Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions during a joint news conference following talks with Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Yousef Al-Othaimeen, Moscow, July 3, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have had substantive talks with Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Yousef Al-Othaimeen.
This is not our first meeting; today we reaffirmed our mutual interest in the progressive development of the multi-faceted interaction between the Russian Federation and the OIC.
We have emphasised the priority of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement for the Islamic world and many other countries, and reaffirmed our commitment to the existing international legal framework, including the relevant UN resolutions, the Madrid Principles and the Arab Peace Initiative. We have a shared opinion that any attempts to work out alternatives, especially covert attempts, actually risk undermining the two-state solution principle and delaying a sustainable and fair resolution to this decades-old international problem.
We noted with alarm the persisting unsettled conflicts, and in some cases even the deterioration in a number of Islamic states. We expressed shared concern about the growing tension in the Gulf and considered how the Iranian factor affects the political processes in the region.
We reaffirmed our proposal that a dialogue should be launched between the Arabs and Iran aimed at strengthening confidence, transparency in the military sphere and, ultimately, negotiations on building a collective security architecture in this region with the participation of the Arab states, Iran and the widest support of the international community, including the Arab League and the OIC.
We talked about the need for the speedy resolution of other conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. We are equally confident that it should be done exclusively by peaceful means through an inclusive national dialogue based on international law.
Special attention was paid to the need to step up a consistent, uncompromising fight against terrorism in all its manifestations.
We discussed the state and prospects of relations between Russia and the OIC. In Russia we are trying to promote relations with the OIC as well as its member countries and the Russian leadership’s efforts have wide support in our society. In this context, we noted the active work of the Russia-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group, which includes prominent politicians, experts, and former diplomats from Russia and Islamic states, dedicated to promoting cultural and humanitarian initiatives and helping to deepen inter-civilisational and inter-religious dialogue. A number of events are being planned by this group for September on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the OIC.
Another important component of our interaction is the economy. There is trade and investment potential between Russia and our partners in the Islamic world. In this regard, we noted the importance of the International Economic Summit Russia-Islamic World annually held in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan. Last year, the Secretary General attended the event as a guest of honour. We hope that the OIC will continue to be adequately represented at these forums.
Question: What are the opportunities for promoting partner relations between Russia and the Islamic world in the fight against terrorism?
Sergey Lavrov: In our opening remarks, Mr Secretary General and I already noted the priority of our joint work to enhance the international community’s potential in the fight against terrorism. As to the practical dimension, this is displayed in a number of spheres. We are interested in having as many OIC countries as possible join the Russian FSB’s International Antiterrorism Database, which makes it possible to keep track of terrorist militants’ movements with maximum efficiency and promptness in real time. This phenomenon has become a major problem in its own right. There are enough facts confirming that they migrate from country to country, and not only in the Middle East or North Africa but also far beyond the region. Specifically, terrorists, who have been ousted from Syria, turn up in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. They are already keeping an eye on Central Asia. This is a separate subject for us and our CSTO allies to deal with. Many nations have paid attention to the database that involves several dozen countries, including many Muslim countries, and a number of international organisations specialising in preventing the terrorist threat. Apart from this, we highly appreciate the fact that our Muslim colleagues at the UN cooperate closely with Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office Vladimir Voronkov. He is a Russian citizen and took the position approximately a year ago. We are grateful for the support he is receiving from OIC member states. Mr Secretary General has mentioned the special importance of good relations between Russia and the OIC host, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We are really seeking to develop these relations with maximum efficiency and in a trust-based and strategic manner. This was just recently confirmed in Osaka, where President Vladimir Putin met with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Among other things, they discussed the preparations for the Russian President’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
Turning to the counterterrorist dimension of our partnership with Saudi Arabia and generally the international activities directed at fighting terrorism, I would like to single out the initiative made by Saudi Arabia that has financed for several years a special UN fund intended to help organise counterterrorism cooperation and implement specific measures aimed at enhancing the international community’s readiness to eliminate this threat. Thus, apart from political solidarity in the antiterrorist struggle, we have quite concrete projects implemented for the benefit of strengthening the international community’s unity when it comes to this matter.
Question (addressed to Yousef Al-Othaimeen): What is your opinion of the US Palestinian-Israeli peace plan, in particular its investment component?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Yousef Al-Othaimeen): I would like to say a few words about the Palestinian-Israeli settlement. We talked about it great detail today, including about the plan which the United States has praised as the deal of the century, but which nobody has seen yet.
