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Moderator: Good afternoon. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing on this week’s NATO Foreign Ministerial. Today we’re very honored to be joined by Chargé d’Affaires Douglas Jones, the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO.
Before I turn it over to Chargé d’Affaires Jones for opening remarks, I have a few comments on the procedure for asking questions. If you’re joining us via the Zoom application or link, you may submit your questions at any time by clicking on the “questions and answers” tab and typing in your question. If you see a colleague ask a question that you’d like Chargé Jones to answer, you can upvote it in the queue by clicking the “like” button to the right of that question.
We’ll try to get to as many questions as possible in the time we have today, so please show your support and like the questions you’d most like us to cover. You can notify us of any technical difficulties by using the chat box or emailing us at TheBrusselsHub@state.gov.
And with that, let’s get started. Chargé Jones, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
Mr. Jones: Thank you, Andrea, and thank you all to you out there who are joining us today for this virtual event. This week’s meeting of NATO foreign ministers is going to be an important first opportunity for Secretary of State Blinken to meet face to face with his NATO counterparts. President Biden has been very clear about the United States’ commitment to re-energizing and reinvigorating its alliances, starting with NATO. And Secretary Blinken is going to use his first meeting at NATO to do just that.
The foreign ministers will have a full agenda as they prepare for the NATO Summit sometime later this year, at which President Biden will reaffirm the United States’ strong commitment to NATO, to our commitment to consulting with allies, and to our ironclad commitment to NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense clause.
At the foreign ministerial, the ministers will also discuss Afghanistan and consult on the way ahead. While no decisions have been made yet on the ongoing review that the United States is conducting about the Taliban’s compliance with the U.S.-Taliban agreement, the consultations that the United States has had with allies have played an important and critical part of that review and that consultation will continue at the foreign ministerial this week.
Allies will also discuss NATO’s continuing adaptation to meet new security threats. Two items on the agenda that in particular highlight that adaptation are climate change and China.
Climate change, we believe, is one of the most important issues that allies are confronting, and the United States is committed to working also at NATO with our allies to address this crisis. As the world’s leading military alliance, NATO can and should look at the ways in which climate change is affecting the security environment, the ways in which NATO needs to adapt to those changes, and also how NATO can mitigate its own impact on the environment.
On China, NATO foreign ministers will discuss China’s assertive and coercive actions and the way in which they impact on our common security, on our prosperity, and on our values. The United States sees the relationship with China as the most important geopolitical test of the 21st century, and China’s actions also impact on Euro-Atlantic security and NATO.
Russia is also on the agenda. President Biden has been clear that the United States will act firmly when – in response to Russian actions that harm the United States or its allies, and NATO, for its part, is focused on maintaining a strong defense and deterrence against Russian aggression and also on building our resilience against threats such as cyber, hybrid, and others.
Andrea, with that introduction, I’m happy to take questions.
Moderator: Thank you very much, sir. So we’ll now turn to the question and answer portion of today’s briefing. And our first question goes to Lailuma Sadid from the Brussels Morning newspaper and Kavian Press. And Lailuma asks, “Can you confirm that U.S. troops will not be withdrawn by May 1st? Afghan analysts believe Khalilzad’s peace mission failed. How optimistic are you that the Ankara summit could have a positive outcome?” And then Lailuma has a second question: “Where do you see the role of Afghan women in the peace meetings?”
Mr. Jones: Thank you for that question. As you know, Secretary of Defense Austin was just in Afghanistan. As he made clear, the review that I mentioned is ongoing. The United States continues to look at its force posture going forward and the Taliban’s compliance with the agreement. No decisions have been made and all options remain viable; nothing has been taken off the table. And decisions on that review will be made by the President.
Consultations here at NATO with our allies are an important part of this review. We had an opportunity when the defense ministers met earlier this year to discuss this review, and those consultations will happen again during the foreign ministerial today. Allies have stood strongly together and united in Afghanistan for going on two decades, and the United States is committed to our belief that allies went into Afghanistan together; that we will adjust our posture together; and that, when the time is right, we will leave together. And to do that, we need to talk through this process as we make decisions jointly, together.
