(Last Updated On: June 3, 2023)

Condemning Violence Against KFOR and Escalatory Actions in Northern Kosovo





JUNE 1, 2023

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  So let me first say what a pleasure it is to be in Oslo for the first time in my capacity as Secretary of State and also wonderful to be in this absolutely magnificent museum.  The only regret is that we don’t have a little bit more time to spend here.

I very much want to thank Norway for the incredibly warm welcome and for hosting this informal NATO ministerial meeting.  As a founding member of NATO and the eyes and ears of the Alliance on the northern flank, Norway is a critical partner and critical to transatlantic security.  And we just saw that again last week when the USS Gerald Ford, the world’s largest aircraft carrier, arrived in Oslo for training exercises.

Here in Secretary General Stoltenberg’s hometown, let me also say how grateful I am to Jens for his remarkable leadership of our Alliance these past few years – truly a crucial moment for the Alliance.  Jens has brought a remarkably strong and steady hand to NATO, and as a result – no small measure, thanks to his leadership – NATO is facing the future stronger, bigger, and more united than ever.

We had a very productive discussion today to prepare for the NATO Summit in Vilnius that will take place next month.  We focused on advancing our unwavering support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s brutal aggression.  As we look to Vilnius, we remain dedicated to the principles underpinning our Alliance, including, of course, Article 5 and our shared commitment to defend every inch of NATO territory.

We continue to strengthen and modernize the Alliance as we head to Vilnius.  On April 4th, of course, we welcome Finland as our 31st Ally, adding another first-rate military and enhancing our presence in the High North and the Black Sea[1].  We’re continuing to work to complete the accession process for Sweden, another very strong and capable partner, and we fully anticipate doing so by the time the leaders meet in Vilnius.  These additions will make both Finland and Sweden safer and make NATO stronger.  And our defensive Alliance is and always will keep its door open to new members.

We appreciate the efforts of Allies, like Norway, who’ve made concrete plans to meet the Wales Pledge and spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense.  And we look forward to coming out of Vilnius with a strengthened pledge to provide the resources necessary to improve the readiness of our militaries, increase our resilience, and keep pace with emerging challenges like cyber defense and climate security.

We’re also deepening our coordination with key partners in the Indo-Pacific, building on our shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

As the people of Ukraine demonstrate incredible courage and sacrifice, the United States, the European Union, and countries around the world continue to support their fight to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity and the right to choose their own path.  Together, we have committed billions of dollars in security assistance, including our recent pledge to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 aircraft, which Norway is also considering.  We’ve imposed severe sanctions on Russia’s economy and war machine.  We’re providing vital humanitarian, economic, and energy assistance.

Norway has been an essential partner in this effort from day one.  Going back to February of 2022, Norway has provided more than $2.3 billion in support of Ukraine – including air defenses and other weapons – and has pledged now $7.5 billion in aid over the next five years.  As Europe’s leading supplier of natural gas, Norway has been instrumental in helping Europe transition away from Russian energy, which the United States remains committed to supporting.  And the people of Norway have welcomed some 43,000 Ukrainian refugees, who are finding new homes and even learning Norwegian.

In today’s discussion, many Allies also expressed concern about increased tensions in northern Kosovo and strongly condemned the recent attacks on KFOR troops, and we’re thinking today of our Italian and Hungarian colleagues who were injured in that attack.  We call on the Governments of Kosovo and Serbia to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions and renew efforts to implement the EU-led normalization agreements.  We support the process of Euro-Atlantic integration for Kosovo and for Serbia, but the current escalation hinders – rather than helps – the efforts to move in that direction.

In addition to our informal NATO ministerial, I appreciated very much the chance to meet with Prime Minister Støre yesterday evening, and I’ll be meeting shortly with my friend and colleague, the foreign minister, to discuss the very robust bilateral relationship between our countries, which is growing from strength.

Last year, a new supplementary Defense Cooperation Agreement entered into force, modernizing how our militaries collaborate.

Norway is leading the world in advancing clean energy technologies, with electric vehicles now making up 80 percent of new cars sold here over the last year.  We’ll continue partnering with Norway to combat the climate crisis, from reducing deforestation to making shipping greener.

And of course, our countries are Arctic allies.  I look forward to discussing with the foreign minister Norway’s assumption of the chair of the Arctic Council.  We’re eager to work with likeminded allies to advance our vision of a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative Arctic.

To deepen our own engagement in the High North, I’m announcing today that the United States will be opening an American Presence Post in Tromsø – our northernmost diplomatic mission and only such facility above the Arctic Circle.

