SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG:  So Secretary Blinken, dear Tony, welcome back to NATO.  It’s always a great pleasure to have you here, not least because of your strong personal commitment to NATO and the transatlantic alliance.  And today and tomorrow, NATO foreign ministers will address many different pressing security issues, including the Middle East, and I welcome the extension of the pause of hostilities in Gaza.  This has allowed for a much needed relief for the people of Gaza and also the release of more hostages.  And let me thank you, Secretary Blinken, Tony, for your personal efforts to ensure that this will happen and that an agreement was reached.

Ukraine will be on the agenda.  We see continued Russian attacks.  Intensive fighting continues along the front line, and that just makes it even more important that NATO Allies continue to support Ukraine.  And I praise the United States for your leadership, for the critical military equipment that the United States is delivering to Ukraine, but let me highlight that this is actually a joint effort by the United States, Canada, and European allies.  And the European allies and Canada provided almost 50 percent of the military support, so this is actually something we do together as allies on both sides of the Atlantic.

We will address China, the Western Balkans, and also how to work to ensure stability in our southern neighborhood.  Many important issues.  Always great to have you here, and I look forward to our meeting.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes, thank you very, very much.  It’s always very good to be back in Belgium, in Brussels, here at NATO, which it’s almost become like a second home over the last three years.  But I think it’s evidence of the fact that what we are doing with the NATO Alliance is more important than it’s ever been, and you’ve seen over the last three years NATO stepping up in very important ways to deal with the challenges that we face and that we’re facing together.

We will be strongly reaffirming our support for Ukraine as it continues to face Russia’s war of aggression.  We will be looking to the summit next year in Washington to celebrate the 75th anniversary of NATO – but not just celebrate that anniversary, continue to carry the Alliance forward, including with the commitments that its members are making to our collective defense.  We have a lot of work that we’ll be doing, as you said, as well on the Western Balkans, with our partners for NATO from around the world, including the Asia-Pacific.  And of course, we will be talking about the crisis in Gaza and the broader Middle East.

Like you, Jens, I am very pleased to see hostages returning home, coming back to be with their loved ones.  And we’re determined to continue that for as long as possible to bring as many people home as we possibly can, and that continues.

So we have a lot – a lot on the agenda.  But I have to say this:  Everything that we’ve been able to do with the NATO Alliance over the last few years – strengthening the Alliance, making it fit for purpose for the challenges that we’re going to be facing in the years ahead, dealing with the Russian aggression against Ukraine, so many other things – none of that, none of that, would have happened without the leadership of Jens Stoltenberg.  We are grateful to you, grateful for that extraordinary leadership at a moment where it counted more than ever.  So it’s good to be here, good to work with you as well.  Thank you.

SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG:  Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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