Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and response to a media question at a joint news conference following talks with UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, Moscow, December 21, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen,
Together with the Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, we had frank and important talks. We discussed matters relating to the current stage of efforts seeking to advance the Syrian settlement in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 with UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.
We note that Mr de Mistura regularly visits the Russian capital. We also hold regular meetings at international venues. This is important for us to be able to compare notes on a number of processes that started recently, and which we want to synchronise and ensure their contribution to the success of the UN-sponsored Geneva process in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2254.
Of course, you are aware that international activity around Syria has increased significantly recently. The Astana process started off about a year ago. It is unfolding under the umbrella of three guarantor countries – Russia, Iran and Turkey – with the participation of observers from the United States and Jordan, as well as representatives of the office of the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.
Today we also noted with satisfaction that Mr de Mistura will go to Astana directly from Moscow to participate in the next round of Astana talks between the delegations of the Syrian Government and the armed opposition.
In addition, as you may be aware, a joint statement of the Presidents of Russia and the United States was adopted, and a trilateral meeting of the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey took place in Sochi on November 22. Due to the fact that the task of eliminating the terrorist threat has been largely accomplished, today we concentrated on the issues that need to be resolved in order to set the necessary pace for the political process. All this gives us additional opportunities to advance the overall task of a political settlement. This is what we focused on today.
I would like to reassure everyone (for some reason, there are still doubters out there) that, as President Putin repeatedly stated, we want full and comprehensive compliance with Resolution 2254.
In light of the not so satisfactory outcome of the latest round of intra-Syrian consultations in Geneva, we discussed the steps that will be required for the next round – when Mr de Mistura deems it possible to convene it – to be positive and to promote direct dialogue between the Syrian Government and the opposition.
In conjunction with my colleague, Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, we provided detailed explanations with regard to the Russian initiative supported by Iran and Turkey, about convening the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. Just like the Astana process, preparations for the Congress in Sochi are designed to promote the implementation of Resolution 2254 under the auspices of the United Nations.
We also touched upon the humanitarian situation in Syria, including Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus, Raqqa and Deir ez Zor. We share the opinion about the need to increase humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and to provide assistance to the efforts to rebuild that country. We are convinced that it must be done without politicising the issue, shifting accents to benefit either side of the conflict, or artificially fomenting the so-called “tragedies of the day,” without any preliminary conditions, or tying in external assistance with promoting the agenda of a particular external player. It is imperative to strictly abide by the rules of international humanitarian law, impartiality and lack of bias. I look forward to our colleagues from the UN, I mean the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, following these principles in their subsequent steps.
Today we also talked about the need to step up UN efforts to coordinate the agreement on the [UN] involvement in humanitarian mine clearing. So far, the UN potential in this area has not been used. We believe this to be wrong.
Speaking about the humanitarian situation in Syria, unilateral sanctions imposed by some Western countries on Syria must certainly be lifted as they are having negative effects primarily on ordinary people.
In my view, our talks today were very helpful. We have an understanding that Russia, Iran, Turkey and the UN have a common goal, which is a comprehensive and complete implementation of Resolution 2254 on a Syrian settlement under the auspices of the UN, which includes drafting a new constitution and preparations for holding general elections on its basis that will be overseen by the UN.
We have agreed to maintain contacts, compare notes and coordinate our efforts as the political process and the situation on the ground develop.
Question: After the victory over terrorists in Syria, tensions still remain in the fourth de-escalation zone in Idlib, where large numbers of militants from Jabhat al-Nusra have fled. Do countries guaranteeing the [de-escalation] process, which are Russia, Turkey and Iran, have the intention to defuse the tensions in this de-escalation zone? Is the transfer of control over all de-escalation zones to the Syrian Army being contemplated?
Sergey Lavrov: Certainly, our goal is to defuse the tensions, which can be seen from the very term – de-escalation. We are working together with our partners in both this zone and others. In this case, our partners are Turkey and Iran, and our three countries are guaranteeing the de-escalation process. We have coordinated how these zones will operate, including observation and checkpoints where the military from our three countries will be sent.
Of course, it is a troublesome zone and, perhaps, the most difficult one. Indeed, militants from Jabhat al-Nusra are still there and we are working with them, urging them to stop the violence. I believe that if they fail to fulfil the agreements reached by the countries guaranteeing the de-escalation process and tensions continue to run high, the military from the three countries will agree on the measures that will allow them to put an end to this unacceptable activity.
As for the future of the de-escalation zones, they have not been created to last forever. At this stage, they have been established for six months with the possibility of extension. This will be decided by our colleagues from the military through their contacts with their counterparts in Iran and Turkey.
In addition to the need to stop armed skirmishes and hostilities, another reason why we are vigorously pushing for the de-escalation zones is that we see them as the first step towards national dialogue on national reconciliation and the establishment of absolutely pragmatic contacts between the local authorities of each zone and federal authorities. This includes logistics, the delivery of humanitarian aid and measures to ensure that people can leave the zones and return home.
Hopefully, the national dialogue process, in which we support the Syrian Government in order to facilitate this contacts [between the opposing parties], will, ultimately, involve the whole nation. To make this happen, Russia, with support from Iran and Turkey, has come up with an initiative to hold the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. As I already said earlier today, we informed Staffan de Mistura and his colleagues about what is being done in this area. As to organisations and private individuals who will be invited to attend the congress, this issue will be considered in Astana tomorrow, as the three presidents agreed in Sochi on November 22. The document signed by the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran in Sochi says that the three countries will coordinate their lists of guests to the congress among themselves.
We have reaffirmed that all participants in the Geneva process are invited to the Sochi congress. No doubt about this. I believe that as we move the political process forward through the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which we see as a contribution to the Geneva talks, we will all firmly abide by our obligations specified in UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on the restoration of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.