Inter-American problems and regional policy
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to media questions on the sidelines of the 37th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council and the Conference on Disarmament Geneva, February 28, 2018
Question: The United States adopted new sanctions against North Korea last weekend. What is the probability of a US military operation? How would Russia react in this case?
Sergey Lavrov: You should ask the US administration about the probability of a military option. US President Donald Trump said many times that he would take all the necessary measures, including a military operation, to settle this problem. Views on this scenario have been presented many times in the US, Russia and other countries. They indicate that a military operation would result in a humanitarian catastrophe, claiming hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent lives. These military calculations are public knowledge.
We hope that the positive trend which was set during the Winter Olympics and will hopefully continue during the Paralympic Games in PyeongChang will be used to create conditions for launching talks. A high ranking North Korean delegation was in PyeongChang during the Olympics. Talks were held at the level of the President of South Korea, and the North Korean delegation expressed a desire to meet with US Vice President Mike Pence. Regrettably, this opportunity did not materialise.
We hoped that the period of tranquillity, during which the above contacts were held, no missiles were launched in North Korea and US-South Korean military exercises were suspended, would be used to create a de facto positive impetus. Regrettably, it has not happened so far. Many observers noticed that US Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun has submitted his resignation. Few believe that he has done this exclusively for personal reasons, as it has been announced. It is unclear who will replace Mr Yun, which is not raising optimism either. However, we continue to discuss ways to normalise the situation and create conditions for talks with all parties to the so-called six-party talks. Today I had in-depth discussions on this issue with my colleague, Foreign Minister of South Korea Kang Kyung-wha. We will stay in contact.
Question: Will the maintenance of the humanitarian pause in Eastern Ghouta be coordinated with the [terrorist] groups? For example, the Free Syrian Army sent a request to the UN Security Council yesterday regarding the evacuation of Jabhat al-Nusra fighters and their families. How will Moscow respond to this?
Sergey Lavrov: We are ready for any option. We organised a voluntary evacuation of fighters and their families during the liberation of Eastern Aleppo. We are ready to discuss any option that will help neutralise the terrorists and end their operations. If they can be evacuated somewhere, we will not object, but this option should be discussed first. We are ready to discuss any option, but primarily those that will help save lives. The relevant resolution has been adopted. It says unambiguously that the ceasefire regime will not apply to the terrorists. If our colleagues at the UN and those who have influence with Jabhat al-Nusra coordinate this evacuation, we will not object.
Question: Did you discuss the possibility of rapprochement between the two Korean states at your meeting with the South Korean colleague? What role could Russia play in the potential rapprochement?
Sergey Lavrov: The reunification of the two Korean states is a major issue on the agenda and the goal towards which both states are moving. Each of them has a special ministry or agency on reunification. We support the Koreans’ aspiration for restoring their unity. We are ready to help, but this is for Seoul and Pyongyang to decide. If they need our assistance for their contacts, which have taken a quantum leap during the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games, I can assure you that we will provide any possible assistance to the benefit of our neighbours.
Question: What do you know about North Korea supplying chemical weapons to Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: I have not heard about this. If there are such facts, they should be presented. Otherwise I cannot respond to something that lacks a factual basis.
Question: Are you confident the war in Syria is going to be over this year? What are the scenarios, since it seems to be getting worse?
Sergey Lavrov: I do not think that it is getting worse. It is getting worse for the terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra, who, willing or unwillingly, have been consistently spared by the American coalition. We have raised this issue with Washington many times, and there was no credible answer. But it is absolutely clear that all manifestations of terrorism in Syria must be eliminated completely. This is also what the United States says, and this is what our other colleagues say who are present in Syria, both invited an uninvited.
Parallel to this, of course, we believe that the conditions are ripe for resuming the political process. I met with UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura today. We discussed the follow-up to the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. Staffan de Mistura confirmed the importance of that forum for consolidating the basis for him to re-launch negotiations and to start the real work on the constitution.
The key issue now is to make sure that UN Security Council Resolution 2401 is implemented as drafted. It clearly says that the UN Security Council demands that all parties on the ground and all those who influence the parties on the ground agree on a ceasefire throughout Syria and allow a 30-day pause, at least, for humanitarian deliveries. As the conditions for announcing this ceasefire throughout Syria are getting ripe, we are not waiting. As you know, the Russian military at the request of the President announced daily five-hour humanitarian pauses for addressing the humanitarian needs of the people, if the bandits who control Eastern Ghouta so allow. In the case of Eastern Aleppo they were not allowing humanitarian convoys, saying publicly that they would attack them. The same humanitarian corridors, as the resolution provides, could be used by the civilians who want to get out, to be evacuated.
We also want the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people to be addressed not only in relation to Eastern Ghouta alone but also to other parts of the country, especially Raqqa, where we want the United Nations, and probably the World Health Organisation and the ICRC to send a mission in order to understand what kind of humanitarian action in required there. The place has been levelled, there are still corpses decaying in the streets, there is no water supply, no sanitary facilities, and the entire territory is littered with landmines. No one is attending to this huge humanitarian disaster. When we proposed sending a UN mission and an ICRC mission there, I heard one American commander on the ground say that there was no need for this. So it will be now for the Secretary-General and the ICRC to decide whether there is a need to go there or not.