So I very much appreciated the opportunity to discuss these efforts with both our Norwegian and NATO Allies.  We covered a lot of ground today in preparation for Vilnius.  And I think based on the discussions today, we can anticipate a very productive summit when our leaders meet in July.  With that, happy to take some questions.

MR MILLER:  First question is for Shaun Tandon with AFP.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Can I follow up on a couple of things you just said?  You said that the door remains open to Ukraine.  Here in the talks leading up to the Vilnius Summit, what political commitments do you think NATO should give to Ukraine, if any, at this point, in addition to the military aid?  Excuse me.

And on the issue of Kosovo, you mentioned the call to de-escalate tensions.  You’ve criticized the leaders in Pristina for the actions that they’ve taken.  How much leverage does the United States or do other NATO members have over those decisions?  And how do you assess the role of Belgrade and Moscow in this?

And with your indulgence, can I just briefly ask about the situation in Sudan?  You have the breakdown of the talks there, the army withdrawing.  Are you optimistic at all of talks restarting or a peace process restarting at some point?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good.  Thanks very much, Shaun.  So with regard to Ukraine, I think, based on the discussions today, the first thing I’d say is that at Vilnius, when the leaders meet for the summit, we and our friends in Ukraine can anticipate a very robust package of both political and practical support.  Everyone here stands behind the Bucharest commitment.  That hasn’t changed.  We’re focused intensely on what we can do to strengthen even more the relationship between Ukraine and NATO and to continue to bring Ukraine up to NATO standards, interoperability.  And I think you’ll see that be a feature of the Summit in Vilnius, as well as strengthening the political relationship between NATO and Ukraine.  So again, I’d anticipate, based on discussions today, that there will be a strong package of support.

Now, what we were doing today is not decisional.  This was really an opportunity on the eve – almost the eve – of the summit to compare notes and to make sure that when we get to the summit we do so in a way that’s characterized our entire approach to the crisis in Ukraine and to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, and that is united together and moving forward.  So you’ll see that both in terms of support for Ukraine; you’ll see that in terms of our ongoing commitment to strengthen our own Alliance to make sure that it is properly postured for any Russian aggression; and I think you’ll also see that in NATO looking at a whole series of other challenges, many of which we’ve focused on addressing, including with our new Strategic Concept.

With regard to Kosovo, the escalation there and the actions taken there move both Kosovo and Serbia in the wrong direction, because the answer that we’re looking for is de-escalation, avoiding any unilateral actions, and returning to this normalization process and the EU-led effort that is what promises both of them a future of integration in the Euro-Atlantic community.  And in a sense, when we’re talking about leverage, that’s it.  That, I think, meets clearly the aspirations of people in both countries.  If either country is taking steps that actually make that a more distant prospect, that’s actually not going to serve the interests of their people.

We’ve been very clear in our concerns about some of the recent actions that were taken.  We’ve said that directly to the leaders involved, including Prime Minister Kurti.  And we’re looking for both to act responsibly going forward.

Sudan, we have been very much engaged – and I’ve been very much engaged – in trying to get a ceasefire.  We did – very imperfect.  We got it extended a few times.  We did see the provision of humanitarian assistance moving forward.  But it has been incredibly imperfect and incredibly fragile, and now we’re seeing actions – again, by both sides – in clear violation of the commitments they’ve made in terms of the ceasefire.  So that also is not the right direction to be heading, and it’s certainly not what’s in the interests of the people of Sudan.

We’ll continue to be engaged.  At the same time, we’re also looking at steps that we can take to make clear our views on any leaders who are moving Sudan in the wrong direction, including by perpetuating the violence and by violating the ceasefires that they’ve actually committed to.  So that’s what we’re focused on right now.

MR MILLER:  Mattia Bagnoli with ANSA.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Thank you, Mr.  Secretary, for the opportunity.  I want to go back to Kosovo for a second, please.  Regarding the rising tensions that we are seeing over there, NATO has already announced an increase in its presence.  And is the U.S. also ready to deploy more troops at Bondsteel base?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So the United States already has forces there as part of the existing -mission.  The plus-up – we have several hundred forces as part of the K4 mission.  The plus-up that was announced by NATO I don’t think will involve additional U.S. forces.  But as I said, there are already U.S. forces as part of the K4 mission.  There are now an additional roughly 700 troops who will be added to the approximately, I think, 4,000 or so who are already there.

But again, the most important thing is for the parties themselves to de-escalate, to stop engaging in unilateral actions, and to return to the EU-led dialogue.  That is the path forward.  That is what we are strongly urging both parties to do.  That’s very much our expectation for what we’ll see in the in the days and weeks ahead.

