Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions during a joint press conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Iraq Mohamed Ali Alhakim, Moscow, January 30, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
During our talks, we considered in detail the state of [our] bilateral cooperation. We welcomed its onward development in various fields, primarily in the fuel and energy sector as well as in the military-technical sphere. We confirmed our intention to further build it up. In this connection, we noted the need for a more active use of the mechanism of the Russian-Iraqi Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, which is to meet soon in Baghdad. Today, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Iraq Mohamed Ali Alhakim will talk about this at his meeting with the Commission’s co-chair, Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov.
We confirmed our goal of intensifying cooperation in the area of education. Currently, there are nearly 4,000 Iraqi citizens enrolled in Russian universities. Dozens of diplomats from Iraq are taking special courses at the Diplomatic Academy of the Foreign Ministry of Russia.
While discussing topical international and regional problems, we stated that we share identical views when it comes to the necessity to respect and abide by international law in all its aspects.
We have the same opinion on ways of implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on the settlement of the Syria crisis, including the elimination of what remains of the terrorist groups in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
We gave a high appraisal of the activities of the Baghdad Information Centre co-sponsored by Russia, Iraq, Syria and Iran.
We informed our Iraqi partners about work conducted in the “Astana format” with an eye to the soonest possible launch of the Constitutional Committee and implementation of political reforms in Syria.
We also talked about the tasks involved in providing security on the Iraqi-Syrian border, including with regard to the US intention to pull out its military contingent from Syria.
We discussed the situation emerging after Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme. We also spoke about a Palestinian-Israeli settlement that, regrettably, remains deadlocked to this day.
We confirmed our commitment to the existing international legal framework of a Middle East settlement. We expressed our serious concern over the continuing attempts to undermine this framework as well as other international legal instruments that define states’ cooperation in a number of fileds.
Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim was so kind as to invite me to come to Iraq on a return visit. I will do this with pleasure.
Question: Russia and Iraq have enjoyed friendly relations for a long time. How is it possible to use their potential to establish closer security cooperation in the Middle East region, including Syria? Iraq plays a major role in talks on the future of the Syrian Arab Republic. Do Russia and Iraq have similar positions on Syria? What economic projects do Moscow and Baghdad plan to cooperate on?
Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, we are extremely interested in expanding our trade, economic and investment ties. We are posting very good results in investment, primarily the hydrocarbons sector. Lukoil, Gazpromneft and Soyuzneftegaz are already operating in Iraq, and Rosneft is interested in implementing projects there. This sector has already received investment worth over $10 billion.
We also want to expand projects in other areas. Today, we discussed the power industry, agriculture, manufacturing and transport. All of this will be reviewed in the context of preparations for another meeting of the Russian-Iraqi Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation.
I would like to thank the Iraqi leaders for their invariably attentive attitude towards the work of Russian companies in their country.
Regarding cooperation in regional security, we have long-time traditions of military-technical cooperation, which aims to boost Iraq’s defensive capability and its ability to counter terrorist threats.
The Baghdad Information Centre, which has already been mentioned today, conducts very important and useful work. Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria coordinate their actions, primarily counter-terrorism operations, within its framework.
Question: Does the US military presence in Iraq worry Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: We respect the sovereign right of Iraq and any other country to choose the best way to ensure their security. Since the United States deployed troops in Iraq by agreement with the Iraqi government, the conditions stipulated in international law have been fully met.
We hope that the US military presence in Iraq will pursue the stated goals, that is, that US troops will be used to fight terrorism and help the Iraqi government stabilise the country, rather than to achieve the United States’ unilateral geopolitical goals in the region. I do not doubt that this is also the Iraqi authorities’ understanding of the matter.
Question: The United States has announced that it has begun making a new W76-2 nuclear warhead and that the first batch will be delivered by the end of the year. What is Moscow’s attitude to this? How can this influence the global balance of power?
Sergey Lavrov: Speaking about the US announcement of launching the production of a new, low-yield nuclear warhead, the issue was included in Washington’s nuclear posture review last year. Back then, we expressed our concern, saying that the production of such low-yield warheads would lower the nuclear threshold and increase the risk of a nuclear conflict. Scientists in Russia, the United States, Europe and other parts of the world pointed this out as well. This concept has become practical actions now, which will not strengthen global security, of course.
It would be interesting to see the role the United States will assign to the Europeans and which role they would be prepared to play, considering that Europe wittingly or unwittingly supported and played along with the previous unilateral US actions. I am referring to the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and the deployment of global BMD systems, including in the European NATO countries. I am also referring to the US decision to destroy the INF Treaty, which the NATO countries have supported. We will see how Europe reacts to the latest unilateral US actions that will undermine strategic stability.
For our part, we would like to repeat that we have more than once invited Washington to resume dialogue on absolutely all aspects of strategic stability. This proposal is still on the table, but regrettably, no negotiations have begun so far.
Question: In a recent interview with RIA Novosti Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said the issue of international mediation on Venezuela may be resolved in a matter of hours. Has Caracas asked Moscow to play the role of a mediator?
Could you comment on Maduro’s statement to the effect that he relies on Beijing and Moscow’s support in his country’s economic development? Is Moscow discussing the possibility of writing off Venezuela’s debt to Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: As for the economic aspect, China and Russia are indeed Venezuela’s leading partners. Our economic cooperation with Caracas is based on intergovernmental agreements that are carried out in full. Replying to a similar question the other day, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said that all payments that are due to the Russian Federation are made on time and in full.
Many countries and associations suggest mediation. In particular, a proposal to establish a contact group was made by Brussels on behalf of the European Union. Proposals to this effect were also made by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Uruguay and Mexico have some ideas. The Non-Aligned Movement should probably have its say, all the more so that Venezuela chairs it now. However, for the time being all these initiatives to start dialogue have been bluntly rejected by the opposition leaders. We can see how their Western sponsors are publicly encouraging them to adopt such a destructive position.
We sincerely wish to help create conditions for the start of dialogue between the Government and the opposition. We are talking about this with our Venezuelan partners, China, Latin American countries, and the Europeans. We are ready to take part in the relevant international efforts in the formats that will suit the Venezuelan parties.
Needless to say, all mediation initiatives should be unbiased and their future format should be balanced. On the contrary, it should represent a broad range of international players that can influence the Government and the opposition. Of course, it is necessary to understand from the very start what goal is pursued by a potential mediation format. We are convinced that its only goal should be to create the conditions that will prompt the Venezuelan parties to come to terms. If mediation initiatives are initially designed to foreclose such talks, the mediation format will be hardly useful and welcome. I am referring to the issue that we would like to analyse during our contacts with the EU. In particular, it concerns the initiative to establish a contact group for mediation, in parallel with which some EU countries, including influential ones, forced an ultimatum on the Venezuelan Government. We would like to understand as soon as possible who is talking and about what. However, such opportunities exist and I believe the said initiative can be rather useful if unbiased. We welcome the Venezuelan President’s readiness to accept international efforts.
We urge the opposition to display a similar constructive approach, give up ultimatums and act independently, relying primarily on the interests of the Venezuelan people.