Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to media questions on the sidelines of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, New York, September 22, 2017
Question: I want to thank you on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association for this news conference and the ability to talk with you within the framework of the UN General Assembly.
Mr Lavrov, the overwhelming majority of the leaders who have already spoken at the UN General Assembly expressed concern over North Korea’s nuclear activity, and US President Donald Trump has even used the UN pulpit to threaten North Korea. Pyongyang has promised to respond. It appears that neither the US nor the North Korean leaders are ready to accept the roadmap that has been proposed by Russia and China. What can the international community do in this situation? What step should be taken next? Does Russia have any new proposal on the settlement of this crisis?
Sergey Lavrov: Thank you for your kind words.
Regarding the Korean Peninsula problem, we have no new proposals, because we are sure that the potential of the Russian-Chinese roadmap, which has been distributed at the UN in July of this year, is far from exhausted. We have not heard any reasonable arguments in response to our proposals to start working on this problem. Neither have we heard about the reason why our Western partners, including the United States, cannot accept our plan. Let me just remind you, that the roadmap is largely similar to the “four no’s,” which US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson formulated a month ago. We are convinced that the UN Security Council should make broader use of these US views.
As for the exchange of threats, this is definitely not a good thing. Indeed, it is unacceptable both to look on silently at the North Korean nuclear missile manoeuvres and to launch a war on the Korean Peninsula. This is the essence of these threats, if they are translated into actions. Therefore, we must cool down the hot heads, so that they understand that we need to take a break and consider a contact. If somebody wants to mediate in this, I am all for it. Some neutral European countries were ready to offer their services as intermediaries in this case. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that if he got such a request from the UN Security Council, he would certainly try to implement it. So, there are plenty of those who want to try a political rather than a military scenario or sanctions on the Korean Peninsula. I would like to remind you about what I said at the UN General Assembly yesterday: All of the UN Security Council resolutions without exception contain, along with sanctions, also provisions on the need to resume talks. Our Western colleagues who refuse to work towards this end, violate the obligations, which they assumed when drafting these UN Security Council resolutions. Russia and China will continue to press ahead for a reasonable rather than emotional approach, which looks like kindergarten toddlers fighting each other and everybody seems unable to stop them.
Question: Mr Minister, you and Russian Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya have said that you hope to be able to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Is Russia willing to discuss missiles, human rights and Syria within the JCPOA or some other format?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia is not the only country to speak about the need to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. All the European countries involved in the talks have said so, plus the overwhelming majority of UN member states. The JCPOA is a complete document that has been approved by a UN Security Council resolution, and changing it is like destroying all our previous achievements. Everyone knows this. If the United States has any concerns regarding Iran, or if anyone else has any concerns about anyone else, these concerns must be settled within the framework of the formats that are suited for this. We have a negotiating process on Syria, a missile regime that does not prohibit countries from having ballistic missiles, and we have the Human Rights Council for dealing with human rights problems. Comparing apples and oranges would be an unwise choice, especially on such complicated topics as Iran’s nuclear programme.
Question: Can you tell us about problems concerning Russian-US relations that are connected with the increased attention towards North Korea, Iran, Syria and Ukraine? How are Russian-US relations developing under US President Donald Trump?
Sergey Lavrov: You have lumped everything together – Korea, Iran, Syria and Ukraine, inferring that all of these problems are concerned with Russian-US relations. I do not like it when some politicians blame Russia for everything, meaning that Russia and China must settle the North Korean problem and that Russia must do this or that in Syria. Russia has been also blamed for other crises, including in Yemen, to which we are not connected in any way whatsoever.
