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Joint press point with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor

NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

20 Feb. 2019

(As delivered)

President Pahor, dear Borut,

It is great to see you here at the NATO Headquarters again. So really warm welcome to you.

And also thank you for your warm welcome and hospitality in Ljubljana in October when I met you there.

Slovenia is a highly valued Ally. You contribute to our shared security and to our collective defence in many different ways.

And not least you play an important role in the Western Balkans. You help to address the challenges we face in that region. You are contributing significantly to our mission in Kosovo, KFOR, and you play an important role in bringing the region closer to the rest of Europe and the transatlantic family.

You also contribute to our training mission in Afghanistan, where we help to train, assist and advise the Afghan forces so they can fight terrorism and make sure that Afghanistan doesn't once again become a safe haven for international terrorists.

This really reflects your strong commitment to our collective security, and our efforts to manage crises beyond our borders.

NATO is of course also committed to Slovenia's security.

Allies ensure the safety of your airspace, because solidarity is at the core of our Alliance.

Mr. President, we just had an excellent discussion about the adaptation of NATO.

After the end of the Cold War, NATO Allies reduced defence spending for many years, but now we see that Allies have started to invest again in defence, increase defence spending, because we live in a more unpredictable and uncertain security environment.

As we reduced spending when tension went down, we now have to increase spending again when tensions are going up. And I welcome the fact that Slovenia has started to increase its investments in defence. This is contributing to the overall efforts of European Allies and Canada.

And we know that by the end of next year, European Allies and Canada, with the support of Slovenia, would have added one hundred billion extra US dollars for defence spending.

We also appreciate very much your contributions to our enhanced readiness of our forces. And the fact that you participated in the Trident Juncture exercise in Norway shows the quality and the interoperability of the Slovenian forces.

So once again, welcome to the NATO Headquarters. Always good to see you.

Borut Pahor [President of the Republic of Slovenia]: Distinguished Secretary General, dear Jens, ladies and gentlemen.

As President of the Republic and as the High Commander of Armed Forces in Slovenia, I was the first president to formally visit the NATO Headquarters. And this is a tradition that I would like to keep in the future as well. Now, this year, the meeting with the Secretary General is to be understood as a symbolic gesture. Why? Because we are celebrating 15 years of membership of Slovenia in NATO. As I said at the beginning of our discussion, of our talk to the Secretary General today, Slovenes held a referendum on our accession to EU and NATO on the same day. This was in March, 16 years ago. And I think that this is quite an important political message. I was of that opinion 16 years ago, and I still believe that's the case.

My opinion was and still is that Slovenia is part of the Western world; that it belongs there, politically, economically, culturally, traditionally and in terms of military as well. When we decided on whether to join the EU and NATO, we were actually saying that Slovenia is part of the Western world entirely, that it's part of its active role and that we want to co-shape it, we want to contribute to it. I would like to thank the Secretary General for his leadership, for his leadership in the troubling times that we are dealing with. Right now, it looks like the security situation in the world is worsening. The predictability itself of global issues is not what we would like it to be. And I think that in this respect the Secretary General is doing an excellent work. He is finding a balance between different interests of different Allies and reinforces the Alliance at the same time.

Often, especially back home, we pay a lot of attention to the fact that NATO expects Slovenia to reach, or keep its promise, of 2 percent of GDP for spending. Now, this is a legitimate expectation and requirement of NATO. And I told the Secretary General today that, based on the government projections, Slovenia will be raising its public spending to NATO from a level that, not so long ago, was below 1 percent, to 1.5 percent. And this will be done by 2024. Now this is a significant increase and since Slovenia is enjoying quite a high economic growth, this means a lot of nominal funds, that we will contribute to the Alliance. And in this respect, let me say one thing: we are not increasing our military spending, because we would be under threat, because we are not. We are increasing the spending for military because the world today is less safe than it used to be. And we are part of this world.

As I said 15 years ago, and I'm still of this opinion, we have to understand this: military expenses should not be seen only in the light of meeting our obligations towards NATO. We are meeting our obligations towards our own safety. Slovenia is one of the safest countries in the world. We are not under any direct military threat, but we are part of the Alliance and we have to invest in our common security, military as well. Now, let me conclude by saying that I welcome the inclusion or the accession of North Macedonia to the Alliance. I am saying this in light of the talks that I will still be having in Brussels this afternoon. The enlargement of NATO to Western Balkans is going to help our joint security and NATO here is doing better than the EU. NATO welcomed Montenegro and soon North Macedonia will be following. So, in this respect – of course, it's easier for NATO than it is for the European Union, we understand that – but NATO is actively involved in the aspirations of Western Balkan countries, as far as their military and economic desires are concerned. So in this respect, my compliments to NATO. Thank you. Thank you very much. Questions now if I may.

