Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks at a news conference following the fifth ministerial session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum, Moscow, April 16, 2019
We held the fifth session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum at the level of foreign ministers and foreign policy agencies’ heads.
This forum was officially launched in 2009 with the signing of a memorandum between the Russian Federation and the Arab League. Since then it has proved its importance as a mechanism of a regular exchange of opinion and coordination of positions on major regional and international issues. We were pleased to state today that the forum set a record in Arab states’ representation since its founding – 14 heads of foreign policy agencies from the Arab League countries met in Moscow.
We discussed in detail the situation in the Middle East and North Africa. We share the view that the nations of this region should overcome the current difficult times exclusively through peaceful means, through comprehensive national dialogue aimed at reaching public accord. We are also at one in rejecting attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of states in the Middle East and North Africa. We advocate showing respect for their independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity in full conformity with the principles of international law and the UN Charter. We all believe that this should be the foundation for ensuring regional security and creating prerequisites for the development of given countries and societies.
We agreed to continue supporting the efforts to reach a political settlement in Syria based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the results of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi in January last year.
We informed our Arab friends about the work done in the Astana format to complete as soon as possible the forming of the Constitutional Committee on the start of the political settlement in Syria. Yesterday I talked about this with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and also urged him to facilitate the success of the next Astana meeting that will take place in Nur-Sultan at the end of this month and to which his Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen is invited. In turn, we welcomed the emergent trend of the need for Syria to return to the “Arab family,” the Arab League.
We discussed the situation between Israel and the Arab countries. We have a common view that rejects the US proclamation on recognising the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. This violates the related UN Security Council resolutions and the UN Charter and escalates tensions in the region.
We reaffirmed, in the declaration that was approved following the discussions, our commitment to create an independent, viable, and territorially integral Palestinian state within safe borders as recognised in 1967 with the possible equitable exchanges and a capital in East Jerusalem.
Like our Arab friends, we believe that all issues of a final status should be resolved at direct talks between both sides. Russia reaffirmed our well-known proposal to the leaders of Palestine and Israel to meet on our territory without any preconditions.
We also noted the importance of continued support for efforts to overcome the intra-Palestinian division. We appreciate the work done in this respect by the Arab Republic of Egypt. We are also trying to do what we can for this. We also exchanged views on how to help the Palestinians restore unity in the future.
We agreed to continue our joint work in the interest of a Libyan settlement. We support UN Secretary-General Special Representative in Libya Ghassan Salame’s efforts to implement the road map he developed to normalise the situation in Libya. We have a common goal which is to help the Libyans overcome their current differences and reach a stable agreement on national reconciliation. To this end, Russia – we also discussed this today – is working with all the political forces of Libya, without exception.
We also discussed various situations in the Middle East and North Africa, including Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq. We supported the decisions adopted at the recent Arab League summit in Tunisia, the documents that capture the commitment to increase the role of the League in the region’s affairs. We strongly welcome such decisions.
I would also like to mention the fact that we spoke in favour of the need to step up the efforts to eradicate terrorism and extremist ideology in the region.
We discussed various approaches to ensuring peace and security in the Gulf region as well. In this regard, we noted the well-known Russian initiative to promote the process of building trust and transparency between the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The declaration, which we approved today, stresses the importance of normalising and improving relations between the Arabs and Iran in the interests of peace and stability. I think this is a very useful decision.
We also exchanged views – and here, too, our approaches coincide – on the need to implement the decision adopted in 1995 to convene a conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. After many years of talks, where some Western countries were against implementing this decision, the UN General Assembly’s most recent session was able to adopt a resolution to begin the process of convening a conference this year. We will closely coordinate our actions with the Arab countries so that this process becomes sustainable and leads us to the results we agreed on over 20 years ago.
The declaration also contains a very important moment in support of the integrity of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). This was open for signing 50 years ago. Next year, the Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT will be held. In conjunction with our Arab friends, we are interested in keeping this agreement safe from erosion. We agreed that in preparation for the Review Conference we would compare notes and do our best to ensure the success of this conference.
In conclusion, I would like to note that we have agreed upon a set of practical steps which are designed to increase the quality of cooperation between Russia and the Arab countries in trade, the economy, research, education and culture. Together, we highly appreciated the events that took place in Moscow last week. I’m referring to the 12th session of the Russian-Arab Business Council and the 4th Arabia-Expo International Exhibition. These events contributed to creating additional opportunities in the interest of promoting business cooperation between Russian and Arab organisations.
As I mentioned earlier, we adopted a detailed declaration – the Joint Statement – following our discussion. In addition, we approved the next three-year Action Plan to implement the principles, goals and objectives of the Russia-Arab Forum from 2019 to 2021. There is no doubt that consistent implementation of the agreements concluded as part of the Joint Statement and the Action Plan will contribute to strengthening comprehensive cooperation between Russia and the Arab world.
I am sincerely grateful to Chairman of the League of Arab States and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Somalia Ahmed Isse Awad and Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit for their enthusiastic cooperation in ensuring the success of our meeting today.