ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)
Transcript of Response to Questions from Russian Media Members by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, Singapore, July 24, 2008
Question: What was discussed at the ARF meeting today?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Today the meeting of ARF, which incorporates the ASEAN member states and their partners, which already number 17, examined further streamlining of cooperation in this format, above all from the viewpoint of bolstering security and combating such threats as terrorism, narcotraffic, and organized crime. In the outcome political declaration these issues are construed in principled terms for us, namely from the vantage point of the need to unite efforts of the international community in countering the new challenges.
I will also note that the documents adopted today stress the important role of the SCO among the multilateral structures operating in the AP region.
It has to be noted that not only have essential, significant principles of interaction been endorsed today, but advance has been made on the road of practical cooperation as well. A mechanism has been created which will on a regular basis concern itself with the struggle against terrorism and transnational crime. To this end, it is planned to arrange a direct exchange of special information between law enforcement bodies. Russia submitted a bid for the co-chairmanship, together with one of the ASEAN countries, of Inter-Sessional Meetings on these issues in 2010. This proposal received backing.
We will also participate in the work of the permanent ASEAN mechanism now being set up to ensure maritime security. This work is being conducted under the auspices of the conference of representatives from the defense agencies of ASEAN and their partners.
I will also note that various conflict situations in this region were examined – the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem and the Iranian nuclear program, the situation in South Asia, particularly in the context of relations between India and Pakistan, and a whole array of other issues.
Some participants had the temptation not only to bring to this multilateral forum's discussion their own problems of bilateral relations with some one of the partners, but also to try and ensure that solving these problems became a preliminary condition of everything else. It seems to me this is wrong, because bilateral problems were, are and will be always. And for their solution the appropriate formats ought to be used, direct talks in the first place. Multilateral forums should deal with what are common issues for all and look for ways to develop practical cooperation, thus enhancing trust and generally improving the atmosphere, particularly to enable bilateral issues to be ultimately tackled more quickly and effectively.
Question: What do you expect from the SCO and the meetings that will be held there?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is developing successfully and I think that we tomorrow will do some good work in order to prepare the next summit, which will be held at the end of August.
Question: Were the issues of energy security discussed today?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Yes, they were. Energy security issues are on the agenda of our dialogue with ASEAN too, they are also being discussed within the framework of the ASEAN Regional Forum. Four years ago, when this forum gathered in Indonesia, in Jakarta, a number of important documents were adopted on our initiative, particularly on ensuring transport security against terrorism. This is linked to energy issues because transport was then interpreted broadly, including hydrocarbon supply routes. A special mechanism is now being set up within the ARF to work out a basic document setting out the principles for interaction in this sphere.
I will also add that in the framework of Russia's bilateral relations with many ASEAN participants the energy dialogue occupies an ever-increasing place, not only in the context of the supply of hydrocarbons, including liquefied natural gas, but also from the viewpoint of growing interest in the world and in this region for nuclear energy, which as of now, given the scientific achievements, is the only reliable alternative to hydrocarbons. Everyone is well informed of our plans in this area. Rosatom is ready to respond to the interest being shown by our partners and it is ready to inform them of the capabilities we possess. For a number of countries such contacts are already scheduled.
Question: How does ASEAN feel about the position of Russia on the need to create a new security structure in the world? And generally how do the ASEAN nations look upon the position of Russia with regard to a multipolar world?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I can say without excessive exaggeration that our position on international affairs meets with understanding and support from a majority of countries, not only ASEAN members but also other ARF participants. As I already said, the conceptual papers that were approved on security stress the need for collective approaches precisely to ensuring stability in this region, which fits completely into the foreign policy concept of the Russian Federation, approved a few days ago by President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev. Also receiving ever greater understanding is the well-known proposal of the SCO that was advanced at the summit in Tashkent and has since been called the Tashkent Initiative. It envisages that all of the region's many structures dealing with security, one way or another, should forge operational links among themselves. The SCO has already established relations at the level of secretariats with a number of such organizations, including ASEAN. I think that there is a promising field for work in this regard. Undoubtedly, at some stage and presumably not in a very distant future the task will arise to consider the possibility of forming a region-wide system of security. Since there exist quite a few structures in this sphere whose membership largely coincides, and their agendas are largely consonant, we were talking today about the need to think of creating the region-wide structure. That approach was backed up by a number of our colleagues, including the foreign ministers of Australia and China. For their part, the Chinese colleagues circulated an unofficial paper setting out the proposals on which principles could underlie such truly universal Asian-Pacific cooperation in the name of stability and security in the region. I think that this will become one of the central themes in the coming years in this format.
Question: How is it to be explained that tomorrow in Dushanbe there will be two meetings held after all, first a meeting in a narrow composition, and then a more broadly constituted meeting? This is the first question and a second one: please say do you think the principles of work operating in ASEAN for quite a long time will somehow be used in the SCO?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: As regards the first question, meetings in a narrow composition followed by meetings in an enlarged composition is the generally accepted practice in virtually any international mechanism in which Russian participates, be it the CIS, CSTO, EurAsEC or SCO. Within the SCO, the heads of state regularly begin work in a narrow composition, which is most suitable for direct – without any long politically correct statements, particularly with an eye on the press – discussion on how the organization will build its further activities, and then this is fixed in a broader format. Our Tajik partner organizers of the upcoming events have proposed this kind of format and we see no reasons why it does not have a right to live.
