Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and responses to questions following talks with Foreign Minister of the DPRK Ri Yong-ho, Moscow, April 10, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
We held talks with Foreign Minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Ri Yong-ho.
We discussed at great length the state of bilateral relations. In 2018 it will be 70 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. We coordinated the approval of a very impressive list of events devoted to this anniversary, which will take place in Russia and North Korea.
We reviewed the state of our trade and economic ties. The participants in the eighth meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade-Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation held last month discussed specific issues that allow us to expand our trade and economic cooperation as a whole with consideration for UN Security Council resolutions. Both sides understand the need to work in these conditions and there are opportunities to do so.
We discussed our cultural and humanitarian ties. In general, we agreed that we maintain our cooperation at a fairly good level.
We discussed in considerable detail the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula. On behalf of Russia we reaffirmed that we welcome the gradual normalisation of the situation, the cessation of reciprocal threats and a willingness to maintain contact both between North Korea and South Korea and between North Korea and the United States.
We noted that the real course of events “on the ground” is following the roadmap that Russia and China suggested last year to de-escalate tensions and create conditions for talks. Understandably, this process is designed to produce a multilateral agreement between the countries of Northeast Asia on ensuring peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, including the denuclearisation of this important area of the world, as the leaders of North Korea and South Korea have said.
We also reviewed other aspects of cooperation, primarily in international organisations – the UN and other venues.
We are very pleased with the talks. Foreign Minister of the DPRK Ri Yong-ho invited me to pay a reciprocal visit to Pyongyang. We accepted his invitation.
Question: Russia and North Korea are celebrating the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations. You mentioned active contact at different levels. Did you discuss a summit meeting at the talks? Could Kim Jong-un visit Russia or could President Putin pay a reciprocal visit to North Korea?
Sergey Lavrov: We did not discuss these issues today. Both leaders regularly exchange messages. I am sure they will discuss personal contact when they deem it expedient.
Question: Did you discuss a potential deal on North Korea’s denuclearisation? Did representatives from Pyongyang express doubts over the reliability of the United States as a negotiator? After all, President Donald Trump is threatening to unilaterally cancel a similar deal with Iran.
Did you discuss specific steps on settling the Korean crisis, including the resumption of the six-party talks and the joint Russian-Chinese initiative?
Sergey Lavrov: I just said that events are following the Russian-Chinese roadmap. This includes step-by-step, albeit a steady, advance to a concluding phase, that is, a multilateral agreement on ensuring peace and security in Northeast Asia, including the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. The North Korean leaders, including Kim Jong-un personally reaffirmed this principle, in particular, at the talks in Beijing. Naturally, we welcome steps in this vein. It is a different matter that this is a complicated issue. Ensuring the lawful interests and security of the DPRK in the context of denuclearisation is bound to require very strong coordination and guarantees.
We did not discuss the Iranian nuclear programme today or what is happening around it. There is no doubt that, considering what is happening around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran, the guarantees to be discussed at the talks on the Korean Peninsula, must be ironclad. Let me repeat that an exercise in guesswork on this issue would probably be futile. Obviously, six-party talks are the right format for discussing the problems of security and the denuclearisation of Northeast Asia because they concern all countries of the region.
Question: Recently the media reported that China made an offer to the United States to continue the talks on DPRK in a four-lateral format, that is, without Russia and Japan. What do you think about the prospect of resuming the talks and will Russia take part in them?
Sergey Lavrov: This appeared as a rumour two weeks ago. When Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Moscow on April 5, we asked him about this as a comrade and partner. We asked our Chinese friends whether this was true. He categorically rejected the rumour and called it a yet another attempt “to fish in troubled waters.” So nothing like this took place. Our Chinese colleagues reassured us that they do not have any such plans.
Question: Did Russia receive a response from the OPCW on the proposal to send its experts to Douma where a chemical attack presumably took place?
Sergey Lavrov: No, we have received no response so far. We hear statements from The Hague that they have already started investigating this incident or, to be more precise, that this incident took place because there has been no proof so far that a chemical agent was used. A spokesman for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and representatives of relevant Russian services that deal with radiological security visited the suspected incident site in Douma and did not find any traces of chemical substances there. This has been stated in public more than once. Nevertheless, we are interested in using independent experts so they can become convinced of this conclusion. We invited OPCW experts to visit Douma and will work for this visit to take place.
We can no longer blindly believe results produced by a remote investigation as was the case in Khan Shaykhun a year ago when such an investigation produced a vague report that was filled with phrases “highly possible” and “highly likely” from top to bottom. We know the value of such statements and will never take them for granted. In fact, this was the case a year ago when we bluntly refused to adopt a resolution in the UN Security Council based on vague and muddled assessments and conclusions.
But to compel the OPCW to abide by its commitments on the Chemical Weapons Convention – to conduct an investigation with a mandatory trip to the site and guarantee the preservation of the samples on the entire journey of its lab, to make sure that all this is done in a transparent and honest manner, we will submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council today. This draft will demand such an investigation in response to the direct invitation of the Syrian Government that is ready, as you know, to receive experts “on the ground” as early as today. Any references to security concerns will not be taken seriously because Douma has been completely liberated from the commandos and is controlled by Syrian Government troops. Russian military observers and military police are on the site. If there is a need for security guarantees for OPCW inspectors, they will be granted.
If experts are not given access to the site under the pretext of security concerns by those who would like to exploit the chemical issue to continue their anti-Syria and Russophobic lines, then such conduct will be regarded as a verdict. In this way they will acknowledge their true plans and reaffirm that they are not interested in establishing the truth either in Khan Shaykhun or in the Skripal case or any other incident where they try to accuse Russia without any ground.