Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Moscow, March 11, 2016
Ladies and gentlemen,
We had very substantive talks in an atmosphere of mutual trust, which is characteristic of our bilateral dialogue.
We reaffirmed the high level that has been achieved in Russia-China cooperation, which, as we all agree, is the best in the entire history of our relations. We discussed the schedule of political contacts, including preparations for President Vladimir Putin’s upcoming visit to the People’s Republic of China later this year. The heads of state will also be able to address bilateral issues and interaction in international affairs on the sidelines of the G20 summit, which will take place in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in September. Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang is due to visit Russia to attend the 21st meeting of the Russian and Chinese heads of government at the end of the year.
We addressed in substance a number of current issues on the bilateral and international agenda. We noted that amid the present instability in the world, deeper interaction between our countries on a broad range of key global and regional issues is of special importance.
Close Russian-Chinese cooperation is an important factor in ensuring the balanced development of the modern system of international relations based on international law and the central role of the UN, as well as the guarantee of a search for optimal solutions to crises. We focused on the situation in the Korean Peninsula. Both sides reaffirmed our consistent line toward upholding the nonproliferation regime and the non-recognition of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. Russia and China believe measures should be taken that would, on the one hand, prevent the further development of North Korea’s nuclear missile programmes and, on the other hand, would not escalate tensions in the region or impede a political and diplomatic settlement and not be used as a pretext for the destabilising weaponisation of the region, including plans to deploy a missile defence system there. We believe that an important role in promoting this approach should be played by UN Security Council Resolution 2270, adopted on March 2, which is tough, sending a strong signal to Pyongyang, but at the same time it does not give anyone carte blanche for isolating or stifling North Korea, leaving the door open for the resumption of talks. We hope that the North Korean side will draw the appropriate conclusions, heed the UN Security Council demands and eventually return to the negotiating table based on the Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks of September 19, 2005.
We also have similar approaches toward the situation in Syria. We looked at how it has evolved since the ceasefire came into effect. All parties should comply with their commitments under the corresponding resolution of the UN Security Council. We hope that this will be facilitated by talks that are resuming in Geneva between the Syrian government and opposition, which should be represented by the entire spectrum of political patriotic opposition forces with the exception of terrorists who do not fall under the provisions of the ceasefire regime.
We also reviewed the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme that was approved by the UN Security Council upon the initiative of the P5+1 group that includes China and Russia.
We considered the situation concerning Afghanistan from the standpoint of preventing recurrences of the devastating conflict and promoting the peaceful process of national reconciliation.
We agreed to intensify our interaction in the UN, BRICS, the SCO, RIC (Russia, India and China) and in other multilateral formats.
All of this is reflected in the plan of consultations between the foreign policy agencies of Russia and China, which we have just signed. This envisages about 50 rounds of consultations at the level of deputy ministers and department heads. It is the most comprehensive document of this kind that Russia has with any of our partners. In addition to consultations, it provides for other joint events, including exchanges of young diplomat groups as part of mutual field study programmes, joint seminars and exchanges of diplomatic academy students.
I am confident that the results of today’s talks will help deepen our wide-ranging cooperation.
From answers to media questions
Question (addressed to both ministers): Could you comment on the way the Silk Road Economic Belt project ties in with the EAEU project? Are there any results yet? What are the plans and projects for future cooperation?
Sergey Lavrov: This initiative was recorded at a joint statement by President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 8, 2015, when they met in Moscow ahead of the events dedicated to the 70th anniversary of Victory in WWII. In keeping with this initiative, a bilateral expert-level mechanism was put into place to develop specific ways and options for advancing this interaction. What’s more, we are not limited to the Eurasian Economic Union – Silk Road Economic Belt format that exists between our interagency teams. We believe that promising associations in this region, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which puts a special focus on the economic infrastructural aspects of regional development, or ASEAN, which is deepening its collaboration with the SCO, points to a broader approach towards achieving our goals and building a single economic space on the greater Eurasian continent, which is beneficial to all parties. This work is moving ahead and I am confident that by the time our leaders meet again, they will hear reports on the results achieved and will issue further guidance as to what to do next.
Question (addressed to both ministers): Despite the fairly tough UN Security Council resolution on the DPRK, North Korea stepped up its missile launches. Its leaders expressed their readiness to install nuclear warheads on short-range missiles. Does this mean that UN Security Council resolutions fail to produce the desired effect? What measures are China and Russia ready to take to implement the relevant resolution and exert further pressure on North Korea? How is China going to promote simultaneously the idea of a nuclear-free status of the Korean Peninsula and a transition from a truce to peace, considering the close ties between the PRC and the DPRK? What will Moscow and Beijing do if the United States deploys its THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea?
Sergey Lavrov (answers after Wang Yi): I agree with what my colleague said. UN Security Council Resolution 2270 must be strictly complied with. We hear statements by the North Korean leaders to the effect that this resolution will not stop the DPRK in their striving to protect their homeland and develop nuclear weapons that will be put on carriers, and to start war practically against everyone who “offends” Pyongyang. We consider such conduct irresponsible. We believe that all requirements of the UN Security Council, expressed in its adopted resolutions, are absolutely justified and must be strictly fulfilled. We hope that Pyongyang will interpret the firm response of the world community as a signal that similar ventures should not take place in the future. The North Korean capital should at least understand that nobody is going to free the DPRK from blame for similar ventures.
As we have already said in the opening remarks and as my colleague, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said answering this question, we have made sure that this resolution will not become a kind of “carte blanche” for stifling and isolating the DPRK and inflicting damage to the socio-economic conditions of its population. Moreover, this resolution leaves the door open for the resumption of the talks and is indeed a catalyst for their resumption.