Russian-US relations have not been damaged by conflicts, but because the previous US administration’s mean and vindictive actions have placed a time bomb under our bilateral relations. I did not expect this from a Nobel Peace Prize winner. However, on the other hand, his actions have shown what he really is like. We can still feel the effects of this, as well as from the ballyhoo over the legitimacy of President Trump’s election plus Russia’s alleged interference in the US internal affairs to facilitate his election although not a single fact has been provided to prove this. At the same time, the foreign department has said once, and only once, that the website of the US Democratic Party was hacked by an insider, that is, by a member of the Democrats’ election headquarters. Remind your readers and your audiences about this. Various commissions, hearings and attorneys have been working with this allegation for nearly a year now, but nobody has provided a single fact. Likewise, we have not seen a single fact to prove our alleged interference in elections in France and Germany, plus it has been alleged now that we were involved in Sweden as well.
There was a prosecutor in the Soviet Union, Andrey Vyshinsky, who used to say during trials, which did not last longer than a day or two, that confession is the queen of evidence. Those Americans who are pouring oil onto the fire now have gone even further than Vyshinsky. To them, it is not the confession but the charge that is the queen of evidence, which means that they do not even need the accused to confess. This is how I see it, and no other way. This abnormal situation is hindering the normal development of our relations. We have never wanted to become allies, but there was a time when we were allies and fought jointly quite successfully. However, now the huge potential of our bilateral relations is idling and is even decreasing because of this Russia-hating hysteria. International matters have been affected by the inability of Russia and the United States to coordinate their actions due to reasons beyond their control. This is not good at all. For example, we are implementing the so-called deconfliction policy in Syria. But this is probably not enough when the matter concerns the fight against terror. We are fighting to rout the seats of terrorism in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor. This is a kind of differentiation of labour, but we need not just deconfliction but coordination to effectively do away with terrorists. However, the congressional defence authorisation act directly prohibits the American military from coordinating their efforts with us. Why? The answer is that some lawmakers just want to give political signals rather than to help settle numerous conflicts around the world or allow American business to develop beneficial relations with Russia. And so they have given a signal, and we have to live with it.
Question: My question concerns Russia’s actions in Syria. Your approach is that once ISIS is defeated, all militia groups and forces must leave Syria. Do you have any timeframe in mind? Are you negotiating with Iran on this matter? Will the permanent forces remain in Syria? This disposition is called “Lavrov’s map.” Can you give us more details?
Sergey Lavrov: I’ve never ever heard of that. (laughter in the audience)
First of all, we must succeed in the fight against terrorism. However, it is also necessary to think about restoring the unity of the Syrian Arab Republic. We must not allow any partition of this country. Otherwise, a chain reaction will run through the entire Middle East. Perhaps this is something that certain people would like to achieve – those who can benefit from keeping the chaos and confusion alive (and this chaos is already out of anybody’s control).
The concept of de-escalation areas was initially described as only temporary. It was announced that in addition to de-escalation zones, we want to encourage national reconciliation, development of mechanisms of national reconciliation between the central authorities and the de-escalation zones, to begin the national dialogue plus pave the way for the political dialogue in addition to the ongoing Geneva talks.
Until recently, some prominent Syrian politicians (and even more not so prominent), who have lived abroad for a long time, were already represented in Geneva, and I believe it was a tremendous breakthrough that the Astana process sat the Government and the armed groups confronting the Syrian Government army on the ground in Syria, at the very same table. Perhaps it is as important as the discussion with the emigrants who want to help with settling the Syrian crisis. This is an eye-to-eye conversation of those who, only recently, stood against each other with weapons in their hands. Now that the de-escalation zones exist, this confrontation is over and these former opponents are becoming (at least, they must become) allies in the fight against terrorism.
As for the foreign involvement, I have already said this many times before: there is a legitimate presence upon the invitation of the official government of a UN member state, and an illegitimate presence – in this case, of the US-led coalition and special task forces of several foreign states that were not invited to the Syrian Arab Republic but were sent there to help the opposition.
Once the terrorism is defeated, I believe that the first step taken should be to remove all those present in Syria illegally. As far as the legitimate forces are concerned, I think it is for the Syrian leadership to decide on their further presence based on the results of the political process.
Question: Does this mean you are keeping specific timeframes in mind for when this should happen?
