Speech of and answers to questions of mass media by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during joint press conference summarizing the results of the first session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum at the ministerial level, Moscow, 20 February 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today we have conducted the first session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum at the ministerial level. My colleagues Foreign Minister of Iraq Hoshyar Zebari, Foreign Minister of Lebanon Adnan Mansour and Foreign Minister of Egypt Mohamed Kamel Amr, as well as League of Arab States Secretary General Nabil El-Arabi are here too.
We discussed the state of affairs in the region of the Middle East and in the North of Africa, interaction on key problems that persist and emerge in this region. We also reviewed the condition of bilateral relations between Russia and LAS. Results of our discussions are reflected in two adopted documents – the Joint Statement and the Action Plan.
The statement confirms the common ground of Russia and the Arab world in issues related to international problems and approaches to their solution. We share the opinion that we need to seek settlement of any crises and conflicts based on the supremacy of law, primarily, supremacy of the principles of the UN Charter, practically securing the central role of the world Organization. These approaches are universally applicable to any situations.
The Joint Statement also reflects our commitment to combat any manifestations of terrorism, to seek all-embracing Arab-Israeli settlement based on the international legal framework, including UN decisions, Madrid principles and the Arab Peace Initiative. We mentioned the need to seek for termination of any unilateral steps that stall the fulfilment of UN decisions on Arab-Israeli conflict settlement as soon as possible. The greatest obstacles to that, in our opinion, are the settlement activities that Israel continues to expand despite of requirements of the world community. In the context of our shared vision on how to accelerate settlement of Israeli-Palestinian issues and Arab-Israeli conflict settlement in general, my colleagues have again confirmed their support in the Joint Statement to the preparation and holding of the Moscow Conference on Middle East.
The Joint Statement contains our joint assessments of the situation in Syria regarding the need to stop violence and to start a dialog between the government and the opposition as soon as possible based on the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012. From unified positions we speak out in support of faster enforcement of the already made decision regarding the convocation of a Conference on creation of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. We have common approaches to other aspects of the regional situation, including settlement processes in Yemen, mutual relations between Sudan and South Sudan, the situation in Somalia, issues of the Nuclear Program of Iran and the problems of safety and security in the Persian Gulf region in general.
Particular attention was devoted to mutual efforts on the advancement of the dialog of civilizations, intercultural, interreligious interaction as significant elements of building confidence and stability in international relations.
The previously mentioned Plan outlines mechanisms of our interaction on the development of a political dialog at the ministerial level, at the level of special representatives, senior officials and experts. This document also mentions the measures that we will jointly make to deepen and expand cooperation in spheres such as economy, energy, including new sources of energy and nuclear energy, in the sphere of transport, telecommunications, water and agriculture, ecology, as well as build-up of travel opportunities, deepening of cultural links through holding different festivals, exhibitions and other measures, intensification of cooperation in education and scientific exchanges. We will support the improvement of the dialog concerning civil societies of Russia and the Arab States.
We agreed to foster the work of friendship societies, NGOs that were created and have existed for a sufficiently long time. We agreed to prepare a program of youth and student exchanges.
The Joint Statement and the Action Plan are open documents that will be published to allow a more detailed study.
I would like to thank my colleagues for the valuable meeting. We will continue our talk during working lunch.
Question: How, in present conditions, the League of Arab States (LAS) can influence the Syrian opposition and some other countries from the region to push the conflicting SAR parties into a dialog?
Sergey Lavrov: Today we talked that the parties of the conflict in Syria started to manifest a positive trend to dialog, representatives of both the government and the opposition started to state readiness to it. For the time being, both parties furnish their statements with preconditions. However, and it is our joint opinion, if there is a mutual readiness to start a dialog, the arrangement of this process' parameters is a matter of the art of diplomacy and thus a manageable task.
Today we agreed that we will use possibilities of the Russian Federation and LAS members to aid faster direct contact between representatives of the government and the opposition. We have a common ground in this issue – the Geneva Communiqué stating the need for a dialog and the establishment of a transitional governing body which would exercise full executive powers during the phase of transition.
Question: How can you trust people who first state that they are ready for a dialog, and then ask for weapons and money in other places?
