Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with State Council member and Foreign Minister of the PRC Wang Yi, Sochi, May 13, 2019
I had a very useful discussion with my colleague, State Council member and Foreign Minister of the PRC Wang Yi. Per tradition, our talks were conducted in a friendly, warm and trust-based atmosphere.
We stated that by the 70th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, which is marked this year, our countries have reached a historically highest level of cooperation in all areas.
Last year, our trade hit a record of $108 billion. It increased by another 4 per cent in the first quarter of this year. Joint projects valued at some $120 billion are underway. This year we are completing yet another major undertaking – the Year of Interregional Cooperation.
We noted our satisfaction with the development of military and military-technical cooperation and our concerted efforts against new threats, terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime.
On the whole, we expressed once again that our relations continue improving. We coordinated a schedule for further meetings and actions to enhance the Russia-China comprehensive strategic partnership.
Regarding political contacts that are due this year I would like to give priority to the preparations for the state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Russian Federation. We agreed today that all current issues are being resolved properly. It is clear that this visit will become a major landmark in the development of our relations this year. In addition, the heads of state will have repeated opportunities to meet on the sidelines of several multilateral forums in the first half of this year and the autumn of 2019 when the 24th regular summit of the heads of government of our two countries is scheduled to take place.
We discussed in detail our foreign policy cooperation that is a stabilising factor in world affairs. Russia and China consistently advocate a more just, democratic and polycentric world arrangement based on the principles of the UN Charter. We expressed zero tolerance for any attempt to destroy the architecture of international security based on the results of World War II, to undermine strategic stability and replace the standards of international law, including the UN Charter, with arbitrary rules. We also find unacceptable any attempt to circumvent WTO standards in trade.
We agreed to increase the mutual coordination of our actions within multilateral platforms, primarily in the UN, the UN Security Council, the SCO, BRICS, the G20 and APEC, the interaction mechanisms between ASEAN members and their dialogue partners, and the Russia-India-China and Russia-Mongolia-China formats.
We focused on providing political support for the process of linking the EAEU with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. We believe that combining the potential of this initiative and various other integration formats, primarily, the EAEU, the SCO and ASEAN, will lead us to instituting, in the long run, the Great Eurasian Partnership based on the principles of openness, transparency and consideration for each other's interests.
We discussed a variety of situations in regions in the world that are generally considered to be troubled or crisis-ridden. We reviewed the situation in Venezuela. We agreed that the Venezuelan people themselves should decide on the future of their country through a peaceful and inclusive dialogue based on the national constitution. We emphasised that any outside intervention, especially armed, that some hotheads are now talking about, will only complicate the prospects for a political settlement and create another conflict situation.
We see eye to eye on the situation on the Korean Peninsula. We agreed to continue to maintain close contact on this issue, and continue our joint efforts to form a mechanism of peace and security in Northeast Asia.
We expressed mutual interest in helping stabilise the situation in Afghanistan and minimising the terrorist and other threats that emanate from Afghanistan. We agreed to continue to promote a settlement in this country, tapping the potential of the Moscow format of consultations and the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group. We will continue to hold confidential consultations in the Russia-China-United States format.
Our Chinese friends and we believe that there is no alternative to maintain the territorial integrity of Syria and implementing UNSC Resolution 2254. Fighting terrorism and the remaining terrorist groups that are still operating in Syria remains an important goal. Today, we have a strong focus on rebuilding Syria and assisting it in restoring its economy and social sphere. We are also in favour of advancing the political process based on Syrian National Dialogue Congress decisions. We have informed our Chinese friends about the efforts to complete the formation of the Constitutional Committee, which should begin to implement the political sections of UNSC Resolution 2254. We emphasised the need to lift the unilateral economic sanctions imposed by the West which make the Syrian people suffer.
We touched on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to resolve the Iranian nuclear programme issue now that the United States has withdrawn from the agreement. China and Russia are convinced of the importance of maintaining this agreement. We confirmed the illegitimate nature of Washington’s unilateral anti-Iran sanctions aimed, in particular, at stopping oil exports from Iran. We also noted that the Islamic Republic of Iran remains committed to the JCPOA, but expects our European colleagues, who must fulfill their part of the agreements as well, to do the same.
Overall, our talks have once again revealed our mutual commitment to consolidating Russian-Chinese cooperation on a wide range of issues, including international affairs.
Once again, I thank my colleague for a substantive, friendly and professional discussion.
Question (translated from Chinese): Recently, the US has increased its pressure on Iran. Tehran also announced a reduction in its obligations under the JCPOA. The situation in Iran is fraught. What do you think Russia should do to resolve the crisis around the Iranian nuclear program?
Sergey Lavrov: I hope this question does not imply that only Russia should do something. Russia is just doing its share provided for by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In particular, in accordance with the agreed schedule, we are implementing the project to re-equip Iran’s Fordo facility for the production of stable isotopes. Far from all other participants do what they have promised to do. I’ll note that Iran’s announced “reduction” of its commitments mainly concerned the limits for its stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water which may be located on Iranian territory at any given moment. On this point, I’ll note that the JCPOA contains very clear provisions, which say, firstly, that Iran’s commitments are voluntary. Secondly, Tehran has the right to suspend observance if other parties to the agreement do not fulfill their obligations. Unfortunately, what was announced in Tehran about Iranian oil exports reflects our European partners’ inability to fulfill their commitments as they had volunteered to develop a mechanism to bypass some of the illegitimate US sanctions on Iranian oil exports. The effort was announced, but failed to deliver. Moreover, as our European colleagues told us, at this stage, that mechanism should only be used (if at all) for the supply of humanitarian goods. This is not at all what Iran is counting on, in accordance with the JCPOA, which was approved by the UN Security Council resolution. This plan and this resolution, which is binding, were to ensure that Iran could freely supply its oil to world markets. Therefore, Russia will have to see that other participants in the deal, first of all, our European colleagues, fulfill their part of the agreement. There is simply no other way.
