Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with the President of Hungary Katalin Novák

  • 08 Nov. 2023 -
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  • Mis à jour le: 09 Nov. 2023 11:04

(As delivered)

President Novák,
Dear Katalin,

welcome to NATO Headquarters. It's a great pleasure and honor to welcome you, not least because this is your first visit to NATO Headquarters.

Hungary is a valued NATO Ally. You contribute to Allied consensus on all our policies. You lead one of our multinational NATO battlegroups, helping to deter aggression. You host important military headquarters, including our Multinational Division Centre.
Hungary also supports our efforts for stability in the Western Balkans. Including by leading our KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo last year.

Today, during our meeting, we discussed finalising Sweden’s accession to NATO. The Hungarian government has repeatedly said that it will not be the last NATO Ally to ratify Sweden’s accession. Now I count on Hungary to fulfil that commitment. The Hungarian parliament should vote to ratify without further delay. Sweden has fulfilled its commitments. And I agree with you, President, that its membership will make NATO stronger. And all of us safer. The time has come to welcome Sweden as our thirty-second NATO Ally. 

President Novak and I also discussed Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. And the importance of our continued support. Since the beginning of the war, Hungary has provided shelter to many thousands of Ukrainian refugees. And helped with the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers.

Madam President, let me also thank you for your moral clarity in condemning Russia's aggression. And its unacceptable violations of territorial integrity and international law.

And Allies continue to provide unprecedented military support, economic and humanitarian support to Ukraine. I welcome that the first F-16 jets for Ukraine, donated by the Netherlands, have arrived at a training centre in Romania  yesterday.

President Putin thinks he can outlast our support for Ukraine. We must continue to prove him wrong. This is vital for Ukraine. And it is also in our own security interest.

Finally, we discussed the situation in the Middle East. Israel has the right to defend itself in line with international law. And civilians must be protected. Allies support humanitarian pauses to allow aid to reach Gaza. It is important that this crisis does not develop into a regional conflict. Iran, Hezbollah and other groups must not escalate.

So once again, welcome President Novák. It's great to have you here. And please, you have the floor.


Acting Spokesperson Dylan White:
Thank you so much. Thank you. We'll start with questions. ATV Hungary in the second row, please.

Ildikó Csuhaj (ATV):
Thank you, Madame President, you say –said it in April. There are more reasons to support Swedish NATO membership than against. Do you still think so? And secondly, you had a meeting with Prime Minister Orbán before you coming to Brussels. Could you please tell us what was his stance on that?
The Hungarian Parliament will ratify Swedish NATO membership still in November or in December, and the Secretary General, do you know any expected deadline to ratify Swedish NATO membership by Turkish or Hungarian parliament? May that deadline be the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in the end of November? Thank you.

President of Hungary, Katalin Novak
Thank you. So first, I said it that I said that there are more reasons for Sweden’s NATO accession then against I agree with myself. So yes, I can reiterate that statement. I see much more reasons for Sweden's accession to NATO than reasons against. I think that Sweden would contribute to the strength of NATO and I think that NATO would be enriched also by the presence and the membership of Sweden. So I am fully supportive for Sweden's membership as soon as possible. And second, you asked me about the meeting with the Prime Minister on Monday, of course, we spoke about Sweden's membership as well. He reiterated that Hungary won't be last to ratify Sweden's membership to NATO. So I hope that it will be so but very honestly, it's now neither me nor the Prime Minister who is about to take the decision about NATO's membership or the ratification process. It is the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian members of the parliament. So what I would like to urge right now as well is that the Hungarian parliamentarians take a quick and wise decision about Sweden's NATO accession.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Sweden should be ratified as a full-fledged member of NATO as soon as possible and the sooner the better. Sweden has fulfilled its obligations. Swedish membership in NATO will make NATO stronger and all of us safer, and therefore I also agree and welcome the very clear statements from the President that she fully supports Swedish membership as soon as possible and that she hopes that Sweden will become a full fledged member in the near future, and I also agree with the President when she states clearly also in the press conference today that Swedish membership will make NATO stronger. I think we need to realize that of course we are now 31 Allies soon 32 and we are different Allies, we are –we have different governments, different political parties and –in charge in the different countries but we all unite around a core task and that is to protect and defend each other one for all and all for one, and that has preserved peace throughout NATO territory for almost 75 years. It has helped to spread democracy and freedom throughout Europe and the NATO enlargement that started after the end of the Cold War has really been a great success, because it has spread freedom and democracy and help to safeguard and protect more and more people also in the part of Europe that was not part of NATO from the beginning. This was the case when Hungary decided to join, NATO’s door was open. We respected the wish of Hungary and of course, Sweden should be allowed to be a member in the way as so many other countries have been allowed to join NATO after democratic decisions in their own country. So I welcome the clear statements from the President. I'm working hard to ensure ratification as soon as possible and the sooner the better.

