NABIZADA from Afghan media, Khaama Press. During your meeting with Ambassador Khalilzad earlier this month, you mentioned that Afghanistan will remain NATO’s highest operational priority. What is your prediction regarding the outcome of US and Taliban peace talks in Qatar, considering that Taliban insists on full withdrawal of Coalition forces from Afghanistan? And also, the latest reports indicate that there are growing ties between Taliban and international terrorist groups like al-Qaida and Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, NATO’s presence in Afghanistan has been our biggest military operation outside NATO territory ever. So, of course, this is and has been a very important mission for NATO. We have to understand why NATO went in. We went in to Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks on the United States, 9/11 2001, because we saw that Afghanistan was a platform to train, to organise attacks on our countries. And that could not continue. And these attacks were at the United States, but actually we saw also attacks in Madrid, in London and elsewhere. So this was actually attacks organised by al-Qaida, other terrorist groups against us. So we are in Afghanistan to protect our interests, to protect our security. So this has been important for NATO Allies and partners to prevent Afghanistan again being a safe place for international terrorists. And, together with Afghan forces, we have been able to deny safe haven for international terrorists in Afghanistan. It’s not easy, and we have paid the price, all of us. But at least Afghanistan is not the safe haven for international terrorists it was before 2001. Then, of course, for us the aim is not to stay as long as possible in Afghanistan. For us the aim is to train, build the Afghan forces so they can stabilise their own country. And again, there are many problems, many challenges in Afghanistan, but at least we have made a huge achievement, made a lot of progress, by being able to go from more than 140,000 combat troops in Afghanistan a few years ago, to now around 16,000 in a noncombat operation, where we train and advise the Afghans and they do the fighting. They are on the frontline. And they are now making progress, because they are well-trained, better equipped, better commanded, new commanders, younger commanders, better organised and better led and more enablers including, for instance, air forces. So the progress we see on the battlefield now is actually something that Afghans achieve and we are, what should I say, grateful for that, because that’s also in our interest. And we’re also proud because we have helped that happen by training and advising them. Then it’s, of course, not possible for me to say exactly how many troops we will have if there’s a peace deal, because that depends on the peace deal. What Ambassador Khalilzad has said many times, and I totally agree with him, is that nothing is agreed, because before everything is agreed. So this is a package. And we are not aiming for a leave deal, we are aiming for a peace deal. So the elements have to be in place, including Afghan reconciliation. We have been there to protect our own interests, our own security, but, of course, we also recognise the huge progress which has been made in Afghanistan when it comes to social, economic progress, not least human rights, freedom of press and the rights of women. And for us, it’s important to try to preserve those gains. And that has to be one part of the peace deal.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, 1TV second row, gentleman in the middle, second row.

QUESTION [1TV]: Thank you Mr Secretary General. This is Abdullah, from 1TV in Kabul. As you know that, Afghanistan is reaching to a very critical stage of the framework for peace process, which is going to be to the intra-Afghan dialogues. It wouldn’t happen unless both sides, the Taliban and the Afghan government show concession. What is your message in this critical time for the Afghan government and also for the Taliban?

JENS STOLTENBERG: My, my message to the Afghan government is that we will stay committed. We will continue to provide forces and funding. Forces for training and funding for security. And my message to Taliban is that they will not win on the battlefield. Actually, now, the Afghan forces are making progress regaining, retaking territory which was previously controlled by the Taliban. And they recently liberated hundreds of Taliban prisoners and Taliban has not been able to take any provincial capital over the last year. So, Taliban will not win on the battlefield. We are ready to stay and continue to support the Afghan government security forces. So the only way they can achieve something is by sitting down at the negotiating table and engage in renegotiations with the Afghan government and also with the United States. And then I hope, of course, that that will lead to an agreement. The sooner the better, but we are ready to stay and ready to continue to provide support for the Afghans.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, Reuters, third row here, yeah. Gentleman. No, third row here, thanks.

