NATO Foreign Ministers Discuss Afghanistan, Open Door

Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. (NATO/Released)

Military operations in Afghanistan are crucial to convince the Taliban that there is no victory on the battlefield and the best option is to negotiate with the government, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said today at the end of the alliance’s foreign minister meeting in Brussels.

The foreign ministers held a strategic discussion on Afghanistan, including the Afghan peace process, progress on the country’s reform agenda, and the regional context of the conflict. The foreign ministers met to plan the NATO summit set for July.

New Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended for the United States.

Progress in Afghanistan

Stoltenberg said there has been progress in Afghanistan, with Afghan forces fully in charge of their security. He noted that the alliance had more than 100,000 troops in the country just a few short years ago. “We now have around 16,000 [troops] in a training role,” he said. “NATO’s continued presence creates the conditions for peace and reconciliation.”

The alliance welcomes Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s unprecedented offer of peace talks to the Taliban, a step he could not have taken without the guarantee of long-term NATO support.

The Taliban has not taken up Ghani’s offer and Stoltenberg urged the Taliban to take part in an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process.

The foreign ministers also urged Pakistan to take additional steps to close all terrorist sanctuaries and prevent terrorist financial flows and cross-border attacks. “We also encourage Iran and Russia to contribute to regional stability,” the secretary general said.

NATO welcomes the Afghan announcement of parliamentary elections in October, Stoltenberg said.

“Fair, inclusive and timely elections are also essential for Afghanistan’s progress,” he said. “We encourage Afghanistan to continue on the path to reform, including the promotion of human rights, good governance and fighting corruption.”

The foreign ministers also discussed NATO’s “open door policy,” talking about the progress of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Georgia. Stoltenberg noted that Ukraine has also indicated interest in joining the alliance.

“Our open door policy is a historic success,” he said. “It has brought stability, peace and prosperity to millions across the Euro-Atlantic region and built greater cooperation. As demonstrated by the accession of Montenegro to NATO last year, NATO’s door remains open. For a country to join NATO it takes one country to apply, and 29 allies to agree. Nobody else has a say or a veto.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)