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SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG:  Secretary Blinken, dear Tony, welcome to Oslo.  Welcome to this NATO foreign ministerial meeting.  We have many issues to discuss but let me first of all thank you for your personal commitment, your personal leadership, and not least, everything United States does to strengthen the transatlantic bond and to support Ukraine.  And our support to Ukraine will be one of the main issues to be addressed at the meeting today, how to sustain and step-up support, but also how to address Ukraine’s membership aspirations for NATO.

And I’d like to underline that all Allies agree that NATO’s door is open, as we have demonstrated with Finland and Sweden, and all Allies agree that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance, and all Allies agree that it is for the NATO Allies and Ukraine to decide when the time is right.  It’s not for Moscow to decide on NATO enlargement.  Then you also understand that the most urgent and (inaudible) task now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails, because it’s only with an independent, sovereign Ukraine in Europe that the membership issue is something to address at all, and then that we also understand that this will be an issue that we need to address in one way or another when the war ends.

We also discussed how to strengthen our deterrence and defense, including invest more – we should regard 2 percent not as a ceiling, but as a minimum (inaudible) for our defense investments.  And then we will address how to further strengthen our partnership with the Asia Pacific partners, and then of course address also how we can continue to make progress on the ratification of Sweden, that we have Sweden as a full-fledged member.

So once again, Tony, it’s great to have you here in the city of Oslo, and to have you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Jens, thank you very much.  It’s wonderful to be in Oslo.  It’s a minor coincidence that it happens to be the secretary general’s hometown, so we’re very pleased to be able to share that as well.  But this is a very important stop on the road to the Leaders’ Summit in Vilnius in just about a little over a month’s time.  And as the secretary general said – and I can really only reiterate and reaffirm what he said – we have an intense focus on the support we’re continuing to provide to Ukraine to make sure that it prevails against the Russian aggression that’s been now going on for well over a year; to make sure as well that we continue to strengthen our own defensive alliance through building up our plans toward deterrence and defense; and as well, to continue the process of bringing new members into the Alliance, notably Sweden.

Those are the top issues that will be on the agenda in Vilnius in a few weeks’ time, very much the issues that are on our agenda today, to make sure that all Allies are fully aligned as we head into the Leaders’ Summit.  But I have no doubt that will be the case.  One of the stories in the last year and a half has been the extraordinary unity, the extraordinary solidarity of the NATO Alliance.  It’s been very much one of the principal reasons for the success that Ukraine has had in pushing back against the Russian aggression.  We have said from day one what we would do in terms of supporting Ukraine, in terms of putting pressure on Russia, and in terms of strengthening our own Alliance.  We have done what we’ve said, we’ll continue to do that.  This meeting and, of course, the Leaders’ Summit will be critical next steps in that ongoing effort.  Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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