Allies are strongly supporting this new diplomatic push that the United States is leading, also with the support of other allies such as Turkey, which is hosting the Istanbul Conference. This new diplomatic initiative is critical and we’re urging the parties – the Afghan Government, the Taliban – to engage genuinely in this process, and also urging the Taliban to reduce levels of violence so that we can create a conducive environment for diplomatic progress.
Regarding the progress that had been made in Afghanistan, including the important progress for women and children, the United States and all allies are committed to ensuring that that progress is not lost and that it is maintained, and we are also equally committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never returns to a base for terrorism that can threaten the United States or any of its allies. And so that is also, I think, an important commitment to remember as we come upon the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. Our next question comes from Robert Lupitu from CaleaEuropeana.ro, and the question is: “How does the United States see the proposal set out by NATO’s secretary general on common funding for defense and deterrence in the eastern flank, including the Black Sea?”
Mr. Jones: The NATO 2030 process, which allies will be discussing at the foreign ministerial, is an important process for NATO. This is about how NATO has to continue to adapt to address new and emerging security challenges, and we think NATO 2030 is an important opportunity for that. It’s important that we remember how this started. In 2019, the leaders of NATO asked the secretary general to lead a process to look at ways we could revitalize the political dimension of NATO. We’ve had a report from a group of outside experts that have made a series of recommendations, and the secretary general is taking those recommendations and other inputs and creating recommendations that he will give to NATO leaders at the summit later this year.
An important part of this will be the question of funding. We’ve asked the alliance to do more and more over the years, and it’s important that we resource the alliance adequately to meet the level of ambition that we’re setting for it. So we are still in the process. There are many different proposals out there regarding common funding and others, so I won’t go into the details of the specific proposals, but to say that it is important that NATO’s budgets reflect the – and properly resource this alliance so that it can continue to meet current and future threats.
Moderator: Thank you very much, sir. Our next question comes from Razi Canikligil from Hürriyet, who asks: “Does removing Turkey from the F-35 program or getting Russia the S-400 air defense system create a weakness for NATO?”
Mr. Jones: First of all, Turkey is a very valued ally in NATO. Turkey is a major contributor to NATO operations and it is a strong supporter of the NATO alliance. The United States has been very clear about how we view Turkey’s purchase of the S-400. We opposed the purchase of the S-400. The presence of a large Russian weapons system such as the S-400 has no place in the NATO alliance, and it also contravenes commitments that allies made to each other that we would wean off of dependency on Russian weapons systems.
But NATO is a unique place where we have conversations every day on topics which we agree on and also difficult topics that we do not agree on, and we discuss even the most difficult issues here. So we will continue to discuss with Turkey issues related to the S-400, both through our bilateral contacts with Turkey and here at NATO, and we will continue to work here at NATO together as we plot a way ahead.
Moderator: Okay, thank you very much. Our next question in the queue comes from Demna Devdariani, and Demna asks: “I’m the D.C.-based U.S. correspondent from Georgia representing TV Imedi. I have a question about Georgia’s prospects for NATO integration and the role the U.S. can play in this process. How committed is the United States to help Georgia join the alliance despite the skepticism from Germany and France? Should Georgians expect any move forward on the NATO integration process out of the ongoing ministerial?”
Mr. Jones: Well, the United States is a very strong supporter of NATO’s open-door policy. The open-door policy has been a historic success and achievement of this alliance, and it’s proven its viability in recent years through the admission of new members into the alliance. And so the United States and all NATO allies believe that it is the sovereign right of every nation to decide its own future, to decide which groupings and alliances it wants to join, and we do not accept that any other country has a veto or any say in those sovereign decisions of a nation on what it would join.
