24 May 201616:55

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions following a meeting of the SCO Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Tashkent, May 24, 2016

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We are very pleased with the results of the meeting of the SCO Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs. Our work was excellently organised by our Uzbek hosts. We were able to prepare a solid package of documents to be submitted to the heads of state for approval during the meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of State that will take place here, in Tashkent, in a month.

First of all, the main political document will be the Tashkent Declaration marking the 15th anniversary of the SCO. Its preliminary text was coordinated and covers all key areas of our cooperation, including political, security, economic and cultural ties.

Perhaps one of the most expected is the issue of further steps toward granting India and Pakistan full SCO membership. In line with the official decision adopted in Ufa a year ago to launch the procedure of admitting those countries into the SCO, we coordinated draft memoranda spelling out the commitments of our Indian and Pakistani colleagues to join the relevant conventions and other intergovernmental and interstate documents that exist within the SCO framework and are mandatory for each member state. Once signed, these memoranda will bring the SCO’s cooperation with India and Pakistan to a qualitatively new level and pave the way for full membership.

In addition, we coordinated the Action Plan for the next five years to ensure the implementation of the SCO Development Strategy Towards 2025, as well as a whole set of projects regarding our cooperation in the fight against new challenges and threats. The terrorist and drug threats affect us all, and it is in our interests to use the format of collective action within the SCO framework more effectively. I have already mentioned that we drafted a number of documents in the cultural field, including a programme to promote tourism, and noted the increase in youth exchanges.

One of the focal points of our discussion was how to promote economic integration not just within the SCO framework but also in the context of broader trends in our common space. In this connection, we drew attention to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to discuss the prospects for building an economic space that would involve the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the SCO and ASEAN. The idea was met with interest, just as it was by the ASEAN member states during the recent ASEAN-Russia Summit that took place in Sochi on May 19-20.

It’s with a sense of accomplishment that we are ending our stay in Uzbekistan. I hope that the heads of state will back the proposals that we coordinated here.

Question: It has just been reported that Kurds assisted by the United States are preparing an offensive on the Syrian city of Raqqa. Can you confirm these reports? Does this mean there is real coordination, and how will it be carried out?

Sergey Lavrov: We agreed with our American partners – not straight away, but after dealing with their concerns, doubts and even resistance – to eventually move from sharing information to coordinated action against terrorism. These issues are currently being considered by our defence departments. As you know, permanent lines of communication have been established between Russia’s Hmeimim air base and US representatives in the Jordanian capital. Naturally, there is the direct line between Moscow and Washington, and there is the Russian-US rapid response centre based in the UN’s Geneva headquarters, which operates round the clock.

Raqqa is one of the targets of the anti-terrorist coalition, just as Iraq’s Mosul is and Palmyra used to be. We are convinced that these cities could have been liberated more effectively and quicker (I mean Raqqa, and Mosul in Iraq), if our militaries had started to coordinate their actions much earlier. I will repeat that there is now a chance that such coordination will occur. We believe that the Russian Aerospace Forces and the aircraft of the US-led coalition should operate in a synchronised and coordinated manner and help those who are really fighting terrorist units on the ground. These are, in the first place, the armed forces of the Syrian Arab Republic and various Kurdish self-defence units, including the military wing of the Democratic Union Party.

I cannot say now whether reports that such actions have already begun are factual, but I can safely say we are ready for such coordination.

Question: What’s your assessment of Uzbekistan’s SCO presidency during the past year?

Sergey Lavrov: It’s premature to sum up results as the summit has not yet been held and the presidency “baton” will be handed off later. But for now, as I already said, the SCO Council of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs under Uzbekistan’s presidency drafted a pretty solid package of documents that, in my opinion, adequately implement the instructions formulated by the heads of state in Ufa a year ago. Holding the presidency of the SCO is a pretty costly, difficult and time consuming job. Our Uzbek hosts have handled it wonderfully.  

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