As to the methods of work, essentially they are very close or even identical, both in our SCO and in ASEAN. In the first place, this concerns the need to find solutions which will be the subject of general consensus and will rest on consideration of a balance of interests. The vehicle for achieving such solutions is, above all, a mutually respectful dialogue. I think that this ASEAN culture essentially coincides with the culture of communication that has taken shape in the SCO.
Question: Was a full membership of ASEAN for Russia discussed?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: We are not asking for ASEAN membership, just as none of the ASEAN partners, which, as I said before, number 17, raises such a question.
Question: A few days ago US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued Iran a two-week ultimatum. What is your attitude to this? And my second question: Could you clarify the position of Russia on Sudan? Under what conditions will Russia try to reject an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Regarding Iran I have already said that this question was discussed along with the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem. The overwhelming majority of the debate participants came out in favor of tackling it exclusively by politico-diplomatic methods.
As to the time limits which some or other country would like to set for receiving a response from Teheran, a response to the proposal of the Six, I think that it is after all necessary to commensurate the individual statements of this or that participant of this process, political, public statements designed perhaps to stimulate somebody to do something, with real life, which, of course, must take into account the entire set of circumstances. And in the case of the Russian position we presume that there should be no artificial frameworks both from the viewpoint of deadlines – tomorrow or never – and in terms of endlessly dragging out the process. We are convinced that all those directly participating in this understand the essence and complexity of the problems under discussion perfectly well. We are also clearly aware of just what a reasonable time can be to receive a clear answer to the fairly distinct, even though all-embracing and therefore complex, proposal.
On Sudan – you see there is international law and in this case the exacerbation that has occurred following the decision of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal regarding the president of Sudan should be considered on a legal basis, and the legal basis is such that there is the statute of this court in accordance with which some or other actions of the prosecutor can be suspended if the Security Council deems it advisable. The relevant proposal has been submitted to the Council; we are examining it and will be guided, first and foremost, by the need to ensure progress in Sudanese settlement, including both the Southern Sudan problem and the problem of Darfur. You know this is about the same as in the case of former Yugoslavia: there exists the Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, and the position of some countries was that until one, two or three indictees were brought before the Hague court, no steps should be taken to deal with the other problems connected with the Balkans. I completely agree with the necessity of justice, including justice in respect of persons accused of grave crimes against humanity. This needs to be done, however, without forgetting about other, no less important things concerning the stability of whole regions of the planet – be it the Balkans or Africa. Therefore, an approach which will not consist of ultimatums and will not treat in black and white humanitarian issues, issues of human rights protection and oppose them to the issues of the maintenance of peace and stability is correct, in my view. And most Security Council members, I think, are inclined to this approach.
Question: What do you think about the Americans' interest in the SCO and about the fact that they would like to draw closer to this organization? Foreign Minister Lavrov: You know wanting to draw closer is an abstract notion. The SCO has procedures, in particular the procedures for joining the range of SCO observers. Tomorrow in Dushanbe we will discuss normative documents which will regulate this process in legal terms. It will be understandable, set forth on paper. We will also discuss the idea of introducing a dialogue partner institution. And here too, we borrow ASEAN practice, to some extent. I look forward to agreeing on these proposals tomorrow and presenting them for the heads of state at the summit in late August to judge and take decisions on them. It will then be possible to consider any country's desire to draw closer to the SCO, taking into account the procedures that will be established. The rules that are being devised for observers and for partners will lay down certain conditions on whose basis any official applications will be examined with regard to this or that question.
Question: Western press media sometimes describe the SCO as a threat to the existing world order. Do you think that there is actually no threat at all?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I today read in the International Herald Tribune the article of a certain Mills – I personally do not know such an analyst – who again commented on our voting in the UN Security Council together with China, South Africa, Vietnam and Libya against a resolution on the imposition of sanctions against Zimbabwe. This "analyst" went to the length of saying that this will have ripple effects for us because the 750 million Africans living south of Sahara "will curse" the Russian Federation. The International Herald Tribune writes this, a respected, solid newspaper. My first wish was to ask somebody to write a reaction so the publishers or editors of this newspaper publish our answer but I then simply realized that we won't have enough authors to respond to all such things. Any clever person understands that this is rubbish perfectly well. It was these 750 million Africans south of Sahara in the person of the heads of state of most of these countries led by the South African president that adopted at the African Union summit even before the vote in the UN Security Council an appeal to the world community not to undertake any abrupt motions which would undermine the efforts to forge a dialogue between the Zimbabwe president and opposition. It was responding to these calls, since we always consider it important to orient ourselves in examining any conflict towards the countries of the relevant region, that we came out against a decision absolutely unjustified in this case and not intrinsic to the UN Security Council. And now I hope everything will go as it should, when the dialogue between President Mugabe and the opposition leader is developing with the active mediation of South Africa and other African states. I think our position once again confirms its warrantedness. I cited this example, answering your question.
As to the SCO specifically, you know we have publicly explained on many occasions what this organization is concerned with. In fact, there is no need to explain anything here. There are the statutory documents, and there are the decisions which the SCO makes. And it would be incorrect to try to present matters so as if the SCO is almost an answer to the NATO enlargement. The SCO is not artificially dragging anyone into its ranks. Countries apply for SCO membership that are perfectly well aware of the non-bloc character of the SCO, are perfectly aware that the SCO is not engaged in creating military bases around any other organization or country, and that this organization is preoccupied with affairs both understandable and corresponding to the interests of the entire world.