Sergey Lavrov: You know, we had a ‘timeframe’ back in 2000 when the Middle East Quartet adopted a roadmap that said that the Palestine-Israeli conflict must be resolved within a year. It’s been 17 years. Therefore, it is better to avoid any artificial and far-fetched deadlines for a process to end. This is an extremely complicated crisis and the talks will take a significant amount of time.
Question: A question on the crisis in the Persian Gulf. In your opinion, to what extent does the embargo against Qatar comply with or violate the principles of the observance of sovereignty mentioned in your speech at the UN General Assembly? Should the UN Security Council condemn or ignore the embargo?
Sergey Lavrov: We have already addressed this matter on numerous occasions soon after the four Arab nations announced the appropriate decision. President Vladimir Putin had phone conversations with most of the heads of state involved in this conflict, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt. I spoke with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and just recently was in the Persian Gulf region visiting the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, as well as Jordan.
During these contacts and meetings, we try to send a very simple message that the countries that have suddenly started making claims and accusing each other of violating the 2014 agreement, which, to my understanding, they had concluded confidentially, should still sit down at the negotiating table, abandon the ultimatums, plus seek mutually acceptable solutions. Grievances should be considered and a way should be sought to address them on a reciprocal basis. I am convinced that it can be done.
As to the sanctions against Qatar, interestingly, they demonstrate a difference in attitude towards the peaceful residents of Qatar and Syria. As you know, the European Union and a number of countries have imposed very stringent sanctions against Syria, which have played a significant role in the very serious humanitarian problems that the Syrian Arab Republic has been facing. We have repeatedly called on those who imposed the sanctions which, to put it bluntly, are undermining the efforts to deliver humanitarian aid and restore normal life for ordinary people, to lift them.
Returning to Qatar, about two weeks ago, French President Emmanuel Macron called for the lifting of sanctions against Qatar at least insofar as they affect the lives of ordinary people. How long has this conflict been going on? Three months, if I am not mistaken, whereas in Syria it has been going on for six years. I would also like to call for the lifting of sanctions against Syria to the extent that they affect the lives of ordinary people.
Question: During the discussions at the latest UN General Assembly here in New York, we have heard the word “pragmatism” quite frequently from Western leaders. In an interview with CNN, French President Emmanuel Macron called Russia "a partner," and US President Donald Trump noted the joint work on the North Korean problem at the UN Security Council. You held talks with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Do you think that the current General Assembly is a turning point in a sense that the West is finally beginning to realise that relations with Russia have reached the bottom line and it is necessary to return back to normal cooperation?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t think that this was a landmark General Assembly. The number of meetings was the same as in recent years. Little has also changed in terms of the content of the conversations. Just as last year and the year before, during bilateral meetings with colleagues they all said that the situation was not normal and that it had to be rectified. You may be right in a sense that now this perception is more tangible. However, I can’t say that I’ve heard any assurances that the West was willing to stop playing these sanction games as well as stop ignoring the interests of our mutually beneficial cooperation.
I think that the realisation of this will come. After all, we have never asked our Western partners to lift sanctions in return for certain actions on our part. I believe that life itself will lead to abandoning this absolutely dead-end line.
Question: As you know, a major humanitarian crisis is evolving around the Rohingya community in Rakhine State of Myanmar. Over 500,000 people have found shelter in Bangladesh. What is the position of your country?
Sergey Lavrov: Yesterday I had a meeting with Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali, and we touched upon this subject. We noted that the Government of Myanmar, in response to the appeals, is now taking into account the opinion of the international community and the need to provide humanitarian backup of what it does, because nobody denies that extremist attacks have taken place there. Of course, no innocent civilians should suffer.
We consider it positive that the Government of Myanmar is currently working on the recommendations that were given them through the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and that it cooperates with an independent commission led by the patriarch of global diplomacy, Kofi Annan.
I think that everybody understands now that the situation must be directed towards a political dialogue, like in any other country with internal conflicts, be it Venezuela or any other country.
