04/21/2015: Mr. Stoltenberg visited Iceland to discuss issues at the top of NATO’s security agenda.
He discussed Russia’s continued aggressive actions in Ukraine and the rise of violent extremism in the Middle East and North Africa with Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur, David Gunnlaugsson and Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson.
Mr. Stoltenberg also met with Olof Nordal, the Interior Minister and senior members of Iceland’s Parliament, including Einar K. Guofinnsson, the Speaker of the Althingi, and Birgir Armannsson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The press conference held by the two and the Q and A provided some insights into how the Russians are affecting the NATO defense discussion:
Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson (Prime Minister of Iceland): Mister Secretary General, I would like to formally welcome you back to Iceland. This is, of course, not the first time we see Jens Stoltenberg in Iceland. He has been here many times before in his previous capacity. But we are very happy to welcome him here now as the Secretary General of NATO.
We had very good discussions on Iceland’s cooperation with NATO; and developments within NATO; and the challenges NATO is currently facing, for example, the situation in Eastern Europe, the threat of ISIL, national security in Afghanistan and the importance of cyber security.
Overall, a very good and informative discussion. And we look forward to working with Mr. Stoltenberg who has been… I think it’s safe to say he’s successful now as Secretary General of NATO. Please, yes.
Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General): Thank you so much Sigmund. It’s great to be back here in Iceland. And as you said, I’ve been here many, many times. But this is my first visit to Reykjavik, to Iceland as Secretary General of NATO.
And Iceland is a highly-valued member of the Alliance. And we have had excellent discussions today related to many different challenges which we face as an alliance in a changing security environment.
And I started my visit here in Iceland by visiting the Keflavik station where we visited the peacetime…the peacetime mission for air surveillance which is key and which is a good example of how NATO is committed to the security of Iceland. And it also shows how NATO contributes to security and stability in this part of the Atlantic.
But I would also like to underline that Iceland in many ways contributes to the Alliance. You contribute to our mission in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces. You contribute to our efforts in Ukraine in supporting one of the trust funds we have in Ukraine to try to help the Ukrainian government in modernising their defence capacities. And Iceland has shown leadership when it comes to the wider link between women, peace and security.
And I therefore very much appreciate this opportunity to discuss all the different aspects of the cooperation between Iceland and NATO; because you are really contributing in many different ways to our Alliance. And this is especially important because we now are experiencing a changing security environment.
We see a more assertive Russia to the East, violating international law, annexing part of another country. This is the first time this has happened since the Second World War there has been an illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.
But we also see turmoil and violence in the South with ISIL, in Iraq, Syria, North Africa. And this requires that NATO responds or is responding. That’s exactly what we are doing in following up the decisions we made at our Summit in Wales last fall.
We are doing that by increasing the readiness and the preparedness of our forces. We have doubled the size of the NATO Response Force from 13,000 to 30,000. And the centrepiece of this enhanced NATO Response Force is Spearhead Force where the lead elements are able to move within as little as 48 hours.
And part of this is also going to be air, sea and Special Forces. I think that the increase of the readiness and the preparedness of forces is important to demonstrate that NATO also in the future is able to defend and protect all Allies against any threat. And that’s of course also the case for Iceland.
So, for me, it has been really a great pleasure to meet with you again; to be able to discuss how we can continue to develop the excellent cooperation within the Alliance.
Iceland is one of the founding members of NATO. You are at the heart of the North Atlantic cooperation just because of the fact that you are located where you are in the middle of the Atlantic sea.
And therefore, you’re in a unique position to make sure that we are keeping the bond between Europe and North America rock solid. And therefore, I appreciate this opportunity to meet you, to further develop our excellent cooperation. Thank you.
Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson: Thank you. So any questions?
Q: Question. My name is Peter from Channel 2 Television. NATO’s presence in Iceland has been rather small since the American Navy Base was closed here. The Icelandic Government has stated that if you would wish to have a stronger presence here, maybe a co-operation with NATO to a sort of rescue centre in Iceland. Would you have an opportunity to express that possibility of Iceland under the flag of NATO could have such a search and rescue centre here?
Jens Stoltenberg: We discussed the importance of NATO presence in also this part of the Atlantic. And I started today as I said by visiting the peacetime surveillance mission which NATO now actually is conducting out of Keflavik. And I think that demonstrates a willingness of NATO and NATO Allies to be present, to do air policing and to do surveillance as part of the NATO commitment to Iceland.
We also discussed search and rescue. And that was also an issue that was raised when I visited the Keflavik base. But it’s too early to say how far we can develop that co-operation further. But search and rescue is of course very important. And I welcome the important contribution made the Icelandic Coast Guard which is key when it comes to search and rescue also for the peacetime surveillance mission.
Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson: (Inaudible) Over there!