Georgia has been a very strong partner of the alliance and a longtime aspirant. It is a contributor to NATO operations, and it is an Enhanced Opportunity partner of the alliance. The alliance continues to look – and the United States continues to look – to Georgia to continue to implement reforms, to strengthen its democratic institutions, to build the rule of law, to increase the interoperability of its forces with NATO, and through that reform process to make itself a stronger candidate for NATO membership.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Our next question comes from Steven Erlanger from The New York Times, and the question is: “Any notion on when an ambassador will be named?” And he remarks, “No insult to you, Mr. Jones. It seems odd not to have even named anyone.”
Mr. Jones: Well, no offense taken. But the United States remains active and engaged here at NATO. I have no additional information on that, on when a nomination would be coming, but we expect a nomination as soon as possible.
Moderator: Thank you very much. The next question in our queue comes from Katalin Halmai from Hungarian Népszava, who asks: “Will Secretary Blinken hold bilateral meetings with his NATO partners, and if so, with whom?”
Mr. Jones: So Secretary Blinken will be holding bilateral meetings, but we have not announced them yet. So those announcements will be forthcoming as part of the – as part of the schedule is released for the NATO Foreign Ministerial.
Moderator: Thank you. And I will turn now to a question that was pre-submitted to us by Milos Rudovic from Daily Press Vijesti, and the question is: “You recently met with new Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro Dritan Abazović. What did you talk about and did you get reassurances from Mr. Abazović that the Montenegrin government will fulfill its obligations regarding NATO membership?”
Mr. Jones: Well, I did meet with the deputy prime minister last week. It was a pleasure to meet with him. I think it was important that he took the time to come to NATO headquarters so early in his tenure, as did Prime Minister Krivokapić earlier come to visit NATO, and we enjoyed hearing from him and appreciated the update that he gave us of the situation in Montenegro, and we also appreciated that he reiterated Montenegro’s commitment to upholding its commitments as a NATO ally. Montenegro is a valued ally here at NATO; it’s a capable ally that makes important contributions here to this alliance. And so we value its leadership also in the Western Balkans, where it plays an important role. So we’re looking forward to Montenegro’s continued engagement here at NATO, including at the foreign ministerial this week.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Our next question in the queue is from Michael Greenfield of Sky News, who asks: “How concerned is the United States about the UK’s plans to cut its army by around 10,000 soldiers as part of the defense command paper?”
Mr. Jones: Well, it’s important that – to remember the UK remains a – is a leading ally here at NATO, a strong ally, and we appreciate that the UK has recently concluded a comprehensive defense review, which we have supported, and also that the UK has met its 2 percent commitment for defense spending as a percentage of GDP and is committed to increased defense spending out for the next four years. And that has sent an important signal of the UK’s commitment to this alliance and to a strong – and to a strong NATO. So here at NATO, we work out the different defense capacity targets that each ally is expected to meet, and the UK continues to meet their defense capability targets, and we’ll continue to work with the UK as we do with all the allies here to ensure that this increased defense spending and all of our defense spending is going to the most effective capabilities that we need to meet the threats that this alliance protects us from.
Moderator: Thank you very much. And unfortunately, we only have time for one last question, and that question goes to Paolo Mastrolilli from La Stampa, who asks: “Russia has a significant” – oh, sorry. “Russia has a significant military presence in Libya. Should NATO address this issue, and how?”
Mr. Jones: Well, I can say, from the United States’ perspective, the United States has been supporting the UN-led process in Libya. We’ve welcomed the ceasefire agreement that was signed there, and we welcome the creation of the new government there. The – it’s important that the – all the terms of that ceasefire agreement be complied with. That includes the commitment that all foreign fighters and mercenaries will leave Libya, and we call on all parties to comply with that – those terms. NATO keeps a close eye on Libya, naturally – it’s right on NATO’s southern flank – and we discuss the issue regularly, and NATO is going to continue to watch the situation in Libya and do everything that we can as an alliance to support that country as it seeks greater stability and security.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you for your questions and thank you, Chargé d’Affaires Jones, for joining us.
Shortly, we’ll send broadcast-quality video files of the briefing to all participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it’s available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us anytime at TheBrusselsHub@state.gov. Thanks again for your participation and we hope you can join us for another press briefing soon.