Question: China and Russia have proposed a joint initiative on the DPRK, but it was turned down by the US. Considering the escalation, especially in the last few days, are there any other initiatives that could help lower tension and bring both parties to the negotiating table?
Sergey Lavrov: This question is a repetition of the first one word for word; I do not have to repeat my answer again. This question is the same, whether the Russian-Chinese initiative is out of the picture and what should be done instead. I believe I have already answered this question in full.
Question: In your statement at the 72nd UN General Assembly yesterday, you mentioned problems with the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in Syria. It appears that they are pointing fingers at both ISIS and the Syrian Government. Why do you think that they have a biased attitude, and would you consider supporting the possible investigation results of the UN’s Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM)?
Sergey Lavrov: First, it would be enough to assess the ethnic composition of experts of the Fact-Finding Mission in Syria, a group that was established by the OPCW. This mission has two factions: One group reviews complaints of the opposition, while the second one reviews the Government’s claims about the alleged use of certain toxic agents by the opposition. Both groups are headed by citizens of one and the same Western state, one that voices the most radical anti-government positions on the Syrian crisis. Do you think this is normal? I believe this is a priori not normal. At the same time, most experts, members of this Mission, are from the so-called “Group of Friends of the Syrian People”, which was established by the Obama administration, by those want to change the regime.
Second, regarding specific examples, an incident took place on April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun when the “White Helmets” immediately started reporting that sarin had been used there. They showed video footage of a crater that could not have been formed by a chemical free-fall bomb. The Americans said that planes that delivered this bomb had taken off from the Syrian Government’s Shayrat Air Base. Virtually a day after this incident, the Americans asked us to help obtain the Syrian Government’s permission to visit this airport and to catch them red-handed, so to speak. We told them almost immediately that the Syrian Government was ready, and that they were arranging for experts to visit the airport. We were happy to inform Washington about this; but in reply, they thanked us and said there was no longer any need for this trip.
I proceed from only one assumption: By that time, they had realised that they would find nothing there. Nevertheless, we started inviting members of the OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission, headed by two subjects of one and the same state, to visit the airport and the incident site. They started telling us that this was not safe because Jabhat al-Nusra controls the incident site. And, as I have already explained, they don’t want to go to the airport, although, the Americans had asked us about precisely this. But when they started listing arguments against visiting Khan Sheikhoun, the very same OPCW suddenly announced that there was no need to go there because they had already received samples studied at three laboratories of OPCW member-countries. The French and the British themselves announced that those were their own laboratories, and that their experts had studied samples delivered from Khan Sheikhoun.
One would like to ask the following question: If our French and British colleagues had received samples from an area that the OPCW considers unsafe to visit, does this mean that London and Paris influence those who control this area, or that they are friends of those who influence the terrorists who control this area.
The situation is so obvious that, as I see it, there is no need for presenting any arguments. Such an approach is abnormal and incorrect. No one will be able to convince us that the samples studied in London and Paris had not been opened somewhere and had been delivered safe and intact, as stipulated by OPCW regulations.
And, finally, a report, issued on the basis of these studies, noted that, by all appearances it was sarin that was used by the Syrian Government. However, the report does not contain even one affirmative sentence. All sentences are interspersed with such words as “most likely,” “probably,” and “it should be assumed.”
This is an unscientific approach and as such can hardly be used towards a situation, which, in effect, ranks among the most acute situations in international relations. At long last, after our extremely insistent conversations, including those at the UN Secretariat and also with those states that can dissuade the Secretariat from making any specific moves, the JIM sent a mission to Damascus, rather than to the airport from which a plane carrying chemical bombs had allegedly taken off. The Syrian Government has replied to all questions of JIM representatives.
We are grateful to the new chief of this mechanism for such a principled approach, and we hope that its experts will soon visit Shayrat Airport as it has been claimed from the onset that a plane with a chemical bomb onboard had taken off from there.
I believe these examples are enough to answer your question.
