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LINDA REYNOLDS: Good afternoon everybody. It is my absolute pleasure and privilege as the Minister for Defence in Australia to welcome not only to Australia but to this beautiful sight here in Sydney - the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg today. Today we have signed a new agreement to cooperate more closely with NATO. And I could not be happier to show the Secretary General our new class of warfare destroyer. In this case, the first of class HMAS Hobart. We also were delighted to be able to show the Secretary-General our two landing helicopter dock vessels, and also to meet some of our crew. You are a most welcome visitor to Australia, and I thank you very much for our Cooperative Agreement and for the work that we are doing. So thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much Minister, and also it's a great honour and pleasure to be here, and to be back in Australia. This is actually my first visit to Australia as the Secretary General of NATO, and Australia is a highly valued partner for the alliance, and we are extremely grateful for the support you provide to different NATO missions and operations in Afghanistan, the training in Iraq, but also the help you provide to our activities supporting Ukraine. And also to be on board on this ship, the Hobart, to see the naval capabilities of your country is something which is of great importance for me, and therefore I think it is also the best possible platform venue to sign the agreement where we agree to strengthen further our cooperation, addressing many different challenges, and also working together to develop capabilities to exchange information, to work on the cyber, to work together also when it comes to maritime challenges. So I think that it is a reality that Australia and NATO in Europe, Brussels, we are far apart, but we are the closest of partners, and today has really proven the importance of our partnership. So, thank you for hosting me here in Sydney, in Australia, and at this beautiful and very important ship.
LINDA REYNOLDS: Thank you Secretary-General. And as Secretary-General has said, we've had meetings- we've had bilateral meetings, the Secretary-General has met with the Prime Minister, our Foreign Minister Marise Payne, and we have discussed many issues in common, including the work we do together. As the Secretary-General has said, in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Iraq. But also discussing our- a common interest in our own region in the Indo-Pacific. There's a lot of opportunity for us to work together - with NATO - your 29 member countries. So again, you're a very welcome visitor, and we look forward to welcoming you back, and possibly even to Western Australia.
JOURNALIST: Did you have a discussion about the situation in the Persian Gulf?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Yes, we did. We have had discussions about what's happening in the Middle East. I can reiterate that the Australian Government remains very concerned about the increased tensions in the Strait of Hormuz, and we are considering the American request, and also now the request from the United Kingdom, but we have not yet made any decision.
JOURNALIST: Mr Stoltenberg what is your position on the situation and whether Australia should get involved?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We are extremely, of course, concerned about the situation in the Strait of Hormuz, and all allies are also concerned about the destabilising activities of Iran in the region, its supporter to different terrorists groups, its missile program, and all allies also agree that Iran should never be able to develop any nuclear weapons. Freedom of navigation is extremely important for NATO, for NATO allies. Some NATO allies are already present in the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf - the United States, United Kingdom, and some others. There's no NATO presence as such, but of course, we are following the situation very closely because freedom of navigation is of course important for NATO.
JOURNALIST: Minister, isn't this just an extension of our current agreement? What's actually enhanced in this one?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, it's important. We've got an agreement, every two years, to renew our agreement in cooperation. So what we're doing is saying - not only what we have been doing today is important - but in light of our discussions today, and again tomorrow in Canberra, we are looking at new areas to work together in the Indo-Pacific. It is a reinforcement of our relationship and our increasingly close relationship in Brussels, and also here in our region.
JOURNALIST: What does that practically mean for our troops?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, we're having a look- in a number of ways. More people are now working in Brussels with NATO. And today, we discussed the issue of critical minerals and access to rare earths, and some of the other increasing issues that we've got together. So what it means is, we've said we're working very closely together, but we now have new challenges that we're both facing and that we think we need to work more closely together on.
JENS STOLTENBERG: I think it's important to understand the agreement we have signed today is a framework. And then we fill it with activities and content as we move forward. And this framework is extremely important because it creates the framework for concrete cooperation as we have, for instance, done for several years in Afghanistan, where Australia has participated with troops and paid prices and sacrifices helping us to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. You also support in the training mission in Iraq, and of course there are big differences between Iraq and Afghanistan. But the basic idea is that prevention is better than intervention. Training local forces is the best thing we can do in fighting terrorism, helping countries to stabilise their own countries. And then we work together in these kinds of operations with Australia.
Cyber is another a big challenge, it's a truly global challenge. And to exchange information, to exchange best practices, to learn from each other and also to have Australia participating in our big cyber exercises will benefit NATO, and hopefully also benefit Australia. And then also how we can look into how we can work together on developing new capabilities, again, important for Australia. So this is a framework, and then I think we have proven, and we will prove also in the years amongst ahead that we are able to fill that with concrete activities.
In maritime operations, Australia has participated- we have worked together fighting piracy in different other, also maritime operations, so this is important. And I think the more unpredictable and challenging the security environment is, the more important it is that we stay together, work together, stand together, and protect a rules-based world order. And that's the purpose of the partnership between Australia and NATO.
LINDA REYNOLDS: And I'd also add, for us, this relationship with NATO is very important. Because as we all know, we are living in increasingly uncertain geo-strategic environments in both the Indo and the Pacific, and also to our south in the Southern Ocean. So for us working with partners and longstanding allies who share our values is very, very important. And NATO practically, under this framework, is a single point of entry for us to 29 other valued allies. So this relationship is very important for us, as we deal with emerging challenges.
Again, as the Secretary-General said, we also talked about space and cyber, and some other increasing challenges of how we can, in our own national interest, work with NATO to protect Australia.
JOURNALIST: Just another question on Australian involvement in the Strait of Hormuz. Have you actually got capacity to have something [indistinct] given how stretched we are already?
LINDA REYNOLDS: The Australian Defence Force is incredibly capable and has great capacity. But what we're doing at the moment is assessing the ask from the United States, assessing what other allies are doing as well and how they're considering this. But I would say about this particular issue, we always take it in the national interest and our sovereign interest. And we clearly do have sovereign interest because between 15 and 20 per cent of our oil transits through the Strait of Hormuz, so we're not going to be rushed into a decision. But we are having a look at what our allies are doing and we will make a decision when we've got all the facts to hand.
JOURNALIST: Is it the case that any contribution will be quite small in the scheme of things?
LINDA REYNOLDS: I'm not pre-empting our decision on what we will do, but again, we have, as you can see on this great HMAS Hobart, we have great military capability in our Army, Air Force, and Navy. So we do have a number of options. But again, we will not be rushed into a decision. We're assessing the situation with our allies and we will make a decision in our own national interest. Thank you.