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7 November 201713:17

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions during a joint press conference after talks with Mauritania’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Isselkou Ould Ahmed Izid Bih, Moscow, November 7, 2017 ода

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Ladies and gentlemen,

We held productive and substantive talks. We discussed at length a whole range of bilateral and international matters. Our political dialogue is at a very good, high level and we have a good tradition when it comes to exchanging opinions on important subjects concerning international life, including in Africa. Our foreign ministries successfully cooperate on the basis of the existing Plan of Consultations. We agreed to pursue this collaboration and step up relations in trade, the economy plus investment.

Our cooperation in the field of fisheries is developing successfully. Our fishing vessels have been operating in Mauritania’s exclusive economic zone for 30 years now. The bilateral Intergovernmental Commission on Fisheries continues working. We would like to use this experience in other areas of economic relations in order to diversify them. There are prerequisites for this. We agreed that both sides should take steps to encourage the expansion of contacts between our business circles as well as the implementation of concrete projects with the participation of Russian businesses in that country. 

We spoke about the oil-and-gas sector, the extraction of phosphates, iron ore and gold, as well as the creation of seaports, railways and motorways, electric power stations plus tourism infrastructure. The prospects look good, and it is important to specify opportunities in each of those areas through private entrepreneurs and state structures, as well as through the cooperation agreement that was signed between the Russian-Arab Business Council and Mauritania’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Our Mauritanian colleagues informed us about the constitutional reform in their country. We welcome the success of the referendum that took place in August. We hope that this will enable the Mauritanian government to continue moving along the path of reforms aimed at ensuring the sustainable development of Mauritania.

Considering important regional and international problems, we reaffirmed the similarity or congruence of our approaches that are based on international law and strict compliance with the UN Charter which calls for respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, the resolution of conflicts and disputes through exclusively peaceful means and against allowing outside interference in internal affairs. We view the developments in the Middle East and North Africa from these positions. We are mutually interested in pursuing close coordination at key international platforms, above all the UN.   

We spoke about the situation in Maghreb, including around the Western Sahara settlement. Russia sees no alternative except continuing the search for ultimate compromises under the UN auspices exclusively through negotiations in order to ensure a lasting resolution of the Western Sahara problem.

Our friends informed us about the latest developments in various crises on the African continent. Russia is ready to support the efforts of the African Union member states and various sub-regional groups on the African continent to resolve all these conflicts with the assistance of the UN and with respect for the interests of the corresponding states and peoples. We will continue to support the “African solutions to African problems” principle. The international community should encourage these efforts by the Africans in every possible way.

We are unanimous in our position that an irreconcilable fight against international terrorism is needed. We, the same as Mauritania, oppose double standards in this area and stand for a truly partner-like joining of efforts, because otherwise, if anyone attempts to use extremists for any geopolitical goals, nothing good will come out of it, as practical activities in various regions repeatedly convinced us.    

I believe that our talks were quite productive and that they will definitely contribute to the further development of our relations.

Question: Is it true that the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi will be postponed? Is this subject on the agenda of the possible talks between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump, and your meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson?

Sergey Lavrov: Preparations for the congress are underway. It has not been postponed, because the date for it was not made public. The media mentioned a certain timeframe, but the official date has not yet been announced.

We are coordinating the agenda, the timeframe, as well as organisational and other aspects of the congress with our partners in the Astana process, primarily Turkey and Iran, the other two guarantors of the Astana process. At the same time, we are maintaining contacts with the Syrian Government and the opposition in and outside Syria. I can tell you that we have received a positive response, although some forces have categorically refused to talk with the Government, demanding a change of government and posing as the only true representatives of the Syrian people. These are typical sentiments for the Syrian opposition groups living abroad. They have been treated kindly, for obvious reasons, by those who needed them to kindle the anti-Assad campaign, and now they presume too much. However, they should think about the people, not themselves. The only way to settle this crisis is to bring together representatives of all Syrian ethnic and religious groups, as well as all ethnic and political forces at the negotiating table, as per UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which urges the opposition as well as the Syrian Government to work towards agreements based on universal consensus. This is the task that has been set before the congress.