Acting Spokesperson Dylan White:
We will go to the Swedish news agency TT in the third row please.

Wiktor Nummelin (TT):
Yes, Swedish news agency, Wiktor Nummelin, following up on that one. Can you see a deadline of when this will be sort of untenable situation where Sweden is waiting and waiting and nothing is happening and especially for Madame Novak. Is there any demand still that Hungary has on Sweden that Sweden needs to do or do you just consider it is –it's a question for the parliament to decide. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Well, a lot is happening. We need to remember that Sweden and Finland applied in May last year, already in July, 6 week –after weeks after they applied, all Allies also Hungary agreed to invite Finland and Sweden and that is extremely rapid process. Then, then Finland was ratified by Hungary and all the other Allies this spring so Finland is now a full-fledged member. So it's –a lot has already happened. Then we met in Vilnius where Allies agreed on the path forward for ratification of the Swedish membership protocol. I spoke with President Erdoğan recently, and after that phone call, he ensured that Turkiye and the President submitted the protocols for ratification to the Turkish parliament and the process has started there in the parliament. It's for Hungary to [inaudible] explain the process in Hungary. But we speak about national parliaments that have to make their sovereign decisions, but based on what has been clearly expressed both from Hungary and from Turkiye, I'm confident that we will have the final ratification of Sweden. And that I really hope that can happen in the near future as also the President of Hungary expressed in this press conference

President of Hungary, Katalin Novak
I can reiterate what I said, but maybe add something related to your question as well. In Hungary, that's the Parliament which has to take the decisions and so just as, Jens, the Secretary General rightly said, that's the sovereign decision of the members of the Hungarian parliament. I also hear and listen to their views and their questions. And what I hear I can tell it to you as well is that many or some of the Hungarian parliamentarians argue that Sweden is or has been quite vocal in condemning the Hungarian function –the functioning of the Hungarian parliament itself, or stated the lack of democracy in Hungary and showed no real interest in convincing these parliamentarians about their position. And that's what I hear from them at least and I don't know if it was help if the Swedish government approach the Hungarian government or the Swedish politicians approach the Hungarian politicians trying to convince them about the necessity of this decision. It might help it's –that's just what I hear from them. But what I also see and hear that the Hungarian government was positive about the decision of NATO's accession –of Sweden’s accession to NATO, and was positive about the ratification and issued the ratification document to the parliament. And me personally what I can tell you again is that I am fully supportive for Sweden's accession and what I can tell you and promise you also that I will do my utmost in order to reach a quick decision in Hungary. I am trying to convince the Hungarian parliamentarians but it might not be enough. So I think all therefore it is welcome and necessary.

Acting Spokesperson Dylan White:
Go to HIR TV, in the second row please.

Katalin Zöldhegyi (HIR TV):
Good evening, [speaks in Hungarian]. Mr. Secretary General, what is your respond on the attack on the Transcarpathian brigade last weekend when 28 soldiers were died and 60 seriously injured due to the mistake of the Ukrainian command and staying on the subject of Transcarpathia, how much respect for the national minorities living in the area is a factor in NATO's continued military support for Ukraine. And I also would like to raise question to Mrs. Katalin Novak, President of Hungary, whether the situation of the Hungarian minority and the Hungarian position on this issue were on the agenda of this talk today. And may I kindly ask you to repeat to repeat your answer in Hungarian as well for the sake of the Hungarian viewers? Thank you so much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
We take Hungary's concerns about minorities seriously. And this is something that has been discussed and addressed [inaudible] several times. We also have a forum to address issues like this. We have the NATO Ukraine Council where Allies meet together with Ukraine to discuss issues that are important for Allies, such as Ukraine's reforms and minority rights. So not only is this an issue that has been discussed, within NATO among NATO Allies, it has also been discussed with Ukraine, I also raised issues of minority rights with Ukrainian leadership several times directly with them and we also need to realize that these issues are a part of the dialogue, which has been going on for some time with Ukraine. And I strongly believe that through dialogue, we can address the concerns and continue to strengthen relations between NATO Allies and Ukraine, as we also address minority rights.

