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Earlier today -- the last day of his trip to Estonia and the U.K. -- President Obama held a press conference at the conclusion of the NATO Summit in Wales, and discussed a number of issues, including ISIL and the situation in Ukraine.
The President began his remarks by thanking Prime Minister David Cameron and his team for hosting the summit, and also thanked the people of Wales for their warm welcome. "It's a great honor to be the first sitting U.S. President to visit Wales," he said.
President Obama called this "a time of transition and a time of testing," noting the ending of NATO's combat mission in Afghanistan, Russia's aggression against Ukraine, and the terrorist threat from ISIL in the Middle East.
First and foremost, we have reaffirmed the central mission of the Alliance. Article 5 enshrines our solemn duty to each other -- “an armed attack against one…shall be considered an attack against them all.” This is a binding, treaty obligation. It is non-negotiable. And here in Wales, we’ve left absolutely no doubt -- we will defend every Ally.
Second, we agreed to be resolute in reassuring our Allies in Eastern Europe. Increased NATO air patrols over the Baltics will continue. Rotations of additional forces throughout Eastern Europe for training and exercises will continue. Naval patrols in the Black Sea will continue. And all 28 NATO nations agreed to contribute to all of these measures -- for as long as necessary.
Third, to ensure that NATO remains prepared for any contingency, we agreed to a new Readiness Action Plan. The Alliance will update its defense planning. We will create a new highly ready Rapid Response Force that can be deployed on very short notice. We’ll increase NATO’s presence in Central and Eastern Europe with additional equipment, training, exercises and troop rotations. And the $1 billion initiative that I announced in Warsaw will be a strong and ongoing U.S. contribution to this plan.
Fourth, all 28 NATO nations have pledged to increase their investments in defense and to move toward investing 2 percent of their GDP in our collective security. These resources will help NATO invest in critical capabilities, including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and missile defense. And this commitment makes clear that NATO will not be complacent. Our Alliance will reverse the decline in defense spending and rise to meet the challenges that we face in the 21st century.
The President also noted that the Alliance is united in its support of Ukraine's sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, and its right to defend itself -- and paid tribute to those from the ISAF mission who sacrificed for our security in Afghanistan:
To back up this commitment, all 28 NATO Allies will now provide security assistance to Ukraine. This includes non-lethal support to the Ukrainian military -- like body armor, fuel and medical care for wounded Ukrainian troops -- as well as assistance to help modernize Ukrainian forces, including logistics and command and control.
Here in Wales, we also sent a strong message to Russia that actions have consequences. Today, the United States and Europe are finalizing measures to deepen and broaden our sanctions across Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors. At the same time, we strongly support President Poroshenko’s efforts to pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict in his country. The cease-fire announced today can advance that goal, but only if there is follow-through on the ground. Pro-Russian separatists must keep their commitments and Russia must stop its violations of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Beyond Europe, we pay tribute to all those from our ISAF mission, including more than 2,200 Americans, who have given their lives for our security in Afghanistan. NATO’s combat mission ends in three months, and we are prepared to transition to a new mission focused on training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces. Both presidential candidates have pledged to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that would be the foundation of our continued cooperation. But, as we all know, the outcome of the recent election must be resolved. And so we continue to urge the two presidential candidates to make the compromises that are necessary so Afghans can move forward together and form a sovereign, united and democratic nation.
Leaders at the summit also reaffirmed that NATO membership remains open to nations that can meet the high standards of NATO:
We agreed to expand the partnership that makes NATO the hub of global security. We’re launching a new effort with our closest partners -- including many that have served with us in Afghanistan -- to make sure our forces continue to operate together. And we’ll create a new initiative to help countries build their defense capabilities -- starting with Georgia, Moldova, Jordan, and Libya.
The President added that he left the summit "confident that NATO Allies and partners are prepared to join in a broad, international effort to combat the threat posed by ISIL."
Already, Allies have joined us in Iraq, where we have stopped ISIL’s advances; we’ve equipped our Iraqi partners, and helped them go on offense. NATO has agreed to play a role in providing security and humanitarian assistance to those who are on the front lines. Key NATO Allies stand ready to confront this terrorist threat through military, intelligence and law enforcement, as well as diplomatic efforts. And Secretary Kerry will now travel to the region to continue building the broad-based coalition that will enable us to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.
Read the President's full remarks, and his answers to questions on ISIL, the situation in Ukraine, and immigration reform.