Question: In the process of imposing sanctions on the DPRK, under Article 32 of the UN Charter, the DPRK must be invited to attend the sessions of the UN Security Council and should also be present at joint events. They send countless letters to the UN Security Council on that score, but at the same time they say they do not want negotiations. How can they know that anything at all is going on within the UN Security Council? Could you spell out the Russian position on the issue of invitations that must be issued, under Article 32, to any country being discussed by the Security Council and whose case need also be heard?
Sergey Lavrov: I think when the Security Council discusses an issue concerning any member country, that country should be invited and should have a chance to present its position to the UN Security Council. I consider this to be an absolute given. You are right in saying that this is sealed in the UN Charter. But when it comes to practical actions, not everything depends on us. There are many ways in which other Security Council members, especially the permanent members, can challenge the invitation of this or that representative. In any case, in spite of this provision of the Charter, in practice a consensus is needed. And I repeat, not everything depends on us.
Question: I would like to take you back to the start of this week, Mr Trump’s speech, his threats to completely destroy North Korea, walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, and his remarks about Cuba and Venezuela. Do you believe his manner of speech, his intonations and approach make the world more or less safe?
Sergey Lavrov: It’s easy to answer your question because I answered it yesterday when I addressed the UN General Assembly. I supported the conceptual approach of the US President concerning the need to respect sovereignty, to lead by example and not through pressure. On the need to avoid interfering in the internal affairs of others. And then I said that everyone could subscribe to this, especially if these principles are consistently put into practice. Honestly, I have nothing to add. We have never supported unilateral actions, we have never supported threats, which have never solved anything, and of course we have never supported direct interference, especially by crude military force. Negotiations should be conducted on all the issues you have mentioned.
Question: After eight months of President Trump’s administration, can you say whether you expected or hoped that the relations between the US and Russia would improve during this period? What has already improved? What can you say about the Miller investigation: he gathered his data from various sources, including Facebook. I’d like to hear your assessment.
Sergey Lavrov: I have already answered questions about all the investigations, US Congress hearings and prosecutors’ inquests. Let me repeat: this fuss around rumours of alleged Russian interference in US electoral affairs has failed to deliver a single fact. When I asked Rex Tillerson how he could confirm that Russia’s interference in the US election is “well documented” he said he could not show me anything because it is classified information. I cannot believe it. First, and most important, in the US information is always leaked. When a huge number of people are involved in hearings, judiciary inquiries, if a single fact had transpired it would have been leaked. As for Facebook, the White House has answered it, and I have nothing to add.
Question: Could you please comment on the link between the Trump administration’s position on the nuclear deal with Iran and the North Korean crisis? Do you think that if the US quits the deal or opens new negotiations, it will influence the North Korean leadership in its decision to sit down at the negotiating table?
Sergey Lavrov: As I said, we do not want to disclose the joint comprehensive plan of action, nor do China, Germany, France or Britain. As for the connection, or how the situation around the Iranian deal affects the situation on the Korean Peninsula, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel elaborated on this matter yesterday in a very convincing way. I do not want to undermine his copyright, he said that if in this situation the United States pulls out of the agreement and reintroduces the unilateral sanctions against Iran, which it lifted two years ago under the current agreement, this will give North Korea the wrong signal .. At the present moment North Korea is being advised to abandon its nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. If the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme falls apart now, North Korea will say, “Why should we be negotiating with you if it is impossible to reach an agreement with you? You go back on what you have done, let alone what you have promised.” I think it is obvious and I hope that nothing like this will happen in reality.
Question: Several days ago, the UN Secretary-General said in this room that he thinks Libya is an issue that can be resolved very simply or at least quickly at the international level. What, in Russia’s opinion, does Libya need to achieve peace, at long last?
Sergey Lavrov: Of course, the past cannot be undone, but a decision not to bomb Muammar Gaddafi just because someone wanted to bomb him would have been the best way to guarantee peace and stability in Libya and the region. And a decision to not take advantage of the mood in the Arab countries during the so-called Arab Spring to manipulate the political processes would also have served everyone best.