We hope that its convocation and related work will help revitalise UN efforts. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura maintains close contact with us. We update him, as well as our European and US partners and, most importantly, our regional partners on the preparations we are making for the congress. We are informing them about the steps we take, and the recipients’ response to our invitations. We are holding discussions with the Gulf countries and other Arab states, as well as with Turkey and Iran on the matters that must be prepared for the congress to be productive and encourage progress towards invigoration of the constitutional reform and preparations for the new elections. Of course, we are also discussing these issues with Washington, considering that we are closely working with the United States on the ground, where communication channels have been established between the Russian Aerospace Forces and the US-led coalition.

The political process in what it concerns the Syrian conflict is growing increasingly important, given that the fight against terrorism in Syria is nearing completion. We must not allow any pauses in the international efforts. Moreover, we must redouble our efforts to create conditions for an inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue. This is the goal of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, the date for which will be announced soon. I hope the congress will convene in the foreseeable future.

Question: Today the Ukrainian authorities have denied entry to RIA Novosti correspondent Zakhar Vinogradov. This is not the first such case: this year alone, Spanish journalists and the leading employees of Russian television networks have been ordered to leave Ukraine. What do you think about this Ukrainian policy towards foreign media representatives? Can we expect an appropriate reaction from the international community?

Sergey Lavrov: We can cite most negative examples of the Ukrainian authorities’ attitude to journalists ad infinitum. The point at issue is not only a ban on the entry for Russian, Spanish or any other journalists from Europe or other parts of the world, who seek to provide an objective coverage of  developments in Ukraine. When journalists shoot documentaries there, as was the case recently, the Ukrainian authorities do their utmost to prevent facts from being screened, primarily in European countries. However, you can’t ignore facts, which can reach the public even despite a fence of obstacles the European governments are trying to maintain.

But there are more serious things than preventing journalists from entering Ukraine or imposing a ban on broadcasts by nearly all Russian media outlets, such as the murder of journalists that has not been investigated to this day. We strongly hope that our persistent calls on the international agencies concerned will produce an effect. I am referring to the OSCE, whose Representative on Freedom of the Media, Mr Harlem Désir, has attempted to provide relatively objective coverage of the situation concerning journalists’ rights in Ukraine. I hope the picture will be provided in black and white, without any intermediate grey tones. The truth must be put forth clearly, explicitly, in full and without any exceptions.

Question: Media reports say unknown individuals have poured cement on the Eternal Flame memorial in the Park of Glory in Kiev. What can you say about this?

Sergey Lavrov: This is an outrageous act of sacrilege that is at odds with all European values and principles underlying the UN. Unfortunately, such things that involve defacing Great Patriotic War monuments are not rare in Ukraine. This shows the inability of the Kiev regime to clamp down on ultra-radicals and neo-Nazis, who feel very much at ease in today’s Ukraine. Let’s not forget that this group of radicals and extremists organised the February 2014 coup, violating the agreement that was signed by European countries: France, Germany and Poland. These radicals also organised a bloodbath, a massacre in Odessa and a number of other cities. None of these crimes have been solved although the Council of Europe has established a special agency to investigate what happened on Maidan [Independence Square in Kiev] and on May 2, 2014 in Odessa. We have seen no results of the investigation conducted by the Ukrainian authorities that is supposedly being overseen by the respected European organisation.

In addition to the appeals made to the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the relevant UN agencies, we should take a more demanding approach toward the line that the EU and NATO are taking with regard to Ukraine. These organisations are actively wooing Ukraine’s present regime. When they proudly declare from Brussels that a European choice should be open to the Ukrainians, they should first of all consider just how ready the present Ukrainian regime is to embrace European standards and values. For starters, they should demand respect for the norms of civilised behaviour and a crackdown on the neo-Nazi scum who are committing atrocities as well as trying to call the shots together with imposing their will on the country. Perhaps nobody would be surprised to learn that special responsibility for the way the Kiev authorities are carrying on rests with the United States that is essentially directing the Kiev authorities in a manual control mode.

One recent example. Word has it that the Verkhovna Rada is going to discuss a package of laws on military reform. What the essence of these reforms should be, which bills in that package should be supported and which should be put aside – these matters are decided in the course of the US ambassador’s personal contacts with the Verkhovna Rada leadership.

I hope that apart from the attempts to drag Ukraine into NATO through military reform, the United States will also pay attention to the unacceptable behaviour of the [Ukrainian] authorities, including their tendency to turn a blind eye to the thugs who are feeling increasingly free and easy in Ukraine and allow them to act with impunity.

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