Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif, Moscow, September 2, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have had quite substantive talks.
We have discussed most of the issues on the Russian-Iranian relations agenda based on the fundamental agreements reached during previous meetings of the presidents of Russia and Iran, including the agreements reached at the meetings in Sochi this February and Bishkek this June on the sidelines of the SCO summit.
We both want to further strengthen our partnership in the political, economic and humanitarian areas, as well as in security, the fight against terrorism and in foreign policy in general.
We are satisfied to note a 17 per cent increase in trade over the first six months of the year. The Permanent Russian-Iranian Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation plays an important role in promoting these positive dynamics. Its regular plenary meeting was held in Iran this summer, co-chaired by the ministers of energy. Today the energy ministers of Russia and Iran are meeting in Moscow. We are confident that they will have a more detailed discussion of economic goals in order to fulfil the instructions coordinated by the presidents. This implies implementing prospective Russian-Iranian initiatives, in energy primarily, including nuclear energy, and in transport, industrial cooperation, finance and banking.
Both Russia and Iran are affected by illegal unilateral restrictions imposed by the US that aim to block Iran’s foreign economic ties. We have agreed to continue our joint efforts to expand protective measures on trade and economic projects with Iran to make them independent of USD transaction channels. Using the dollar for international payments has largely undermined the trust of our countries as well as most other states that understand the abnormality of Washington’s actions in order to impose its unilateral decisions, including the revising of WTO regulations in the context of promoting measures for clearly unfair competition in order to extort unilateral preferences.
Russia and our Iranian colleagues proceed from the presumption that the implementation of the temporary agreement to move towards the establishment of a free trade zone between Iran and the EAEU will give an additional boost to our trade and economic ties.
Both countries are interested in stepping up humanitarian cooperation. Events marking the Days of Russian Culture in Iran will run until the end of this year. Today, we discussed what had to be done to put in place a firm international legal foundation for the activities of the Iranian Culture Centre in Russia and the Russian Culture Centre in Iran.
We talked in detail about the important items on the regional and international agendas. Our approaches to the majority of issues coincide or are very similar. The discussion focused on the situation around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme (JCPOA, or the Iran nuclear deal). We reaffirmed our firm and principled commitment to the efforts to preserve this very important agreement, which was approved by a UN Security Council resolution. We are in agreement that the situation around the Iran nuclear deal is the direct result of the destructive steps taken by the US Administration, who has not only withdrawn from this agreement, which was approved by the UN Security Council, but is trying to ban other UN member countries from fulfilling this mandatory UN Security Council resolution. We have no doubt that it is this US policy to terminate this international agreement that has forced our Iranian colleagues to partly suspend their obligations, which they voluntarily took on under the Iran nuclear deal.
We discussed the Syrian settlement process, primarily, in the context of preparations for the summit in the Astana format (of the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey) scheduled to take place in Turkey in mid-September. We spoke about the importance of the continuing efforts to stabilise the situation on the ground in Syria along with the uncompromising struggle against the terrorists. We talked about the importance of parallel efforts to rebuild Syria after the conflict and to help Syrian refugees and internally displaced people to return home. We discussed prospects for the political process, mainly through the prism of the Constitutional Committee, whose activities must begin as soon as possible. Hopefully, no more attempts will be made to obstruct these efforts, and our colleagues in the UN will no longer drag their feet when it comes to approving the list that has been coordinated by the [Syrian] government and the opposition, as well as to the procedure which has been developed and, as far as we know, accepted by Damascus, the opposition and the members of civil society that have been invited to sit on the Constitutional Committee.
In general, I consider our talks to be very productive, as always. We have agreed to remain in contact on all these and other regional security issues, including efforts to ensure security and stability in the Persian Gulf area where complicated processes are unfolding now. The Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran are interested in all Persian Gulf littoral countries and all their international partners agreeing on mutually acceptable ways of ensuring security in this very important region. The Iranian and Russian initiatives addressing this issue are open and clear. We will push forward agreements which are based on respect for the interests of all regional parties involved.
