Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions during a joint news conference with Republic of Mauritius Minister of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade Seetanah Lutchmeenaraidoo, Moscow, November 14, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held good and candid talks, and we have voiced satisfaction regarding the development of friendly ties between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Mauritius.
In March 2018, we will mark the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. We have noted that, over these years, our contacts are becoming increasingly concrete in all areas, including political dialogue, and humanitarian and cultural ties. I am happy to say that our trade turnover continues to expand. It increased by almost two-thirds last year and the trend continues in 2017.
There are good prospects in the economic sphere. Today, the Honourable Minister has taken part in the Russia-Mauritius business forum. We found projects suitable for implementation in areas such as information technology, power generation, maritime transport, fishing and infrastructure. We have agreed that the governments of Russia and Mauritius will assist business circles in establishing mutually beneficial direct contacts.
We have also discussed prospects for cooperation in tourism and in the training of civilian and law enforcement personnel.
We have a united position on regional and international affairs, involving respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states and for the UN Charter; non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries, and the resolution of all conflicts solely by political-diplomatic means. We have agreed to continue our very close cooperation at the UN and other multilateral venues in order to effectively combat common challenges, including terrorism, extremism, illegal drug trafficking and piracy.
Special attention was given to the situation in Africa. Numerous crises persist on this continent. We agree that to find solutions it is necessary to prioritise approaches from Africa itself, as the countries there have a better idea of how to overcome any complexities. Above all, this, of course, implies all-encompassing national dialogue between the warring parties.
We will support a range of options, proposals and decisions being drafted by the African Union and sub-regional organisations on the African continent for resolving various crises. On the whole, we are satisfied with the results of the talks (as far as I understand, this is our joint opinion), and we have agreed on subsequent steps in political, economic and cultural-humanitarian areas, including those linked to the 50th anniversary of our bilateral diplomatic relations.
I would like to thank the Honourable Minister and his delegation for our very good cooperation.
Question (to either minister): Early this year, there was a surge in piracy in the northwestern Indian Ocean. What additional measures should be taken to resolve this problem?
Sergei Lavrov: As Minister Lutchmeenaraidoo has already said in his introductory remarks, there was a fairly detailed discussion of the piracy issue. We are anxious to say that after the whole world became concerned about piracy, particularly off the coast of Somalia, approximately eight years ago, the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia was set up. This included the naval forces of Russia, western nations, China and some other Asian states. The Group has been rather effective in curbing intrusions by pirates, resulting in a decline in acts of piracy. However, in the first month of this year, 12 cases of piracy were recorded, bringing the number back to the levels of 2012, when the Group was first being set up.
At the subsequent session of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, (the 20th session, if I am right), we, alongside Mauritius, called for not just the retention of this group (there were some attempts to disband it) but for its strengthening, and an expansion of its mandate, both geographically and operationally. In addition, we are in agreement with Minister Lutchmeenaraidoo that apart from fighting piracy, the naval forces of the participating nations could be put to good use in fighting drug trafficking, and illegal migration as well as ensuring security at sea in general. The Russian naval presence in the region already helps solve a number of important problems. Above all, our sailors safeguard vessels carrying humanitarian supplies to the African continent.
Our positions are the same here. We appreciate very much that Mauritius is one of the most active participants in the Contact Group and an advocate of increasing international cooperation in this crucial area.
Question: Can you comment on statements by US State Department officials regarding Russia’s alleged commitment to remove the Iranian-backed forces to prevent their entrenchment in Syria? Has Moscow really made such promises to Washington?
Sergey Lavrov: We have not yet held in-depth discussions on developments across Syria with our American colleagues, but we have pointed out that the Russian and Iranian presence is legitimate and that we are there at the invitation of the legitimate Syrian government. We have also pointed out the illegal presence of the US-led coalition, which is carrying out military actions, including unilateral actions, on the ground and in Syrian airspace.