The Peace to Prosperity economic conference was held a couple of weeks ago in Bahrain, where the initiative on multibillion dollar investments in the region was presented, including in the Palestinian territories and in the countries that have provided refuge to Palestinians for many years.
As my esteemed colleague, OIC Secretary General Yousef Al-Othaimeen, has said, so far we have seen only the economic component, and we do not know anything about the US political plans’ compliance with UN Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative. It is very difficult to make any final conclusions when you do not see the whole picture of the US settlement plans.
I can tell you provisionally that the economic component stipulates some $50 billion in investments, half of it in Palestine and the rest in the infrastructure of the countries that have for years given shelter to Palestinian refugees. If the idea is to keep the refugees there forever, as you can perceive from the planned investments in these countries, this provision contradicts the UNSC decisions, which stipulate the establishment of an effective Palestinian state that will be able to receive refugees from the countries where they have taken refuge, primarily Lebanon, Egypt and several other countries.
So, we would like our American colleagues to explain their plan it its totality rather than only give us a glimpse of some of its components. As Mr Al-Othaimeen has said, we have a common vision of the importance of doing this job on the basis of UNSC decisions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
Question: It is a fact that Kurds played a huge role in the defeat of ISIS in Syria. What is Russia’s role in the resumption of talks between Syrian Kurds and Damascus, as well as in the protection of Kurds’ rights in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: We have taken a clear stand since the beginning of the conflict. The very first steps made towards a political settlement in Syria, the establishment of the International Syria Support Group at the initiative of Russia and the previous US administration, and the coordination and adoption of UNSC Resolution 2254, stipulate the principle of respect for the interests of all ethnic and religious groups in Syria, including Kurds, as this was specifically noted at all stages in the talks.
When Russia, Turkey and Iran created the Astana format, which initiated the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi in January 2018, we focused on the importance of ensuring a full and comprehensive representation of Kurds. This is how it was done, eventually. The decisions that were made at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress and subsequently approved by the UN Security Council, the Syrian Government and the opposition clearly stipulate the principle of full respect for the interests of the Kurdish people.
We use our contacts with the [Syrian] Government and representatives of Kurdish organisations to convince them of the importance of a direct dialogue based on the principles that are upheld by the international community, in particular, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. I see Kurds’ interest for joining this dialogue. We would welcome this.
However, there is an obstacle. The United States is, regrettably, using the Kurdish factor for speculation. It is trying to use Kurds to create a pseudo-state on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, including in the regions where Kurds never lived in Syria before. Kurds are being used to disrupt the territorial integrity of Syria and drive a wedge between Kurds and the Arab tribes that have lived in these territories for centuries. There have been reports of serious clashes between Kurds and the Arab tribes. This is alarming. I hope the United States will not take any action that contradicts UNSC resolutions and can damage the balance of interests of all the ethnic and religious groups that live in Syria.
Question: On Sunday, the United States carried out an airstrike on the terrorist bases in the northwest of Syria. The Pentagon confirmed the deaths of leaders of the terrorist group, which is part of Al-Qaeda. What do you think about this? Did Russia know about the airstrikes? Why do you think the United States is so selective when it comes to targeting terrorists? So far we have not seen any action by the United States against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
Sergey Lavrov: As far as the Russian side is informed, as you know, the military officials of the United States and Russia have a deconfliction channel in Syria for sharing information in order to prevent unforeseen, unintentional incidents. This is what concerns our working relations with the US military.
Second, I think that the United States is undoubtedly aware of the remaining threats of terrorism on the Syrian territory, especially on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, where the US illegally occupies several regions and carries out actions that are not entirely in line with the logic of combating terrorism.
The strikes probably targeted Al-Qaeda leaders. Most likely it was so. We welcome the fight against terrorists. But some regions that the US controls by creating the so-called security zones on a unilateral basis, such as Al-Tanf, have also become home to terrorist and extremist elements. There is a refugee camp, Rukban, which has essentially turned into a camp of hostages. The same thing is happening to the north as well, in the al-Hawl camp on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, which currently houses terrorists of all sorts. That is troubling.
We have repeatedly emphasised that the fight against terrorism must be free of any double standards. As stipulated by UNSC Resolution 2254, the fight on the territory of Syria must be uncompromising – whether on the eastern bank of the Euphrates or the Idlib de-escalation zone, which is currently being used to essentially protect the remnants of the former Jabhat al-Nusra. All of this serves as an indication of double standards. We believe that this must change. This issue is among the most important in our dialogue with our Western colleagues and other partners, when we discuss the situation in Syria and the need to meet the requirements of the UN Security Council that were approved unanimously.