Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez, Moscow, February 6, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen,
The talks with my colleague, Foreign Minister of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez, were held in an atmosphere of openness and trust and were very fruitful.
Venezuela is an old and reliable partner of Russia. We are united by feelings of friendship and mutual sympathy between our nations, as well as a high level of trust and an interest in productive interaction on a broad range of issues.
Our talks focused on the key aspects of bilateral relations, primarily in the context of the results of talks held between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro in Istanbul in October 2016.
We noted the effectiveness of the Intergovernmental Russian-Venezuelan High Level Commission, which held its 12th meeting under the chairmanship of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez in Caracas in December 2016. The commission approved practical measures to boost bilateral trade, which has been declining due to an unfavourable foreign economic situation. Our business communities have demonstrated their interest in cooperation not only in the resources and energy sectors, but also in pharmaceuticals and the gas industry, as well as in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and outer space.
We also noted that our contacts in the sphere of education are expanding. In addition to scholarships, which were previously made available to Venezuelan students at the Russian universities, an additional 30 scholarships will be allocated by Rosneft this year for training specialists at the Gubkin Russian State Oil and Gas University.
We rate highly the impact of the efforts that Russia and Venezuela have undertaken in conjunction with a number of other states in order to stabilise the international oil market. Moscow and Caracas have made a sizable contribution to the adoption of the corresponding decision by OPEC and other major oil-producing countries in Vienna in December 2016. We share the view that, in the long term, the agreement reached in Vienna will help balance supply and demand, and maintain the investment appeal of the oil industry. Like Venezuela, Russia became a member of the Monitoring Committee to monitor the implementation by OPEC and non-OPEC countries of their obligations to reduce oil production. We have already begun the phased reduction of production volumes and confirmed our interest in continuing cooperation in this area with all the member countries of the agreement, possibly with some additional parties to the agreement. Today, Venezuela's Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez will meet with our Minister of Energy Alexander Novak. They will look into this issue in more detail.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez apprised us of the political situation in Venezuela. For our part, we reaffirmed our solidarity with the friendly people of that country, and our strong support for the policy of the government led by President Maduro which is aimed at preventing the destabilisation of the situation and conducting a national dialogue in strict conformity with the constitution and the laws of Venezuela in order to overcome the existing controvercies in society.
Clearly, Venezuela’s political forces should take steps to remedy the situation on their own, without outside pressure. It is extremely important to avoid artificial aggravation of tensions and the further spiralling of protests in violation of Venezuelan law, which is fraught with unpredictable and dangerous consequences both for the country and its neighbouring states. We know how this kind of attempts to destabilise the situation in a particular country can lead to very sad results.
While considering key international problems, we noted the similarity of our approaches to most of them. We are united by a shared understanding of the need to build state-to-state relations based on multilateralism, respect for international law and peoples' identity. We are opposed to interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states, including through coups organised outside the country, and by way of extraterritorial application of national legislation. The rejection of this kind of approach is enshrined in the UN General Assembly resolution, On the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, which was adopted in December 2015 with the active support of Russia and Venezuela.
We reviewed the results of our cooperation in the UN Security Council, where Venezuela was a non-permanent member in 2015 and 2016. We discussed our cooperation in the UN Human Rights Council, other UN agencies and international forums, where we closely coordinate our approaches. We are grateful to our partners for their continued support for Russian initiatives, including on such critical issues as countering the glorification of Nazism, strengthening international information security, harmonising transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space.
A great deal of attention went to regional issues. We have been impressed by the rapidly growing authority and influence of Latin America and the Caribbean in world politics and the global economy, which helps create a more sustainable polycentric world order. We welcome Venezuela’s active and proactive role in promoting integration processes in the region. We discussed prospects of strengthening our cooperation in the format of such influential organisations as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of America (ALBA), and MERCOSUR.
In general, I believe that we covered a great deal of issues. We considered all the issues which, at this stage, are relevant to our bilateral relations and the international agenda.
Once again, I express my gratitude to my colleague, Foreign Minister of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez.
Question (addressed to Delcy Rodriguez): What is the Venezuelan Government’s attitude to the numerous attempts made by the opposition and the parliamentary majority to remove President Nicolas Maduro from power, as well as to the external pressure put on Venezuela?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Delcy Rodriguez): First I would like to say a few words about what Ms Rodriguez has mentioned. Our consistent position is that internal crises should be resolved within the constitutional space of the given country based on national legislation and through an inclusive dialogue of all political forces. We have reaffirmed this position in several Foreign Ministry statements, two of them published in January 2017. We pointed out that the international community must not interfere in these processes, but should assist in launching an inclusive dialogue in the constitutional spirit. In the case of Venezuela, such assistance was provided in 2016 by intermediaries from UNASUR and the Holy See. We made a point of expressing our solidarity with these efforts. This is all we said.
Therefore, it struck us as odd that the Venezuelan Parliament, which stands in opposition to President Maduro, has refused to enter into such a dialogue, called for civil disobedience, began fuelling confrontation, which could potentially have very serious consequences, and at the same time accused Russia of interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs. I see this as very revealing. The opposition group in parliament never commented on the anti-government and anti-president statements made by several countries in the region and beyond. But it decided to comment for some reason on the Russian statement in which we urged compliance with the law and constitution of Venezuela.