Moderator: We have time for a couple of questions, yes please, the gentlemen.

Question [Igor Juric, Slovenian National Television]: Igor Juric, Slovenian National Television. Secretary General, I would like to hear one comment from you regarding preparedness of Slovenian armed forces in the last two, couple of years. That was negative, could this effect on Slovenian missions abroad? And how do you comment that Slovenia is still not fulfilling the commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defence? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So, we greatly appreciate and value the contributions of Slovenia to NATO, to our collective defence, to our missions abroad. And I have met Slovenian troops and I've seen their commitment and their professionalism and the key role they play in different ways, especially, for instance, in Kosovo. Then we are aware of that, we had some problems with readiness some time ago. But the reason why NATO is certifying and testing the troops that are going to participate in NATO missions and operations, or in the NATO Readiness Force is exactly to identify whether there are some problems and if there are problems, then NATO together with the Ally address those problems. And that's exactly what Slovenia did.

So now we have seen that this problem has been addressed, the problem of readiness and, for instance, the Slovenian forces participated in the big Trident Juncture exercise in Norway, which was a high readiness, Article 5, demanding exercise. And the Slovenian forces performed excellent in that exercise. You are also part of our Battlegroup, our Enhanced Forward Presence in Latvia. We have Slovenian forces there, which we appreciate very much, they contribute to our presence in the Baltic region and Slovenia is also part of our mission in Afghanistan. So yes, NATO has some standards and we certify and test; sometimes not all troops pass the tests, then we address that and then they pass next time. And that's exactly what has happened in Slovenia, so we are extremely grateful for the Slovenian contributions to NATO missions and operations.

When it comes to spending, I welcome the fact that Slovenia has stopped the cuts after years with reducing defence spending, as many other Allies. Slovenia has now started to invest more. And just as the President alluded to, you have quite good economic growth, meaning that just by increasing as part of the GDP; it's a significant increase in actually substantial absolute numbers. Of course, I would like and expect also Slovenia to do more, as I also expect all other Allies who don't spend 2 percent of GDP on defence to do more. But I welcome very much and appreciate the fact that Slovenia has started to increase.

Moderator: Yes please?

Petra Wüllerstorff [Slovenian News Agency]: Yes, hello, Petra Wüllerstorff, Slovenian News Agency. I have a question, actually two questions, for Secretary General about Kosovo. First one is concretely about the possibility, idea of changing the borders. The Slovenian President supports the idea of finding an out-of-the-box solution that wouldn't be based on the principle of ethnicity. I would like to ask you what's your position, opinion about this issue, about changing the borders and finding the out-of-the-box solution? And second, NATO is reassessing its engagement with Kosovo Security Forces. The decision is expected in spring. Could you maybe tell us in what direction the debate is going, what kind of changes can we expect. Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: What NATO has said and stated is that we will now assess our level of engagement with Kosovo. We do that because Kosovo decided to go on with the transition of the Kosovo Security Force into a Kosovo army. And that was against the advice of many Allies and many Allies find it ill-timed to take that decision now. And we are also seeing that many Allies have criticised the fact that Kosovo has imposed new tariffs, hundred percent tariffs on the goods coming from Serbia and from Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is not helpful to solve the political issues and to make progress on the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue.

We need a political solution, as NATO strongly supports the efforts to find a political solution, and therefore we support the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, but the recent decisions by the authorities in Pristina has, of course, made this more difficult. We call on both sides to refrain from actions or rhetoric, which can only make it even more difficult and increase tensions. We will, as a consequence of all this, then assess our level of engagement. It's too early to say what the outcome will be, so I will not speculate on that, but I think it's important to make clear the following, and that is that NATO is in Kosovo in different ways. We are part of the KFOR mission, we're actually leading and we are responsible for the KFOR mission, with NATO Allies and partners. That will continue, because that's based on the UN Security Council mandate. So that will continue. But then NATO also has some engagement with Pristina outside the KFOR mission, and that's what we call enhanced interaction and some capacity building.

These are other activities, and when we speak about adjusting our level of engagement, we speak about these other activities outside the KFOR mission. The KFOR mission will continue. It helps to secure a safe environment and stability and also protect all people in the region. So KFOR will continue. We will assess the level of engagement in the other areas.…[inaudible] Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry. No. We welcome Pristina-Belgrade dialogue, but I think we will not dictate, or it's not for us to go into the different elements of such a dialogue. We just support the idea of Pristina and Belgrade being able to solve their outstanding issues.

Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.

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