QUESTION [Reuters]: Thanks. Getting back to Iran very quickly. You said that all Allies shared concerns about Iran’s activities, what format did that take? Did all the Allies stand up, or were they individually communicating after Secretary Esper’s remarks. And then also you said that the next steps would involve sharing information on what’s going on in the Gulf. Is there going to be anything beyond that, by the NATO Alliance, or is NATO Alliance saying that any kind of activity in the Gulf potentially, maybe helping ensure safety of commercial vessels passing through the Gulf, will be done in a bilateral basis, but not through the NATO Alliance, is that something separate from what’s going to be done through the NATO Alliance? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: We had the discussion. We didn’t stand up. We, we are sitting around the table and we discuss and exchange views and analysis and assessments. And by doing that we create, what should I say, a common understanding of the challenges, and it’s always useful to be updated and to share information. Of course, we did that the Ministerial Meeting today, but we also, on a regular basis, share information in NATO between Allies and we also share intelligence. One of the main reasons we have established an Intelligence Division is to be able to, in a better way, share secret information, also including, of course, intelligence on the situation in the Gulf. So there were no decision, no vote. It was actually a discussion among friends and Allies. And Allies agree that we are deeply concerned about what Iran has done and is doing in the region, including their support for different terrorist groups and all Allies agree that Iran should never be able to develop nuclear weapons. So this was a discussion. This is not the dialogue under discussion between NATO Allies will continue, but the main message, the main focus of all Allies is to deescalate, is to actually avoid a conflict, is to find ways to reduce tensions. And the first step to achieve that is to have talks between the United States and Iran. And therefore it is important that the United States has offered to start such talks without preconditions.

OANA LUNGESCU: NPR, Deutsche Welle, lady in red.

TERI SCHULTZ [NPR, Deutsche Welle]: Hi Teri Schultz, thank you. Just on your last comment, you said that all Allies agreed that Iran should never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, but now that the JCPOA is largely in tatters, how do you intend to have any leverage over that. But my original question, before you said that, was about Syria and understanding that this was mostly a taken up bilaterally by Secretary Esper. Do you see any similar role for NATO in the US efforts to bring other Allies on board with helping with counter-Daesh operations, more sharing of intelligence, the same kind of thing you’re talking about with Iran? Thanks.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, we will host a meeting now, later on today, here at the NATO Headquarters of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh or ISIS. So, so there, of course, there is a very close coordination between NATO and the Global Coalition because NATO is part of the Global Coalition, the Global Coalition was established on the margins of the NATO summit in Wales in 2014, and, and we regularly host meetings of the Global Coalition here at the NATO headquarters and we’ll do so later on today. And, of course, there is a very close link between what NATO does in the fight against terrorism and the effort of the Global Coalition, because we provide support to the Global Coalition with our AWACS aircraft with the Training Mission in Iraq, and now, after we have been able to liberate the territory that Daesh controlled in Iraq and in Syria, the main focus is on how can we prevent Daesh from coming back. And the best tool we have in achieving that is to train local forces, enable them to make sure that Daesh never returns. And that’s exactly what we’re doing in Iraq, with our Training Mission there, as part of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh. But, in reality, that’s also what we do in Afghanistan. And, of course, the formal framework is different, there is a support mission and a NATO Training Mission in Iraq. The NATO Training Mission in Iraq is part of the Global Coalition. The training activities in Afghanistan is part of Resolute Support. But the reality is that we actually do very much the same thing, and the same nations. Because when we meet later on today, the Global Coalition is very much the same nations that met just an hour ago in the Resolute Support format. And one of the reasons why we are in Afghanistan now, and one of the things that the Afghan forces are doing with our support and our help and our funding, is to fight Daesh, is to prevent that Daesh, lost the caliphate in Iraq and Syria and then try to re-establish the caliphate in Afghanistan. And we must just prevent that from happening. And therefore, what NATO does in Afghanistan to fight terrorism is closely linked to what we have done in the Global Coalition to liberate the territory that Daesh controlled in Iraq and Syria. So we will continue to be part of the global coalition and then continue our efforts in Afghanistan.