Sergey Lavrov: I will not comment on your implication that some parties of the process around Syria engage in double dealing. Things happen. The main thing is – and life is proving it now – that it is time to put an end to this two-year conflict. Neither one nor the other party can allow themselves to stake on a military solution, because it is a dead end road, a path to mutual destruction of their people.
Question: To what extent did you manage to bring together different points of view of Russia and LAS on the Syrian crisis? Are the negotiations that are taking place a continuation of the initiative to solve the Syrian matter, taking into account that everyone has its own understanding of the Geneva Communiqué? Are there specific results allowing to change the situation in Syria after today’s meeting?
Sergey Lavrov: There are no ambiguities in what concerns approaches of Russia and the League of Arab States to the Syrian crisis. We supported the initiative of LAS of aiding in its settlement from the very beginning. When the initiative was launched in November 2011, we made quite a lot of efforts to convince the Government of Syria that it needs to cooperate with LAS based on our initiative. We supported the deployment of the League observer mission in Syria. Indeed, we considered the decision to stop observer activities to be not timely enough. But this was the decision of those who allocated respective contingencies. Russia also did not approve that the League stopped mutual relations with Damask, but LAS has its own procedures that we do not dispute but rather support their application.
However, we advocated for the leading role of the League in all phases of the Syrian crisis. There were attempts to dispute this leading role. I am very glad that the need for the leading role of the Arab world represented by the League prevailed in the end. I think that such role is now recognized by everybody, not just the Russian Federation.
As to our joint position in favour of the dialog based on the Geneva Communiqué, I cannot reply for those who try to prove that the document allows different interpretations. We interpret nothing. Today, Nabil El-Arabi, me and my minister friends read the relevant section of the Geneva instrument on how to ensure the establishment of mechanisms for the transition period. We did not ask any questions to each other, because we see clearly and unambiguously what is written there. The parties need to sit down to talk. Up to recently, there were people who discouraged the opposition from participation in such dialog. As I assume, the situation is changing now.
It is very important for the opposition's readiness for the dialog to be met with a confirmation of SAR Government that they are also ready for that. The government has been talking about it for a long time, but now it is time when the words must be tried out in practice, with specific actions. We will count on it and will work to make it happen.
Question: What practical steps will we see in the nearest time? Do they refer to the establishment of some structure to maintain the agreements that have been reached today?
Sergey Lavrov: The structure of the Russia-LAS dialog is well-established and existing. Today’s session of the Russia-LAS Cooperation Forum is the principal political format at the level of ministers. There are also meetings at the level of Deputy Foreign Ministers. A joint committee of senior officials is also operating; they are dealing with the spectrum of our relations – political dialog, economic, trade, cultural and other spheres of cooperation.
Question: Can we expect the activation of economic structures such as the Russian-Arab Business Council for the implementation of those agreements that you have reached today?
Sergey Lavrov: The Russian-Arab Business Council is acting and holds meetings. You are right, we would prefer them to take place more frequently and businessmen from both parties offered interesting projects to each other that would come into fruition for mutual benefit. I hope that the agreement to continue the annual Arabia-Expo expositions in Moscow will promote it. We agreed to hold such an exhibition in 2014 in St Petersburg. We have yet to agree on its venue in 2015. Such kinds of direct contacts between business circles, exhibitions and trade fairs always create additional opportunities for deepening our cooperation. As Nabil El-Arabi said, the commodity circulation between Russia and LAS members amounting to 14 billion US dollars is far from the margin. If we build-up not just trade, but also investment links, these numbers will be at least higher in the foreseeable future. But we certainly need to work on that.
Question: Can the meeting of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and the leader of the Syrian opposition Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib be held in Moscow?
Sergey Lavrov: We do not set ourselves such a goal, but rather work in the direction of launching such a dialog. Where it will take place and at what level is up to the parties. It is preferable here that they do not set any conditions to each other – like I will talk to this person, and will not talk to another. Syrian parties need to determine their negotiators – as the Geneva Communiqué requests from them – and agree on the venue of the meeting. We will support any variant.
If it is more comfortable for them to start their dialog in Moscow, we will certainly provide all the opportunities required for that. We planned meetings in Moscow with Syrian Government delegations headed by Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem in the nearest future. We are coordinating the time of the trip of the Syrian National Coalition's leader, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib to Moscow at the beginning of March. We will openly talk to both of them working in favour of creating conditions for starting a direct dialog.