Australia and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Wednesday signed Individual Partnership & Cooperation Program with greater focus to work together in the Indo-Pacific region.
Following a meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and discussion with Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Foreign Minister Marise Payne, visiting NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg signed the new partnership plan between NATO & Australia with Defence Minister Linda Reynolds at a ceremony onboard HMAS Hobart in Garden Island, Sydney.
“This agreement reaffirms Australia’s commitment as a reliable partner enhancing interoperability between Australia and NATO”, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds told reporters after signing ceremony.
She said we are looking at new areas to work together in the Indo-Pacific.
NATO Chief said the relationship between Australia and NATO is particularly important as new challenges are emerging.
“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,” he told reporters.
“It’s important to stand with partners who share our values & we’re looking forward to stepping up our cooperation”, Mr Stoltenberg said.
He stressed the deal is a framework, which will prompt concrete activities in the coming years.
“Freedom of navigation is extremely important for NATO allies” NATO Chief
Mr Stoltenberg expressed his gratitude for Australia’s contribution to the NATO mission in Afghanistan and noted while there are still many problems in the country, it is no longer a safe haven for terrorists.
The visit comes as Australia is weighing up a US request to provide military ships and aircraft to help protect commercial vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.
“We are extremely concerned about the situation in the Strait of Hormuz and our allies are also concerned about the destabilising activities of Iran in the region – its support for different terrorist groups, its missile program,” he told reporters.
He said NATO would be watching the Persian Gulf closely as Australia comes under increasing pressure to join a US led taskforce to stabilise tensions with Iran in the region.
“Freedom of navigation is extremely important for NATO allies and some NATO allies are already involved in the Gulf”, Stoltenberg said.
He said there is no NATO presence as such but of course we are following the situation very closely.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds reiterated Australia’s sovereign interest in joining the US-led global coalition aimed at protecting shipping in the Persian Gulf.
“We clearly do have sovereign interest because between 15 and 20 per cent of our oil transits through the Strait of Hormuz so we will not be rushed into a decision”, she argued.
Defence Minister emphasized that Australian Defence Force was incredibly capable and had great capacity to join the taskforce.
“What we are doing now is assessing the US request and what other allies are doing”, she said adding Australian government remains very concerned about the Strait of Hormuz and we are considering the American request and now a request from the United Kingdom but we have not yet made a decision.