Libya was bombed in flagrant violation of a UN Security Council resolution that merely established a no-fly zone. A no-fly zone means that no aircraft can use the air space. Members of NATO (which, as you know, is the “most democratic” organisation in the world; this is what they call themselves, and this is the reason everyone “wants” to join this organisation) used this resolution to bomb Gaddafi’s forces and to hunt him down. But unfortunately, as I have said, the past cannot be undone.
Regarding the current situation, Libya has turned into a black hole through which militants have rushed down south, into Mali, the Central African Republic, Chad and a number of other countries which are still reeling from the consequences of this venture. Weapons and other illicit goods are also being smuggled in the same direction.
You know, the UN Security Council had passed another resolution on Libya that stipulated an arms embargo even before the first resolution was approved. I remember perfectly well, and no one hid this, how our French colleagues, in the person of their General Staff spokesperson, noted proudly that, apart from other goods, they were supplying weapons to Gaddafi’s opponents. You can find these facts online. I am not framing anyone, and I am not disclosing anybody’s secrets.
After part of the drama ended, after terrorists had entered Mali via Libya, and after hostilities began in northern Mali where the Touaregs live, the French urged the UN Security Council to allow the deployment of their military contingent to be used for fighting those terrorists there. At that time, then French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called me and asked us to support this initiative at the UN Security Council. I told him that we would, of course, support it because this is a fight against a common evil facing all of us. But I told him that, hopefully, they would also draw conclusions from the fact that they were now fighting people, whom they had armed in Libya, here in Mali. “C’est la vie,” he replied. But “C’est la vie” is not a policy. This is what double standards are all about – if you do not like Gaddafi, you do your best to destroy his country, while things are different in Mali which is governed by a friendly president. It is necessary to treat everyone with respect and to see a common enemy.
Regarding current developments, two previous special envoys of the UN Secretary-General have unfortunately, failed to launch such a process. But this is probably explainable because they were only starting this work. In my opinion, a lot of potential has now been accumulated to get things moving. Recently, last week, we received Mr Ghassan Salame in Moscow. I just met with Fayez al-Sarraj. And Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar visited Moscow several weeks ago. We are also working with Aguila Saleh Issa and generally with every notable figure on the Libyan political scene. It goes without saying that they must undoubtedly become reconciled. We welcome the initiatives undertaken by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, in April, as well as the July initiatives of French President Emmanuel Macron, aiming to mediate dialogue between Tripoli and Tobruk. As you know, Fayez al-Sarraj represented Tripoli, with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, Commander of the Libyan National Army, representing Tobruk. Certain agreements reached in Paris give hope that the process is underway and that it will develop in the right direction. We appreciate the contribution to the process that UN special envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame has been making. Some of my African colleagues told me that such developments are positive, but it is important to keep in mind that Libya is a country populated by many tribes, and that there have never been any political parties in Libya. When we talk about elections in Libya, we must aspire to these elections and achieve certain results; but we must decide on what basis these elections must be prepared. Those who know Libya’s history must, of course, make their contribution in this area.
Question: Are you planning to have a meeting with your counterpart from North Korea during the General Assembly? And one more thing: you have stressed again that we will need a mechanism for a peaceful settlement process in Northeast Asia in the future, and we know that in the past, during the six-party talks, Russia was loyal to this mechanism. Could you tell us a little bit about Russia’s position when it comes to a peaceful settlement mechanism in the Northeast?