What we did discuss with the Americans is the operation of the de-escalation zone in southwest Syria. It is an open arrangement; you can read the text, if you have not done it yet. The preparations involved, apart from us and the Americans, also Jordanian representatives. Also, as we have told you, we held unofficial consultations with Israel, because this de-escalation zone is located in direct proximity to the Golan Heights. As for concrete decisions on the zone’s operation and measures to preclude clashes there, the arrangement encourages the removal of non-Syrian forces from inside and outside the zone. There is no mention of Iran or Iran-backed forces. Speaking about Iran-backed forces, some people may have the temptation to describe the entire Syrian Army as Iran-backed. Does this mean we should capitulate? This looks like an exercise in wishful thinking.
We also agreed on encouraging the withdrawal of non-Syrian forces from the contact line in this very complicated Syrian region, but this is a two-way street. If you look at who is more dangerous, they are the foreign terrorists and fighters who join US-backed military opposition groups.
Question: How do you envision the UN-led political process on which President of Russia Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyp Erdogan have agreed? Does this rule out the Syrian National Dialogue Congress? How can you interpret in this context the Russian Defence Ministry statement to the effect that the Americans allegedly refuse to attack the ISIS terrorists who are withdrawing from Abu Kamal?
Sergey Lavrov: I would like to point out that the statement that has been approved by President Putin and President Trump indeed includes a reference to the importance of the Geneva process. In the part of this statement to which you are referring, the presidents call on all parties to the Syrian conflict to support the Geneva process and the efforts to ensure or facilitate its success. This primarily concerns the efforts that are being taken in Astana. I hope that the preparations for the Syrian National Dialogue Congress will contribute to these efforts. We are working to organise the congress and determine the format of its participants that will make this forum as representative as possible.
However, the Geneva process is at a standstill, as the developments of the past year and a half or two years have shown. The resumption of this process after a nearly 10-month respite in January this year only became possible thanks to the initiatives of Russia, Turkey and Iran, which led to the launch of the Astana process. Astana has become the trigger that encouraged our UN colleagues to more actively implement their mandate, which is to ensure a direct inclusive dialogue between the Syrian Government and the opposition. It is thanks to the Astana process and the results achieved, including the establishment of de-escalation zones and the launch of dialogue within the national reconciliation framework, that many international players have stopped supporting the uncompromising ultimatums for regime change before the political talks. As you know, such ultimatums have been advanced by the so-called High Negotiations Committee. I believe that now that the pause in the Geneva process has lasted too long the discussion of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress initiative should encourage our UN colleagues to use this to stimulate the Geneva process. I am sure that the congress has been proposed to help the Geneva process regain its pace and rhythm.
As for Abu Kamal, it is not the only example of the US sparing attitude to terrorists. We remember how “gates” were opened during the operations to liberate Raqqa [in Syria] and, before that, Iraq’s Mosul, which the ISIS terrorists used to escape unscathed to other Syrian regions. We have many questions to ask the United States regarding its goals in Syria. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told me solemnly more than once that the sole US goal in Syria is to defeat ISIS.
The US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday that the United States would not go away from Syria until the Geneva process moves in the right direction. The right direction, according to the United States, is towards a regime change, even though Washington does not demand the resignation of Bashar al-Assad as a precondition. This contradicts the Geneva agreements and the statements made by US State Department officials, which I have just mentioned, to the effect that the sole US goal in Syria is to fight terrorism. We have raised these questions before our colleagues. We hope they will develop a clear, honest, understandable and legitimate position after all.
Question: RT America has had to register as a “foreign agent” at the request of the US Department of Justice. Russia has promised a mirror response. How harsh can it be?
Sergey Lavrov: A mirror response means a response in kind. There are many other synonyms. President Vladimir Putin has spoken about this. Our mirror response will be quick, so you will not have to wait long.
Question: Regional media have reported your intention to visit Yerevan and Baku. What agenda do you have in mind?
Sergey Lavrov: We have not made any announcement yet, but it is not a secret either. I plan to visit Yerevan and Baku early next week. My visits are timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relations with the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan. The agenda includes discussions of our intense and busy bilateral relations with each of these countries. We will also discuss regional and international topics, including the point in our efforts towards a settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh reached following the recent meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.