For all the unacceptable actions and ventures with nuclear missiles, the DPRK has lawful security interests. The topic of a peace treaty that has just been mentioned will of course remain on the negotiating table. We are interested in real progress in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula going hand in hand with a substantive discussion of the durable, stable and peaceful settlement of all regional issues. We are ready to contribute to resolving this task. Several working groups were established at the early stage of the six-party talks. The task of one of them was to contribute to creating peace and security in Northeast Asia. This group is headed by the Russian Federation. We have long told our partners that this mechanism should not be idle and invited them to start consultations, at least unofficial and at experts level, for the time being. We need to conduct dialogue on ways of ensuring security in Northeast Asia. We feel this need and our Chinese friends support us on this issue.
Mr Wang Yi mentioned sanctions. UN Security Council sanctions are well-grounded and represent the only legal instrument of coercion in terms of international law.
We believe that our collective approaches and unity on many issues are not facilitated when some of our partners, primarily in the West, supplement multilateral measures of influence on this or other country, agreed upon after meticulous work in the Security Council, with new unilateral sanctions. I hope that the unilateral sanctions that were imposed by the United States and some of its regional allies on top of the UN Security Council’s sanctions will not be used to completely isolate the DPRK and thereby wreck any prospects of resuming the six-party talks. Let me repeat that it is very important to preserve a balance of tough actions on preventing new ventures and the inadmissibility of shutting down all opportunities for resuming the talks.
As for missile defence, we have a common position with China on this issue and will uphold it at international forums – the UN and other relevant formats. We consider it extremely important not to take for granted the explanations that these plans are linked with DPRK ventures. The plans hatched by the United States and the Republic of Korea exceed all thinkable threats that may emanate from North Korea, even considering Pyongyang’s current actions. The same applies to another segment of the US global missile defence – European missile defence. These plans are by no means commensurate with the threats by which the United States explained initially the need to create European missile defence.
We’ll show that similar plans are absolutely unjustified in both cases and threaten to upset global parity and strategic stability. We’ll invite our American partners to an honest and sincere conversation because references to the existence of Iran (although its nuclear programme issue is already settled) and the DPRK are unfit for serious dialogue.
Question: What impact will the absence of Kurds from the Democratic Union Party led by Saleh Muslim have on the new round of intra-Syrian talks, which, according to Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura, has been set for March 14? Has the position of Syrian Democratic Council members, led by Haytham Manna, who said they will pull out of the talks in protest, been taken into consideration?
Sergey Lavrov: We firmly and consistently believe in unconditional compliance with the terms for the start of the intra-Syrian dialogue and its course, as recorded in UN Security Council resolutions. This involves ensuring the truly inclusive representation of opposition forces, including the participants in the meetings that took place between opposition groups in Moscow, Cairo and Riyadh, where the most recent meeting took place. There were also meetings in Astana, as well as internal opposition meetings in Syria. In keeping with UN Security Council resolutions, all of this should be taken into account in forming a delegation of opposition forces. Attempts to cast any one of these groups as the only or the main one at talks with the Assad government are at odds with the requirements of the said resolutions, especially when a particular group calls itself the “Supreme Committee for Negotiations.” This is not exactly modest and, most importantly, such actions are at variance with the criteria recorded by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and UN Security Council.
When we communicate with our partners in the region, as well as with those who support this opposition group – the so-called Supreme Committee for Negotiations (incidentally, all members of this group are émigrés – none of them have lived in Syria in recent years; all of them live abroad and are supported by foreign sponsors) – they acknowledge that this group, through field commanders loyal to it, controls about 5 percent of Syrian territory. The Kurds, including the Democratic Union Party led by Saleh Muslim, apparently control at least 15 percent of the territory where they used to live in peacetime. Now that these Kurds are allies of the US-led coalition and the Russian Federation in the fight against ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra, they have objectively strengthened their influence on the ground, consolidated their positions. Starting the talks without the participation of this group or all other groups I’ve mentioned is a manifestation of weakness on the part of the international community, as only the Turks are blocking the invitation for the Kurds, specifically the Democratic Union Party. Turkey is the only country that, judging by its recent actions not only in Syria but also in its dialogue with the EU, is determined to continue acting by way of ultimatums, regardless of the issues under consideration between Ankara and its partners. All other ISSG participants unequivocally recognise the need for Kurdish participation from the very start of the negotiating process. I am confident that Mr de Mistura should take the appropriate decisions. This is his responsibility as a representative of the UN Secretary-General. We are in regular contact with him and we make our firm position known to him. We did this again only yesterday. We hope that the appropriate conclusions will be made not just because we want this but because this is required by UN Security Council resolutions.
Sometimes it is argued that it might be expedient to bring the Kurds on board during the second round of the negotiating process, when constitutional reform will be discussed. It may be recalled that in accordance with the agreements approved by the UN Security Council, the first stage of negotiations will be dedicated to the formation of the government – a governing structure that should be formed by the Syrian government and all opposition groups. It will draft the constitution and hold elections. If this provisional joint government-and-opposition governing structure (whatever it is called) is created without the Kurds, then this will be a gross infringement of the rights of a large and significant group of the Syrian people. The exclusion of the Kurds from this process from the very start will only fuel the sentiments of those forces among them who prefer to think about secession from Syria rather than stay within this country. This disturbing prospect will be on the conscience of those who are advocating this approach. I don’t think this would be in anybody’s interests. It is unacceptable to allow the whims of one ISSG participant and its ultimatums to create such risks and threats. I am sure that everyone understands this. At least, this understanding is shared by our US partners, who, on the battlefield in the fight against terrorists, have aligned with the Kurds, including the Democratic Union Party, just as we have. The most important thing is that this understanding should be accompanied by the political will to impact one of their allies.