Q: My name is (inaudible) for Reuters. And I was wondering of the sequence of actions in Ukraine in the last few days. And what do you think should be done about it? Is the Minsk Agreement being followed?
Jens Stoltenberg: We are very concerned about the increased violence in Eastern Ukraine. And we have seen more violations of the ceasefire. We have seen more movement of heavy equipment. And therefore, we are of course very concerned; because this is undermining the ceasefire and the whole Minsk Agreement.
And the Minsk Agreement is the best foundation for a peaceful negotiated solution to the crisis in Eastern Ukraine. And therefore it is important that we support all efforts to make sure that the ceasefire and the Minsk Agreement is fully implemented and fully respected. And that’s about respecting the ceasefire. It’s about the withdrawal of all heavy weapons from the frontline. And I call on both parties to do so.
And I also call on Russia to stop supporting the separatists and to make sure that they use all their influence over the separatists so they are respecting the ceasefire and withdrawing their weapons from the contact of the frontline [inaudible]. Because we should do whatever we can to support the efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
Q: Hi, my name is Vera Nutuk (?) from the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service.
The five Nordic countries have recently announced the increase in the defence cooperation because of Russian threat. What is NATO’s position on that?
Jens Stoltenberg: I welcome very much increased cooperation between the Nordic countries. I think that’s a win-win situation. And it also increases the cooperation between NATO and non-NATO countries as Finland and Sweden.
And I think that’s good; because it’s a way of pooling resources; getting more out of the investments we all make in defence. And it increases our ability to have a strong military presence in the Nordic countries. So more exercising together, closer cooperation is important for Iceland. It’s important for all the other Nordic countries.
And it makes countries like Sweden and Finland which are not NATO members; but they are close partners of NATO… and it makes that partnership even more important. And it contributes to more content and substance to our cooperation when we are expanding the Nordic Defence Cooperation.
And I’m also glad to tell you that I’m going to visit my father this weekend. And he presented this Stoltenberg Report some years ago. And I know that he’s very glad every time there’s some… should I say, implementation and follow-up of that report. And this is one of the core messages in his report, some years ago.
Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson: Did your father a part of this?
Jens Stoltenberg: Obviously!
Q: Yes, Stef (?), from Russian plans, it’s kind of linked together questions; because of the statement or the article that the ministers wrote. There was a strong statement that support for the Baltic States. Did you discussed how the Nordic countries, Iceland specifically, could have some expand in Baltic States vis–vis a Russian aggression in the security of the region?
Jens Stoltenberg: The key issue is to provide collective defence; is to make clear also in the future that any attack on any NATO Ally is an attack not only on one Ally; but on 28 Allies. And that’s the main purpose of NATO is to be able to provide deterrence so no-one considers any attack on any NATO Ally. That’s the case for all the Baltic countries. It’s the case for Iceland. It’s the case for Norway.
It’s the case for 28 Allies. And therefore that’s also the reason why NATO has a response to what we saw in Ukraine last year. We decided to increase our military presence in the Eastern part of the Alliance with air policing over the Baltic Sea; with more ships at sea; and more troops on the ground on rotational basis.
All NATO Allies contribute in different ways to this Assurance Measures. And all NATO Allies also contribute to the increased readiness and preparedness of our forces as I said by the establishment of an Enhanced NATO Response Force, doubling the size. And a centerpiece of this Enhanced NATO Response Force is the High Readiness Force or the Spearhead Force which has some lead elements that are able to move within as little as 48 hours.
In addition to that, we are establishing Command and Control… or Command Units in the three Baltic countries, along with similar Command Units in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. So all of these are efforts by NATO, supported by… also by Iceland to make sure that all countries, all in the future are 100% defended and protected by NATO.
Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson: Anything else? Final question!
Q: (Inaudible). What do think should be done about Russia military aircrafts threatening the security of civilian aircrafts, particularly in the Baltic area, final pool (inaudible)?
Jens Stoltenberg: What we have seen is increased Russian military air activity in general. We have seen substantial increase over a period of time. And we have not only seen increased numbers of flights; but the flights are also more complex, more advanced. And I think the important thing is that military flights also pay due regard to the safety of civilian air traffic.
And the European Aviation Safety Agency just published a report underlining the importance of also military aircrafts conducting their flights in a way which not undermine the safety of civilian air traffic. And this is, of course, important, especially because we see increased military air activity. It also underlines the importance that NATO is vigilant; and that we have the capacity to intercept and to identify.
And one of the things they do out of Keflavik is to identify and when necessary also intercept flights, planes which are unidentified. So the air policing, the peacetime preparedness mission, all of this is important; because it also adds to the safety of civilian air traffic. Because the sooner we can identify unidentified planes, the better for civilian air traffic.
Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson: Then, so… good… Thank you very much.