Question: Will French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative help reduce tensions between Iran and the United States?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Mohammad Javad Zarif): When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited France at Fort de Bregancon several weeks ago, at Emmanuel Macron’s invitation, the two presidents had a lengthy one-on-one discussion, as well as talks with their delegations. Emmanuel Macron mentioned his personal efforts and France’s efforts to maintain the Iran nuclear deal. Vladimir Putin supported the French leader’s approach, provided that this initiative sought to have the Iran nuclear deal implemented in full without additions or exclusions. Any additional ideas that may emerge in connection with this should be discussed separately and should not affect the obligations of all parties to the deal.
Hopefully, this useful initiative by the French President will yield results. We are grateful to our Iranian friends for the in-depth confidential information and their assessment of the status of this process.
Question: Did you discuss the Iranian ballistic missile programme and Iran’s presence in the region? As far as we know, this is the main condition put forward by the United States and its allies, in particular Israel, for making progress in talks on the Iran nuclear deal. Some even say a new agreement could be reached.
Sergey Lavrov: As for the connection between the efforts to get back to implementing the basic principles of the Iran nuclear deal, on the one hand, and the issues regarding Iran’s ballistic missile programme and the situation in the region as viewed through the prism of Iran’s role, on the other, I have already touched on this in my answer to the previous question. We, like our Iranian friends, firmly believe that agreements must be respected, all the more so if these are agreements approved by a UN Security Council resolution as mandatory for all parties. This is the vantage point from which we are looking at the initiatives of our French colleagues and we wish them every success. As I said, we exchange opinions, including in the context of the meetings that the Iranian deputy foreign minister is having in Paris today. We will continue to cooperate closely on the issue of preserving and ensuring the fulfillment of all obligations undertaken by all parties to the Iranian nuclear deal.
As for the Iranian ballistic missile programme and developments in the region, our Iranian colleagues, as I understand it, have said that they were ready to consider any proposals for further dialogue that are supported by the assurance that the Iranian nuclear deal remains intact and mandatory. This seems natural to us. If someone comes up with an idea for a forum to discuss some new initiatives we will never turn down this proposal and, of course, the outcome of this discussion must not be predetermined. To be viable, any agreement must be based on the consensus of the interested parties. This applies to the discussion of Iran’s ballistic missile programme, which fully complies with international law and is not subject to any ban. This applies, as well, to a discussion on the situation in the region.
Question (to Mohammad Javad Zarif): The media recently reported that Saudi Arabia had welcomed talks on security in the Persian Gulf. This issue is also being discussed in the US. Can you confirm this information? To what extent does it overlap with the Russian collective security initiative and with your own initiative on security in the Persian Gulf?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Mohammad Javad Zarif): We must be realistic. The region is bringing up the many concerns in all the countries there, as well as concerns in Europe, the US and Russia. We are worried about the escalation of confrontation there. There are many initiatives aimed at escalating tensions in the spirit of confrontation, rather than at creating conditions for compromise. There are numerous ideas on how to organise patrols in the area of the Persian Gulf, and the straits of Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb. These initiatives are largely based on the friend-or-foe principle: us against them. This is not Russia’s position. We have long promoted the concept of security in the Persian Gulf. It is necessary to find a solution exclusively through mutually respectful, equitable dialogue between the littoral Gulf states, a dialogue without any precondition. I am referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) with the participation of outside players such as League of Arab States (LAS), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Other external participants could be invited too.
Everything should be based on equitable, mutually respectful dialogue. Our position, which has again been supported by our Iranian colleagues, implies a search for exactly these formats and approaches to solving the Gulf problems. Clearly, the Persian Gulf is not at all the only part of the region that requires some additional peacemaking efforts. There is also the Palestinian issue, which was discussed today, and developments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya. Any of these hotbeds of conflict should be considered solely from the point of view of starting a dialogue between all those who can help create conditions for inclusive political talks in each of these areas in order to look for national accord and solutions based on the existing agreements and the UN resolutions. Any attempts to put the cart before the horse by appointing culprits and those responsible in each of these or any other conflicts will not add anything positive to what is happening in this particular region. We will uphold the need for dialogue based on partnership, equality and mutual respect and will not support any unilateral confrontational schemes and concepts.
Question (to both ministers): An Iranian Foreign ministry delegation is holding consultations on the JCPOA in Paris simultaneously with your talks in Moscow. How can these steps help preserve the JCPOA? Will Iran’s third step on reducing its commitments under the JCPOA persuade the Europeans that it is still abiding by the deal? How important is Russia’s role in this context?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Mohammad Javad Zarif): I can add that our American partners are openly trying to provoke Iran with the support of some of their regional allies. The Americans have announced that the JCPOA is no longer mandatory for them but insist that Iran should strictly fulfil all of its obligations under the plan.