MR MILLER:  The next question is from Will Mauldin with Wall Street Journal. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  I wanted to follow up on Shaun’s question and ask, based on the conversations that you heard at the informal meeting – a group of – the majority of NATO countries, their foreign affairs committee chairman wrote today saying that there should be a clear path toward membership for Ukraine and a strong security guarantee.  Is that something that’s consistent with what you heard in the room or is there still a deep divide between those who want NATO membership for Ukraine and those who don’t?

And then following up on where you said practical support for Ukraine, would that be some kind of scheduled weapons delivery or assistance long term, something like the U.S. provides for Israel or were you referring to something else?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well first, I think it’s, again, very clear from today’s discussion that every Ally stands by Bucharest.  There is no division on that proposition.  NATO is a consensus-driven organization, so any steps that we take have to be taken by consensus of all 31 countries who are currently members of the Alliance.  As I said, when we’re – when we’re looking at Vilnius, our focus is twofold.  First, we have an immediate focus, both through NATO but also on a individual basis, with the now more than 50 countries that have been supporting Ukraine, an immediate focus on maximizing our support in Ukraine – for Ukraine as it engages in a counteroffensive to take back its territory seized from it by Russia over the last year and a quarter.

At the same time, we’re also focused on helping Ukraine build up its medium‑ to long-term deterrence and defense capacity so that if and when the current aggression settles, Ukraine has the full capacity to deter and, if necessary, defend against future aggression.  And NATO has a role in that in terms of the work that it can do to help bring Ukraine up to NATO standards in its planning, in its interoperability with NATO.  And then individual countries are playing a role in that and will be playing a role in that, including by providing not only the immediate support to Ukraine, but also longer-term support so that, again, over time, Ukraine can fully build up its deterrent and defense capacity.  We talked about all of that today.  We of course have been engaged in that – in those discussions directly with Ukraine, other countries have as well, and I think you’ll see a lot of that coming together in the weeks ahead.

But the NATO piece of this is, as I said, strengthening the political relationship between Ukraine and NATO.  I think the secretary general talked about some of the elements of that.  But again, I don’t want to get too far ahead of the summit itself because, ultimately, these are decisions that the leaders have to make and finalize – but also, as I said, very practical support, including the work that NATO will do to help bring Ukraine fully up to NATO standards.

So all of that will be coming forward in the next weeks.  And as I said, my full expectation is there’ll be a very strong package of support on both the political side and the practical side when the leaders get together in Vilnius.

QUESTION:  And the path towards NATO accession that the chairman mentioned, is that something that that was on the table today or that you could agreement on?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  This was part of our discussion today, and I think we’ll now have an opportunity, everyone will have an opportunity to discuss that back home with our respective leaders.  And I fully anticipate that will be part of the conversation at Vilnius.  But again, I’m also confident the result in Vilnius will be a robust package of political and practical support for Ukraine.

MR MILLER:  Final question goes to Vilde Wikan with Aftenposten. 

QUESTION:  Yes.  Secretary Blinken, with increased tensions with Russia and Sweden and Finland joining NATO, has the Nordic region become more important for the United States?  And can you elaborate a little bit on what the American Presence Post in Tromsø will entail?  And can we also expect more American military presence in our area and in the High North?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Great.  Thank you.  A few things.  First, when it comes to Norway, when it comes to Finland, when it comes to Sweden, we of course have longstanding relationships, bilateral relationships, with all three countries that we very, very much appreciate.  And I think you’ve seen over the years we’ve been working in a variety of ways with all three countries when it comes not just to security but to trying to deal with challenges both in Europe and in the region, but also well beyond, to include the Arctic but also to include global challenges – food security, energy security, global health, et cetera.

So those partnerships have been vital for a long time.  But now we have the development that Finland has joined Norway as a NATO Ally and Sweden will soon do the same thing.  So that only enhances and strengthens the incredibly strong foundation that we’ve had.  For us, the Presence Post in Tromsø is really an ability to have a diplomatic footprint above the Arctic Circle, and as I said, it’s the first one that we’ve been able to have.  Our entire approach is to make sure that the Arctic remains an area of peaceful cooperation.  It’s one of the things that, especially in a world that is evermore challenged, that it’s also evermore vital to preserve.  And we’re determined to do that.

We engage with indigenous peoples in the region.  We’re very focused, of course, with our partners on dealing with many of the challenges of climate change, natural resources, and, fundamentally, working together to make sure that the region remains peaceful.  And I think having a diplomatic presence further north will only enable – further enable and enhance those efforts.

But again, when it comes to the three countries, we’re building on a base of very strong bilateral partnerships and soon having all three as Allies in NATO.  Thank you.  Thanks very much.

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