I know that French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt are meeting in Brussels with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini today. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also set out for Brussels urgently, having canceled the Moscow part of his visit to Russia. I expect that the Europeans will stick to what the UN Security Council resolution approving the JCPOA says. I also have no doubt that they will be under tremendous pressure from Mr Pompeo to do the opposite. Tomorrow I will try to check with him how the Americans plan to overcome the crisis created by their unilateral decisions. I look forward to a frank conversation with my colleague tomorrow.
Question: US President Donald Trump recently mentioned the possibility of signing a nuclear agreement between Moscow and Washington in the near future, which could later be joined by China. However, Beijing announced that it would not participate in talks on a trilateral nuclear disarmament agreement. Does this mean the issue is deadlocked? What are the prospects of extending the START III Treaty?
Sergey Lavrov: We heard that US President Donald Trump announced that China is interested in joining the talks between Russia and the US (although there are no talks at this time). Indicatively, President Trump mentioned China’s interest. Later we heard a statement by a representative of the Foreign Ministry of China on lack of any such interest. If the Americans are making such an initiative, it should be discussed directly with our Chinese friends, as we told Washington.
As for the Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START Treaty), we, including President of Russia Vladimir Putin, have repeatedly suggested extending it for five years after it expires in February 2021. As before, we are ready to discuss this issue with the Americans. Importantly, the sides need to discuss the issues arising in different aspects of the cuts to the figures fixed in the treaty via a bilateral mechanism of monitoring compliance with this highly important agreement.
As you know, we had questions as to the US-announced conversion of many submarine and strategic bomber launchers into what they called “a non-nuclear configuration.” This is allowed by the treaty. However, this conversion should be carried out in a way that allows the other side to be one hundred per cent sure that the conversion will not be reversed to a nuclear configuration. We are discussing this issue now. This is a purely technical issue. For now we have not yet arrived at an acceptable formula that will allow us to be assured that everything has been done in accordance with the treaty.
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is arriving here tomorrow. I think this issue will be central to our talks. We will subsequently try to tell you about the results.
Question (addressed to Wang Yi): How do you assess the situation around the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula? How will China and Russia cooperate in this respect?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Wang Yi): I will add a few words. We fully agree with the approach which my colleague has outlined. As I already mentioned in my opening remarks, we closely coordinate our efforts concerning the Korean Peninsula. Together with our Chinese friends, we welcomed the beginning of a direct dialogue between the US and North Korean leaders. We do our best to encourage this dialogue on the basis of those principles that my colleague mentioned, namely: phasing, reciprocity and transparency. It is our view that denuclearisation should apply to the whole of the Korean Peninsula and not its northern part only.
We have repeatedly spoken in favour of moving in this direction. Almost two years ago, in the summer of 2017, during a regular Russian-Chinese summit Mr Wang Yi and I signed a declaration containing the roadmap which was just mentioned and whose absence did not help the situation. I will note that contacts that emerged between the leaders of the US and North Korea progressed exactly in line with our roadmap which we developed together with China, from trust-building measures to direct contacts. We hope that at some point we will reach a comprehensive agreement both on denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and on building a system of peace and security in Northeast Asia in general, including clear and rock-solid guarantees of security for North Korea, which President Vladimir Putin mentioned repeatedly, including at the end of the Russian-North Korean summit in Vladivostok on April 25. It is not easy to deliver on such guarantees but this is absolutely essential in any potential future agreement. Russia and China are willing to help formulate such guarantees.
I will stress again that there needs to be movement toward the middle. The trust-building measures taken by Pyongyang are serious enough and include stopping nuclear tests and launches of ballistic missiles, as well as closing one of its test sites. In response, our US and South Korean partners suspended military exercises. However, large exercises were held quite recently, which met with a negative response from Pyongyang. Together with our Chinese friends, we are taking steps to lower temperatures on all sides and help bring about the conditions needed both for dialogue and for reaching mutually acceptable agreements.
Question (addressed to Wang Yi, translated from Chinese): Chinese-US trade talks have recently faced difficulties. The US has raised tariffs. What do you think about the prospects of China-US trade talks? What do you think about the current trilateral relations between Russia, China and the US in the context of the forthcoming visit of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to Sochi?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Wang Yi): I will speak briefly in support of what Mr Wang Yi has just said. Relations between great powers are important not only for their nations and the development of mutually beneficial cooperation but for the fate of peace – this is not high-flown rhetoric but a real description of the situation. We must acknowledge our responsibility for international stability and security that should be equal and indivisible for all countries. We will support any undertakings that imply cooperation between the countries you mentioned – China, the US and the Russian Federation – if they serve the cause of peace.
We are already holding a trilateral dialogue on Afghanistan. I believe that more progress could be made to settle the situation on the Korean peninsula if Russia, China and the US had a closer trilateral dialogue on this.