Speaking about interference in internal affairs, I would like to remind you that the then US Vice President said in May 2016 that a referendum to recall President Maduro should be held by the end of the year. And nobody raised his voice in protest.
We know all about double standards and their consequences. Those who orchestrate colour revolutions do not care about people; they care only about their own geopolitical aspirations.
Question: What are the prospects for cooperation between Russia and CELAC, in particular, Venezuela, in 2017? What do you think about the attempt to block Venezuela’s presidency of MERCOSUR?
Sergey Lavrov: From the day CELAC, this universal Latin American mechanism, was created we supported its activities. We see it as a manifestation of a trend towards forming a polycentric, more sustainable and democratic world order. We have established contact with our colleagues from CELAC. They came to see us more than once. Our most recent meeting was in Sochi in November 2016, where we, together with the ministers representing the expanded CELAC quartet, approved the road map for promoting our cooperation as part of our partnership and cooperation mechanism. This is a fairly comprehensive road map which ensures the steady and progressive nature of our dialogue, which, I believe, will not only allow us to exchange views, but also to take into account each other's positions and coordinate our steps in the international arena.
Of course, we are developing our cooperation with other integration associations, such as MERCOSUR, ALBA, CARICOM and the Andean Community. We are ready to establish contacts with UNASUR.
Question: What do you think about the attempts to block Venezuela's presidency of MERCOSUR?
Sergey Lavrov: I’m not going to discuss the details, because Russia is not part of MERCOSUR. I believe that all organisations operate in accordance with their established procedures, and they should be respected without any politicisation.
Question: Talks between the guarantor countries behind the Syrian ceasefire are being held in Astana today. What outcomes do you expect? Is it possible to confirm the information that Jordan has joined the process?
Sergey Lavrov: Today’s meeting in Astana is a follow-up to the first one, which took place in the capital of Kazakhstan on January 23-24 with the participation of the guarantor countries – Russia, Turkey and Iran. It was a direct contact between the delegations of the government and the armed opposition, which signed a ceasefire agreement on December 29, 2016. Prior to the meeting in Astana, which opened on January 23, our Jordanian colleagues agreed with several groups from the so-called Southern Front, which the Jordanians also have influence with, that they too will join the ceasefire agreement. We welcome the expansion of the circle of armed groups which will do the same, as well as closer cooperation with our Jordanian colleagues, especially considering that a couple of years ago a Russian-Jordanian Information Centre was created in Amman specifically for coordinating steps to help resolve the Syrian crisis.
Today's meeting in Astana focuses primarily on the portion of the previous agreements that deal with the functioning of a joint operative group of the guarantor countries that is designed to monitor compliance with the ceasefire by all parties. Mostly the military, with the participation of diplomats, will discuss the best ways to establish the work of such a mechanism. Plans are in place to discuss preparations for the next step, which is the participation of the government and the armed opposition in forming delegations for political talks, including drafting a constitution for further discussion by all political forces and for encouraging an inclusive intra-Syrian process, which is supposed to lead to the signing of an agreement developed by the Syrians themselves.
When we submitted the draft of the constitution, we clearly stated that we are not imposing anything, but trying to stimulate dialogue, which, unfortunately, remained solely under the auspices of the Geneva process and wasn’t making any headway and, strictly speaking, was never even convened. We see that our pro-active stance has already stimulated the thought process in the government and the opposition circles, including with regard to the constitutional reform. We hope that after the operating mechanism of this special task force to monitor the ceasefire has been coordinated in Astana today, the next step will be taken in the political sphere.
Question: Washington accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism in the region. How may this affect the Syrian process, and Russia-US and Russia-Iran relations?
Sergey Lavrov: With regard to Iran, you know, I leave it to the media pundits to provide different interpretations of what can be heard from the new US administration, or what can be expected from it. We have, of course, heard critical remarks about Iran, but I hear the most important thing and I always try to focus on the most important things. President Trump has repeatedly stated during his campaign and afterwards, already in office, that the threat of international terrorism represented by the so-called Islamic State is the key foreign policy issue. If this is the case, and we share that goal just like the vast majority of other countries, then we must keep in mind that Iran has never had any relationship with ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra, or any other group affiliated with these terrorist organisations and included on the corresponding UNSC list. Furthermore, Iran, through its armed groups deployed in Syria at the request of the legitimate Syrian Government, is contributing to the fight against ISIS. We have long been talking about the need (President Putin mentioned it at the UN General Assembly session in 2015) to form a truly universal front against terrorism. All those who see ISIS as an existential threat to many countries should act in a coordinated manner under one umbrella. I am convinced that if we use an objective approach to potential participants of such a coalition, Iran, of course, should be part of our common efforts. I think that in any case we should start a conversation on this subject, engage in dialogue, get acquainted with each other’s approaches and assessments, and facts. By the way, here are the facts. There’s an international Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), which includes Russia, the US, Iran and many other countries, which periodically reviews the countries that are part of it. The other day a review was held as to whether Iran is complying with its obligations. I have read this review. No major complaints were made with regard to Iran. Moreover, this review found that Iran is doing its best and working in the right direction. So, I think we'd better focus on the facts. Of course, sometimes there are suspicions that have to be cleared up (we are all for that) in order to focus on the main task at hand. The main task for us all, I have no doubt about it, is to fight ISIS and other terrorists included on the UN Security Council lists.