Stoltenberg: “If the name issue is resolved, NATO will invite FYROM to membership”

In an exclusive interview to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA), NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hailed the “strong political support” towards a solution in the FYROM name issue, and notes that “if the name issue is solved then NATO will invite the FYROM to become a member.” Apropos of the alliance’s policy of expanding with new members, Stoltenberg called it “a great success.”

Asked by ANA to comment on Greek-Turkish relations, the organisation’s secretary general expressed his concern over incidents raising the level of tension, such as the incidents involving boat crashes in the Aegean. On the other hand, he hails the direct communication between the Greek and Turkish governments, expressing the hope that “the differences can be addressed in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation (…) good neighborly relations.” He notes that “NATO is a forum for bringing Greece and Τurkey together.”

He also speaks to ANA of the alliance and Greece’s contribution, especially in the migration and refugee crisis. On NATO’s role, Stoltenberg underlines that “NATO helps to implement the agreement between Turkey and EU, addressing the migrant and refugee crisis.” Wrapping up, Jens Stoltenberg tells ANA of the holidays he had recently with his family on Crete, and those he had while a young man on Skyros Island.

ANA: Mr. Secretary General, thank you for this interview to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA). Let me start with a question concerning the next NATO Summit on the 11th and 12th of July. What are the main goals of this summit, especially concerning the South Policy? How could Greece contribute to this policy?

JS: The main goal is to continue to make sure that NATO is adapting, that we are changing when the world is changing. Both to the fact that we see more assertive Russia but also to all the violence we receive to the South: Iraq, Syria and the migrant and refugee crisis. Greece plays a key role in that adaptation. Greece is valued and it is a key ally for NATO, contributing to our collective defense but also helping to address the migrant and refugee crisis with the NATO deployment in the Aegean Sea. I really appreciate the strong contribution of Greece to NATO.

ANA: There is the safe open door policy of NATO to the Western Balkans. Will the enlargement be on the agenda of the next NATO Summit? Specifically on FYROM, what do you expect in the coming months? There are renewed efforts from both sides, Greece and FYROM to find a solution on the name issue. What are the next steps?

JS: NATO enlargement has been a great success. Since the end of the Cold War we have almost doubled the number of the members, and that has helped us to stabilize, to strengthen democracy and the rule of law in the whole of Europe. So NATO enlargement has been a great success.

NATO’s door remains open. We saw that last year, when Montenegro became our new ally, the 29th member of NATO. We will address enlargement at the Summit in July both with our aspiring countries, Bosnia Herzegovina and Georgia, but also when it comes to FYROM. I really welcome the efforts made by both Skopje and Athens to try to find a solution to the name issue. I visited Skopje a couple of months ago. I also spoke with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras after my visit and I welcome the strong political support to try to find a solution to this very difficult and sensitive issue. But if the name issue is resolved, then NATO will invite FYROM to become a member.

ANA: NATO has contributed until now in addressing the refugee and migrant crisis. There is a NATO operation in the Aegean Sea which is considered successful. Will NATO’s contribution continue with the same characteristics or with different ones?

JS: The migrant and refugee crisis is something which has to be addressed with many different tools: with humanitarian means, with border control, with support to the efforts of the UN High Commission for Refugees and the different refugee camps in the Middle East, in Jordan, other places, Turkey, but it’s also about what NATO can do. NATO helps to implement the agreement between Turkey and EU, addressing the migrant and refugee crisis. We have a maritime naval NATO presence in the Aegean Sea. Greece is part of that and we welcome that very much. Figures from the UN show that after NATO deployed our ships in the Aegean Sea, we have seen a very significant decrease in the number of illegal crossings since 2016. The NATO presence is also important because it helps to spot the illegal crossings, helping to reduce them, then reporting them to the Greek coast guard and to the Turkish authorities, also Frontex. NATO presence in the Aegean Sea is also important because it helps to strengthen the cooperation between Turkey and Greece. Turkey and Frontex and all of this is important to address the situation to the Aegean Sea.

ANA: Let’s focus on the Aegean Sea. You know that there are also other problems there. There are continuous tensions and threats by Turkey (that NATO theoritically cannot address). Nevertheless, these tensions create problems in the alliance because you have two allies spending capabilities that they could use to help the Alliance. Especially in the case of Greece, there is a waste of capabilities to protect the Greek territory against another member-state. Don’t you think that this is a paradox that the alliance should in one way or another address?

JS: We are aware of the differences between Greece and Turkey. Both are highly valued allies. They are both contributing in collective defense but at the same time we are aware of the differences, especially at some of the islands in the Aegean Sea. Therefore I very much welcome the fact that there is direct contact between Greece and Turkey addressing these issues. I know that the two PMs, the PM of Greece and the PM of Turkey, speak to each other. NATO is a forum for bringing Greece and Τurkey together. For instance, during our foreign ministers meeting more than week ago here in Brussels, the foreign ministers of Turkey and Greece met, and I encourage that kind of direct dialogue, and I really hope that the differences can be addressed in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation to solve the differences that we know there are between Greece and Turkey.

ANA: Βut we still have illegal activities by Turkey, and threats. There are incidents involving Greek vessels and coast guard ships. We even came as far as two Greek soldiers being detained for almost two months in a Turkish prison. One could say that they are political prisoners. Is this a situation that disconcerns NATO? How do you think such problems can be addressed?

JS: Of course it is always a reason for concern for me and for NATO when there are disagreements, differences between two NATO allies. That’s exactly why we also highlight or underline the importance of direct contact between Greece and Turkey to address these differences. I am for instance aware that there have been some incidents involving ships from Turkey and from Greece. The latest one which took place few days ago, we have been told that there have been no serious injuries and no serious damage but at the same time we know that the ship was under control to make sure there is no serious damage. So of course this is something which creates concern when we see these kind of incidents. But the way to address them is by direct contact between two allies, between Greece and Turkey, and I really hope that is possible to address these incidents and disagreements in the spirit of good neighborly relations to try to solve the differences.

ANA: What about the detention of the two Greek soldiers, do you think that NATO could help in any way?

JS: This is the same kind of issue. There are disagreements, differences between NATO allies, but I think that it is something which illustrates that for NATO, which represents 29 allies and in which all decisions are made by consensus, there are no instruments to address differences between allies. So therefore we very much urge Turkey and Greece to address these issues in direct contacts between the two allies. I have of course discussed these issues both with the leadership in Ankara, with the Turkish political leadership, but I have also discussed it with the Greek political leadership: for instance, in my meeting with both the Greek Foreign Mminister and also before that, with the Greek Defense Minister. I have discussed this several times and addressed the issue in my meetings both in Athens and in Ankara.

ANA: Let’s change subjects completely. Let me ask you a more personal question. You managed to take few days off recently and you came to Greece with your family, on the island of Crete. Did you enjoy your stay?

JS: Very much so! I really love Greece, and I like Crete very much. We went hiking in the mountains and we also did some bicycling, and we had some nice time at the beach. I remember the first time I went to Greece was when I was a very young boy, in 1975, on InterRail, I went to a very small island called Skyros, and since then I have always liked to go on holidays in Greece. Thank you very much for this interview.