And let me start by saying that I look forward to meeting the EU Defence ministers. Later on this week I will meet EU leaders, Heads of State and Government at the EU Council. And then next month, President Juncker and President Tusk will attend and participate in the NATO Summit in Brussels.
And all of these meetings show that we are strengthening the cooperation between the EU and NATO. I welcome that, we are also planning to sign a Joint Declaration, President Juncker, President Tusk and I, on the margins of the NATO Summit next month, where we will outline the visions for how to further strengthen the cooperation between the two organisations. We will welcome the efforts to strengthen the EU efforts on defence, but at the same time of course highlight that these efforts are not competing with NATO but are actually complementary to NATO and the collective defence that NATO provides.
We will focus on many different aspects of the NATO-EU cooperation and I look forward to discuss them more in detail with the EU ministers in the meeting today. One area which is of particular importance is military mobility. We need to be able to move forces quickly throughout Europe, when needed, and NATO is investing, over the past four years we have invested two billion euros in different kinds of infrastructure projects including upgrading harbour terminals and runways, so we have already started to move but I welcome to do more together with the EU. And I also sent a letter to President Juncker and President Tusk where I outlined the requirements for movements of NATO equipment in times of crisis. I also expect the NATO Summit next month to focus on Open Door. I welcome the agreement between Athens and Skopje on the name issue. And I expect and I hope that the NATO leaders at the Summit will decide to start accession talks with the FYROM and this will once again reconfirm that NATO’s door is open.
I look forward to discussing this and many other issues with the EU Defence ministers later on.
QUESTION: On Turkey’s election outcome, how reliable is Turkey as a NATO partner? Because it’s turning into an autocratic state and human rights are not really regarded. How reliable is Turkey for NATO?
SECRETARY GENERAL: I will congratulate President Erdogan on his re-election as president. I will also congratulate the Turkish people with the high-turnout in the elections. Turkey is a key ally for NATO for many reasons, not least because of its strategic geographic location, bordering Russia in the Black Sea but also Iraq and Syria to the south. And Turkey has been very important in the fight against Daesh, against terrorism. We have used infrastructure, bases, in the efforts to fight terrorism, Daesh, ISIL, in Iraq and Syria. NATO is based on some core values – democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty. And I personally attach great importance to these values, and I have underlined the importance of these values in many different NATO capitals, also of course in Ankara when I met with the Turkish leaders there.
QUESTION: Today France and other countries will sign a letter of intent for an intervention initiative. Wouldn’t this be for NATO? Are you concerned… [inaudible]
SECRETARY GENERAL: I welcome this initiative, because I believe it can strengthen the readiness of our forces. Because we need higher readiness. That’s exactly what NATO is now focusing on. We will make decisions at NATO’s Summit to further increase the readiness of NATO forces with what we call the Four Thirties initiative. Meaning that we are planning to have 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 battleships ready within 30 days or less. This comes on top of the fact we have already tripled the size of the NATO Response Force, and we have established what we call a VJTF – a very high readiness joint task force. So I just see this new initiative as something that can complement, and actually reinforce the work which is ongoing in NATO to strengthen and increase the readiness of our forces.
QUESTION: [inaudible]… possible meeting by President Trump and President Putin?
SECRETARY GENERAL: I’m not in a position to confirm any meeting. But what I can say is that a meeting between President Trump and President Putin will be in line with NATO policies. Because NATO believes in dialogue with Russia. We have what we call the dual track approach to Russia – strong deterrence, defence combined with political dialogue. Russia’s our neighbour, Russia’s there to stay. And we need to talk to Russia, partly to try to improve our relationship with Russia, but even if that’s not possible to improve the relationship in the near future, it is important to manage a difficult relationship to Russia. Meaning that we have higher tensions, we have more military presence, more military exercises close to our borders. And we have to make sure that this is conducted in a way that is not risking incidents or accidents, and if they happen that they don’t spiral out of control. So when tensions are high, it’s even more important to have dialogue. NATO has been able to convene 7 meetings of the NATO-Russia Council, we have been able to convene 7 meetings of the NATO-Russia Council over the past 2 years. For 2 years there were no meetings in the NATO-Russia Council, from 2014 to 2016. Since then we have had 7 meetings, addressing Ukraine, risk reduction, military transparency, reciprocal briefings on exercises. So for me, a meeting between President Trump and President Putin will just be part of the dialogue which takes place between NATO and NATO Allies and Russia.
QUESTION: Do you hope that you’ll be able to invite Macedonia at the NATO Summit? Especially considering that some EU member states are a bit reluctant to start accession talks with Macedonia here?
SECRETARY GENERAL: Of course, the decision will be taken by Heads of State and Government at our Summit in July. But I expect and I hope that the Heads of State and Government can agree to start accession talks. Then of course, we’ll only be able to invite the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to become a full member if the agreement is finalized and fully implemented. Meaning that we need the full ratification but also a referendum, and a yes vote in a referendum. But given that that happens, I’m quite optimistic. Then I think there are two separate decisions – whether to start accession talks to NATO and the European Union. It’s not for me to comment on what the European Union decides, but I’m quite optimistic when it comes to NATO. Also because we’ve reiterated again and again as NATO that we will invite the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to become a member as soon as the name issue is solved.
QUESTION: Are there reservations regarding this question between the NATO member countries and is there a recognition of the possible dangers of Macedonia not being invited?
SECRETARY GENERAL: If the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia finalizes and implements the agreement, also with a yes vote in the referendum, then NATO will invite the country to become a full member. Because we have stated that many times before. This is an historic agreement which provides an historic opportunity for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to become a full member of NATO. And I really urge the people of the country to seize this opportunity and to support the agreement. If the agreement is not supported, then I cannot see how it can be possible in the foreseeable future to invite the country to become a member. So this is a one-time opportunity that has to be seized. And I would very much like to welcome the country as a full member of NATO, and therefore I strongly support the agreement.