President of Hungary, Katalin Novak
Thank you and I just would like to add that we also spoke today about the situation of the Hungarian minorities in Transcarpathia and I very much welcome the position of Secretary General of Jens reiterating and underlining how important it is to safeguard the minority rights on the territory of Ukraine. So that is our common position I can say so, what I also see now unfortunately, in Transcarpathia, that these minority rights are still not guaranteed and I just don't see the positive evolution in that regard and I think that in order to, to keep our, our very positive, supportive attitude towards all the efforts of Ukraine, it would be very helpful if the Ukrainian leadership would also consider the situation of ethnic minorities in Ukraine, an important issue. I spoke about this several times with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I was several times in Ukraine ever since Russia's invasion and each time I also emphasized the importance of this issue and just now in Hungarian very shortly. [Speaks in Hungarian].

Acting Spokesperson Dylan White:
Final question to Reuters in the second row please.

Andrew Gray (Reuters):
Andrew Gray from Reuters. Thanks very much. Secretary General, you talked about Allies continuing to support Ukraine, but today the Slovakian government cancelled a substantial package of military aid, which had been intended for Ukraine. What's your reaction to that decision? And what kind of signal does it send both to Moscow and to Kyiv at this critical time in the war and President Novak, some Allies have expressed concerns about Hungary's continuing relationship with Russia, particularly Prime Minister Orbán’s meeting with Vladimir Putin. The US Ambassador in Budapest has gone as far as to talk about security concerns. What's your response to that and what can you say to reassure NATO Allies on that front?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
So my message to all Allies is that we need to continue to support Ukraine, because it will be a tragedy for the Ukrainians if President Putin wins but it will also be dangerous for us, we will become more vulnerable because then the message to authoritarian leaders and President Putin will be 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 us more vulnerable. So it's –it is in the security interest of all Allies to support Ukraine. And therefore, also welcome that Allies has again and again has reiterated that they will continue to do so. We did that at the NATO Summit in July where all Allies made very clear statements at the Heads of State and Government level that we stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes and we prove that, demonstrate that not only in words, but also in deeds by unprecedented level of support. So, I will not comment on individual Allies, but when you look at what we do in totality, the reality is that NATO Allies continue to provide unprecedented support and we have seen new announcement just over the last weeks. We saw the F-16s arriving in Romania this week. I will go to Germany tomorrow. They also made announcements about additional support. We have seen the proposal from President Biden to have more money for continued support from the US. So I'm confident that NATO Allies will continue to support Ukraine because it's in our security interest to do so.

President of Hungary, Katalin Novak
Thank you. So first of all about Vladimir Putin and his war and his aggression against Ukraine.
I personally also have been very vocal since the first moment how much I condemn Putin's aggression and that's the official position of Hungary as well, considering the war in Ukraine as Putin's aggression and Russia's aggression against a sovereign country, which is unacceptable and I think that is the most important how much we consider this as an insult of a sovereign country and how much we stand for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. So I think that is the most important part and that's the most important position which has never changed. Second, we haven't spoken about peace so far. But at the end of the day, the ultimate goal should be peace. So we find –have to find somehow our way towards peace, which very honestly, I don't see for the moment. I don't see the way out of this war, conflict so far, and I am sure that we have to figure out how to get to the negotiating table and how to achieve ceasefire and peace at the end of the day and for that negotiations to start –should start at a certain moment of time. I don't know how and when, but I think we should always keep in mind that the ultimate goal should be peace. And what Putin and the relation of Hungary is concerned, or Russia, Russia and Hungary relations. I would rather put it that way. I can assure you that there cannot be and should not be any relation between Hungary and Russia, which would undermine our commitment with our Allies, either the NATO or the European Union.

Acting Spokesperson Dylan White:
That concludes this press point. Thank you very much.