Turkey, Greece cancel east Med military drills: NATO chief
BRUSSELS- Anadolu Agency
“I can confirm that both Greece and Turkey have decided to cancel military exercises which were planned for next week on their national holidays,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers.
“I welcome deconfliction, I welcome the cancellation of the two military exercises, the Greek and the Turkish exercises, partly because of reduced risks for incidents and accidents, but also because it helped to pave the way for negotiations on the underlying problem,” he said.
“And I welcome also the efforts of Germany to facilitate and to help these negotiations to start, and I hope their exploratory talks can start as soon as possible,” he added.
After the meeting, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that the cancellation of the exercises had been done per Turkey's proposal.
Telling how developments between Azerbaijan and Armenia were also discussed at the meeting, Akar said: "We had the opportunity to express our evaluations on what needs to be done to ensure peace and stability."
"The main issue we’re talking about is that the essential condition for the establishment of peace and stability in the South Caucasus is Armenia withdrawing from Azerbaijan’s lands it occupied and leaving there as soon as possible."
He repeatedly stressed Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan, he said, adding that developments in the Aegean and Mediterranean were also discussed.
Turkey favors international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue, and political solutions for solving problems, he said.
The decision shows “NATO is a platform where allies meet every day,” said Stoltenberg.
“And when we see differences and disagreements, they can meet to discuss and then address these differences, and that's exactly what we have done at the defense ministerial meeting today and yesterday,” he added.
Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400s
Stoltenberg also expressed concern over Turkey's decision to acquire Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
“This is of course a national decision, but at the same time what matters for NATO is that we have interoperability, especially when it comes to air and missile defense. And the S-400 system cannot be integrated, cannot be part of the NATO air and missile defense,” he said.
Turkey holds that the S-400 would not be integrated into any NATO systems and would not pose any risk to the alliance.
Stoltenberg also said the NATO defense ministers discussed NATO missions in Afghanistan and the peace process there.
“The negotiations in Doha [Qatar] are fragile, but they are best chance for peace in a generation. And all Afghans should seize this historic opportunity,” he said.
On NATO’s reduced presence in Afghanistan from 100,000 to 12,000 over the years, he said: “We decided to go into Afghanistan together; we will make decisions about future adjustments together; and we will leave together, when the time is right.”
“The Taliban must reduce the unacceptable levels of violence. To pave the way for a cease-fire. They must break all ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”
The NATO defense ministers also discussed the NATO training mission in Iraq, said Stoltenberg, adding that the alliance’s aim is “to help build self-sustaining Iraqi forces able to fight terrorism, prevent the return of ISIL [Daesh], and stabilize their country.”
“Today ministers tasked our military commanders to expand our mission in Iraq. We will continue to consult with the Global Coalition [against Daesh] and the Iraqi authorities about the way ahead.”