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NATO Secretary General: We Will Support Resumption Of Peace Talks With The Taliban

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives an interview during the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Jason DeCrow/AP)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives an interview during the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Jason DeCrow/AP)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says the international alliance supports the U.S. resuming peace talks with the Taliban.

Stoltenberg, who has served as secretary general since 2014, says the parties need to work together to find a political solution in Afghanistan instead of trying to “win on the battlefield.”

“They have to sit down and make real compromises at the negotiating table,” he says. “We believe that a good deal is more important than the quick deal and we will support resumption of peace talks.”

Stoltenberg says the union of 29 nations has protected the interests and independence of each member nation by standing together.

That means being apart of NATO is important for the United States, too, he says.

“The strength of a nation can be measured not only on the size of its economy, the number of its soldiers,” he says, “but also measured by the number of its friends.”

Interview Highlights

On whether the U.S. canceling peace talks with the Taliban was a mistake
“NATO supported the peace talks. We strongly believe that there has to be a political solution to the conflict until the crisis in Afghanistan. And we therefore also will support the assumption of the peace talks. But for that to happen, we need to see a real willingness from Taliban to make real compromises and NATO's military presence in Afghanistan is about creating the conditions for a political solution. Taliban has to understand that they will not win on the battlefield. They have to sit down and make real compromises at the negotiating table. We believe that a good deal is more important than the quick deal and we will support resumption of peace talks.”

On his message to world leaders
“My main message is that when we live in times of uncertainty, it is even more important that we have strong international institutions start to address global challenges together. And therefore the U.N. is important but also of course NATO, of which I'm representing, is an important alliance bringing North America and Europe together, making sure that we all live in peace and security.”

On whether he is troubled by Trump’s prizing independence above all else
“NATO is an alliance of 29 independent sovereign nations, but we protect our independence [and] our national interests by standing together. And that’s the message when it comes to the U.N. We believe that we are better protecting our own national interest by working together. And the end for NATO, this is quite obvious. Since NATO was established after the second world war, no NATO ally has been attacked by another nation. So a strong NATO is good for all European nations but also, of course, good for the United States. We saw that after the 9/11 attacks. All allies came to support and to help the United States after the terrorist attacks in 2001.”

On Trump’s “America First” rhetoric
“I believe it is possible to reconcile, actually more than reconcile, national interests with global interests. We have seen that strong national institutions in national cooperation is important to make sure that we are able to uphold those national interests. And that’s why NATO is the most successful alliance in history ... It is in the national interest of each and every ally, including the United States, to be part of a strong multilateral institution like NATO.”

On what he wishes people in the U.S. knew about NATO
“I would very much like that they know that NATO is important, not only for Europe but also for the United States. ... And to NATO, the United States has more friends and allies than any other great power in the world. And that makes the United States safer and more able to tackle security threats. Afghanistan is one example, fighting global terrorism is another. All NATO allies been together with the United States fighting … in Iraq and in Syria and of course stability in Europe is also important for the security of the United States. Two world wars have taught us that peace in Europe is also important for the United States, so a strong NATO is good for Europe but also extremely good for the United States.”

On whether NATO is prepared to secure oil facilities and waterways if the conflict with Iran escalates
“All NATO allies are concerned. We are concerned about the destabilizing policies of Iran, undermining stability in the region, support for terrorist organizations, the Iranian missile program, and that Iran should never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. The NATO alliance is not present in the Strait of Hormuz, some allies are but there has been no call for a NATO presence there.”

On how NATO would respond to call from the U.S. to establish a presence in Iran
“I think that what we're seeing now is a very difficult, complicated situation, also with growing tensions. We have this attack on the oil refinery in Saudi Arabia which NATO and I have condemned it clearly. So if I start to speculate about increased NATO presence, I think only will make a complicated and difficult situation even more difficult. So I think to speculate about that kind of hypothetical situation will not help to improve the situation we see now in the Gulf.”

On whether NATO has an exit strategy for Afghanistan
“Well first of all, the United States and NATO, we are in Afghanistan together right. We went in together in 2011 when we had the first U.S. troops coming in there together with allies from other NATO allied countries. We have been there since the beginning and we went in together. We will make decisions on our future presence together. And when the time is right, we'll also leave together. So it's not either U.S. or NATO, it is U.S. and NATO together.

“Second, we don't want to stay longer than necessary. And we have to remember that we have been able to significantly reduce our presence. Not so many years ago, we had the big combat operation in Afghanistan with more than 140,000 troops in there in combat operations. Now, we have roughly 16,000 troops and their main task is to train, advise and help the Afghan forces. There are many problems, many challenges and many disappointments in Afghanistan but at least we have been able to achieve the main goal and that is to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe haven for international terrorists where they can plan organize those attacks on our nations.”

On whether NATO troops will leave Afghanistan during his tenure as secretary general
“I think it's so dangerous to speculate because that will only add to uncertainty and risk creating more confusion. What I can say is that we support peace talks. Taliban has to show a stronger willingness to make real compromises to make sure that we have a credible deal. At the same time, we are committed to continuing to support the Afghans … to make sure that Afghanistan doesn't become a safe haven for international terrorists. And that's the reason why we are there.”

On whether there’s concern Russia will try to annex a NATO country
“The main reason why NATO exists is to make sure that what we saw in Crimea, illegal annexation of Crimea, will never happen against any NATO ally. And we have been able to make sure that doesn't happen for decades by standing together based on NATO's core principle that one for all and all for one. And in the wake of what happened in Ukraine and Crimea, we have increased our military presence in the eastern part of the alliance with battle groups for the first time in the history of NATO in Poland the Baltic countries. And we do so to send a very clear message to any potential adversary though if one ally is attacked, the whole alliance will react. We do this not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent the conflict and to make sure that no NATO ally experiences what Ukraine experienced back in 2014.”

On Greta Thunberg’s message on climate change
“Climate change has security implications. People may be forced to move, fight about resources. And in my previous life as Norwegian prime minister, I worked a lot on climate change for many years. And also I was also a U.N. envoy on climate change until I became secretary general later. So my personal views, my analysis and understanding of the dangers related to climate change has not changed. But of course, NATO is not the main tool, the main international tool, to address climate change. That's for other international institutions, the U.N. and the U.N. Climate Change Convention and so on. So my main responsibility now is to address issues related to peace, stability, security and not to be addressing issues related to climate change.”

Francesca Paris produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKennaAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on September 25, 2019.

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Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.

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