It will be recalled that the JCPOA is based on a very delicate balance of interests, commitments and compromises. It cannot be divided into parts (with one part mandatory and the other optional). This is absolutely impossible. We fully realise that the steps that Iran has to take on the partial suspension of its voluntary commitments under the JCPOA are a direct consequence of the United States’ unacceptable moves as regards this highly important document that was approved by the UN Security Council. We are witnessing attempts to provoke Iran into breaching the non-proliferation regime and undermining its cooperation with the IAEA. They are apparently looking for a pretext to implement military scenarios. We categorically condemn these scenarios that are certain to be fatal for the entire region. Therefore, we note the restraint of our Iranian colleagues, who are strictly abiding by all the international legal standards on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear arms in this case. We hope that all other participants in the JCPOA will duly appreciate Iran’s conduct.
Question (for Mohammad Javad Zarif): The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen said last Thursday that he would be visiting Iran shortly. Do you plan to meet with Mr Pedersen, and if so, will this meeting be held before the trilateral Russia-Iran-Turkey summit scheduled for September 11? If so, what matters do you intend to discuss?
Do you support Mr Pedersen’s idea of holding a joint forum of the participants in the Astana format and the Small Group on Syria? If this is the case, when will such a forum convene in Geneva?
The United States and the Taliban at the moment are in the final stages of coordinating a peace agreement, which stipulates a partial withdrawal of foreign troops. What do you think about the progress being made at the US-Taliban talks? What is Iran’s position on this matter, considering that some troops will remain in Afghanistan?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Mohammad Javad Zarif): As for the possible meeting of the Astana format and the so-called Small Group on Syria, President Vladimir Putin has pointed out more than once that we are not against meetings in any format, provided they prove useful.
I would like to remind you that last October the envoys of the Small Group – our French and German colleagues, President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel – proposed holding a meeting with Russia and Turkey as representatives of the Astana format. France and Germany were representing the Small Group. The meeting was held in Istanbul, where our French and German colleagues urged Russia and Turkey to help accelerate the establishment of the Constitutional Committee, which was almost formed by the end of last year. More specifically, there were six candidates to be discussed. When Russia and Turkey, working with the assistance of their Iranian colleagues, convinced the Syrian Government and the opposition to approve the final list, our colleagues from the Small Group overturned the situation (it is an open secret) by urging the UN Secretary-General to blackball the list because they believed that some candidates should be replaced. The Constitutional Committee could have started working almost a year ago.
As for the question regarding our attitude to the idea of contacts between the Astana format and the Small Group, I would like to say that we are ready for any contacts. But we must know what value added this can bring. If the efforts undertaken now after the disruption of the Constitutional Committee’s launch in December of last year succeed and the committee is formalised, presented, convenes in Geneva and approves its rules and regulations, this achievement can be crowned with a meeting between the representatives of the Small Group on Syria and the Astana format. But meeting for the sake of meeting does not make much sense. We have openly told this to Mr Pedersen in response to his proposal to hold such a meeting without further delay.
Question: Do Russia and Iran hold similar positions on the de-escalation zone proposed by Turkey and the United States?
Sergey Lavrov: There are several criteria in this regard. We always support any agreements that are good for the cause and can lower the level of armed confrontation, alleviate the sufferings of civilians, and create conditions for dealing with humanitarian matters and promoting a political settlement.
We follow closely the ongoing US-Turkish talks on ensuring security on the Iraq-Turkey border. President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was in Russia last week for talks with President Putin, has updated him on how the talks went ahead and on issues that still resisted solution. We are closely monitoring these talks for several reasons. First, as we have said before, we respect Turkey’s legitimate interests in the protection of its border. Second, we agree that solutions must be found that will not turn the Kurdish question into yet another major regional problem. Third, we believe that any decisions adopted at the US-Turkish talks must respect the interests of the Arab tribes that have traditionally lived in the territories, where these developments are taking place, that is, east of the Euphrates River. And, fourth (which is actually a key priority), we will support only those decisions that fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.