TERI SCHULTZ [NPR, Deutsche Welle]: And Iran?



TERI SCHULTZ [NPR, Deutsche Welle]: Yeah.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  Well . . . all Allies are concerned about Iran and their activities in the region, their missile programme, and also, of course, all Allies are against that Iran should develop nuclear weapons. But, of course, we all, at the same time, there is no way to hide that there are differences between NATO Allies when it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, whether that is the best tool to obtain that goal. So that’s well-known, that we don’t have agreement on that issue among NATO Allies.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, we’ll go to TASS gentlemen over there. Yeah?

DENIS DUBROVIN [TASS News Agency]: Thank you very much, Denis Dubrovin, TASS News Agency. Mr. Secretary General, you have said that as a preparation for the world without the INF Treaty, NATO is not going to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe. What about sea-based and air-based missiles? Thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, our main goal, our main message is that it is possible to save the INF Treaty. And that’s up to Russia to do. Because there are no new US missiles in Europe, but there are new Russian missiles in Europe. And the INF Treaty is about land-based intermediate-range weapons. Russia has deployed, is deploying, missiles which are clearly violating that treaty. No NATO Ally do that. And, therefore, there is now a window of opportunity. It’s getting smaller and smaller. Time is running out. But it’s still possible for Russia to save the treaty by coming back into compliance, destroy the SSC-8 missiles which are violating the treaty and then we will still have the INF Treaty, which is really a landmark treaty in arms control. So that’s our main message. Then, the INF Treaty has never regulated air-based and sea-launched systems. And I will not comment on specific possible responses from NATO. We have a nuclear deterrent in NATO today, in no way in contradiction of the INF Treaty, but I’m not going into more details about how we may respond, simply because our main message is that we still have the possibility to save the treaty.

OANA LUNGESCU: Final question.

QUESTION: Thank you. On the burden sharing and the numbers that you presented yesterday, we know that the Americans haven’t been very patient with the development of the European nations reaching the 2 percent goal. So what were their reactions this time, and what message do you have to those countries who have not presented a plan to reach the 2 percent? And I’d also like to ask you if the Turkey’s purchase of Russian air defence, has that been solved during this two day meeting? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: So, I’m not certain whether all NATO leaders share your view that the US has been very patient about the burden-sharing in the Alliance. So, I think everyone who was present at the NATO summit, for instance, a year ago, they felt that there was a kind of new sense of urgency. And that’s also the message I have conveyed, that there is a new sense of urgency that we have to deliver. But again, the good news is that NATO Allies are delivering. We still have gaps to fill. We still have a way to go. And the picture, the picture is better but, of course, it’s still mixed. But the reality is that all Allies have stopped the cuts; all Allies have started to increase; and the more Allies meet the 2 percent; and, actually, more and more Allies are also approaching 2 percent. And this is the fifth year, consecutive year, of real increase in defence spending across Europe and Canada. So I think the United States, you can ask Secretary Esper afterwards, but, but my impression is that they appreciate the progress, they see that European Allies and Canada are making progress, but they continue to push for more. And that’s fair enough. Having said that, I would like to highlight that we are investing more in defence, because it is in our interest, it’s in the interest of European Allies to invest more. And, of course, 2 percent is more than we did a few years ago, but 2 percent is not that much compared to the levels of defence spending we had during, for instance, the Cold War. It’s actually below. So it is absolutely possible to reach 2 percent and I welcome the fact that Allies are delivering more and more on that, not only on spending, but also on capabilities, contributions, which is also part of the burden-sharing picture. The S-400, it was not on the agenda of the NATO meeting but, of course, it was discussed on the margins of the meeting and I know also that the US Secretary and the Turkish Defence Minister Akar, they met. I also met with Secretary Akar, and discussed this issue with him. And I think that my message now is that, while this is a difficult issue, I welcome the fact that there is dialogue between United States and Turkey on this issue, at this meeting but also that President Trump and President Erdoğan will meet in Osaka later on this week, and hopefully that can bring some progress to an issue which is difficult for all of us.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. Thank you.