Transcript

Remarks by Secretary Esper and NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg

Oct. 25, 2019
Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper; NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg

SECRETARY-GENERAL JENS STOLTENBERG: Welcome to NATO Headquarters.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MARK T. ESPER: Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

SEC.GEN. STOLTENBERG: So it's good to have you here, and welcome to the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting. We will address a wide range of issues today and tomorrow, including the situation in northeast Syria. We are all, of course, concerned about the risk of jeopardizing the progress we've made in the fight against Daesh. But we also welcome the progress we have seen in the north states with significant reduction in violence; and we have to build on that to make further progress and make sure that we continue our fight against our joint enemy, ISIS.

We'll also discuss the ongoing NATO mission in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both in Iraq and Afghanistan, the NATO mission is about making sure that we continue to fight international terrorism and that ISIS is not able to come back.

Then NATO readiness -- increase in readiness of our forces is, by-and-large, on lock. And of course, as always when we meet, burden-sharing, the importance of European allies and Canada investing more in defense will -- will -- will also be an important issue for this ministerial meeting. And we recognize the progress we are making, with $100 billion more from European allies and Canada, but we need to do even better than that, so we continue to stress burden-sharing.

SEC. ESPER: Well, thank you again, Mr. Secretary-General, for being -- for being here. Your leadership of the alliance is -- is -- is superb, and we really appreciate all that you do.

As some of you know, I arrived from the Middle East last night, and during my tour in the previous few days, I had a chance to visit Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

In Afghanistan, I had the great privilege of visiting with our troops and our partners, to see how well they're doing helping the -- enable the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces improve their own security. So they're doing a superb job there.

I had the chance to visit Saudi Arabia, where I met with United States troops on the ground helping Saudi Arabia defend itself from Iranian provocation. And on a bilateral fashion, I will be urging several of my NATO partners to consider also contributing air defense and other defensive assets to help, again, prevent conflict in the region.

I also had the privilege of stopping in Iraq the day prior, and I can tell you that NATO Mission Iraq is doing a fantastic job helping Iraq improve the performance of its forces and modernize its defense institutions.

You mentioned northeast Syria -- obviously, as lot -- a lot has changed on the ground in the past week or so. I think we can sit down and discuss how we recalibrate the Defeat-ISIS mission, so that we ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.

And then lastly, as you mentioned, I hope to discuss in great detail how we can further improve the readiness of the alliance and increase burden-sharing.

So I look forward to a very productive and candid and constructive meeting these next couple days. And as always, we are fully committed -- committed to the NATO alliance, and I want to reassure everybody on that.

SEC. GEN. STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much.

SEC. ESPER: Thank you.