Sergey Lavrov: As for my contacts with Foreign Minister of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Ri Yong-ho, we communicated in August in the Philippines, where the ASEAN summit took place. This time such a meeting was not planned – and will not be planned. It is true that an agreement to develop a dialogue on the establishment of a peace and security mechanism in Northeast Asia was reached during the six-party talks. Russia, with common approval, has become the coordinator of this mechanism. Since then, several times – that was in better times, long before this crisis – we suggested having a meeting and discussing at least the simplest, the most general principles: respect to the Charter, sovereignty, territorial integrity of all the states in the region, their security interests and so on and so forth. Our partners, first of all, the US administration from back then, refused to do so. They said: we will do that only when North Korea meets all our demands. I think it is wrong. I agree with you completely, if we had just begun the discussion, begun some process to develop such a mechanism for peace and security in Northeast Asia, we would probably have a constant communications channel with North Korea and within the framework of this channel North Korea would have understood the concerns of the six countries better, and the six countries would, I believe, have understood the Korean concerns a bit better, would have understood what they are based on or that they are contrived. In any case, it is much better to talk, meet and discuss each other’s proposals than to isolate, ignore or threaten anyone.
Question: In his speech at the UN General Assembly President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas almost announced the resolution of the Palestinian autonomy issue. He was so desperate that he started asking where to go from here. I think this is a good question to ask Russia. You presented an initiative to have both sides come to Moscow for serious talks. Palestine accepted your proposal but Israel didn’t. Do you think there is a chance to resolve this issue? Palestine has no land left. Is it possible that Russia will get seriously involved in this quagmire?
Sergey Lavrov: Here is another problem that Russia is responsible for. But jokes aside, we are very concerned over the deepening impasse in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement process. We are alarmed by this issue, not least because the extremists have been actively using the absence of a settlement for about 70 years to recruit young people. They claim that the international community is being unfair to the people who have been suffering as a result of the world’s oldest conflict. Naturally, the absence of a settlement is unsatisfactory because the Palestinian people still do not have a state of their own. There were many phases of negotiations – some were very active while others were slow. There were the Camp David accords and the Annapolis agreement. It is possible to dispute now whether it was correct to turn down what was proposed at Camp David – now it may seem an altogether unachievable dream. But we have what we have. Regrettably, we do not learn from the mistakes of others, nor are we able to learn from our own, in my opinion. But you are right – I am sure that the absence of direct dialogue is bad. Indeed, we put forward an initiative, largely with the consent of both sides, to host a meeting of Abu Mazen and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu without any preconditions. As soon as both are ready for practical discussions, we will naturally afford them this opportunity and I hope this will help revive the moribund negotiating process because its absence has a very adverse effect both on the situation in the region and Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Question: My question is about Cuba and Venezuela, which you spoke about yesterday. We would like to know your position on US sanctions against Venezuela and the US economic blockade of Cuba.
Sergey Lavrov: You don’t even have to ask me about the Cuba embargo. Our position, as well as the position of 99 percent of UN members, is known. It is reflected in the resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly every year. There is a majority of those who believe this embargo is absolutely counterproductive and illegal. Unilateral measures have never produced the desired effect. They are simply poisoning the atmosphere and making it impossible to create conditions for mutually respectful dialogue.
As for sanctions against Venezuela, what I have just said fully applies to them as well. We are concerned over the developments in that friendly country. I discussed this subject with officials of many countries from different regions. Yesterday I met with the CELAC Quartet, the Mexican Foreign Secretary, representatives of El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic, to name a few. We welcome the initiatives of El Salvador that chairs CELAC. We welcome the readiness of the Dominican Republic to directly participate in the efforts to foster dialogue. We welcome the readiness that I sensed yesterday in talking with the Foreign Minister of Venezuela to start this dialogue provided it will be conducted between the Venezuelan parties without any outside interference. They welcome the mediation of Latin American countries. The actions of external players is another factor. Those who really want to help work with all sides of the conflict, and those who want to derail the settlement process work with just one side.
We have very good relations with the Government and President of Venezuela but we are also addressed by the parliamentary leaders that are in opposition to this Government. We do not avoid these contacts but, on the contrary, are actively working to encourage both the Government and the opposition to sit at the negotiating table and come to terms, as it should be under any circumstances – in relations when there is a domestic crisis in a country, at talks in the UN and other international agencies and, of course, always in personal life – sit down and come to terms.
Thank you very much!