13 May 201118:38

Transcript of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Interview to Russian Media Following Attendance at Arctic Council Meeting, Nuuk, May 12, 2011

700-13-05-2011

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Question: What is your comment on the outcome of today's session of the Arctic Council?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: It was the seventh and, in my opinion, one of the most successful ministerial meetings of the Arctic Council. We have adopted a package solution on its strengthening. This is extremely important in conditions of the enhanced role it is playing in the organization of Arctic cooperation and heightening attention in the world to the Arctic. We have arranged to establish a permanent Council Secretariat, and agreed in principle to have the Arctic Council adopt not only recommendations in the future, but work out legally binding agreements.

After the signing today of the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic, a legally binding instrument on the prevention of oil spills in the region will be next in line. This is directly correlated with the initiative of the President of Russia, put forward after the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico on the British Petroleum oil platform, to develop international standards maximally preventing such catastrophes and regulating the responsibilities of countries to eliminate their effects. If we develop such a document, on which the appropriate decision has been taken, and Russia, the USA and Norway co-chair the relevant working group, it will be the first step in introducing this kind of multilaterally agreed standards in international practice.

Quite a serious political discussion was sparked by the problem of observers in the Arctic Council. They are now present, but more and more applications keep coming in from countries and organizations, including the EU, and NGOs. Today we are endorsing a document which clearly regulates the rights and obligations of observers, and also fixes the criteria for countries and organizations that want to get the status of observers. With its approval we open the process of the submission of bids to be considered in the coming two years before the next ministerial meeting in Sweden, where decisions will be made about which countries and organizations are to become observers in the Arctic Council.

Essentially the session turned out to be very busy. Numerous reports of a scientific and practical nature, prepared by specialists of the Arctic Council and examined by its senior officials, are dedicated, above all, to protecting the environment and developing the humanitarian dimension of our cooperation with an emphasis on ensuring the rights and normal living conditions for the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

Also today, the Russian delegation announced that Russia is contributing 10 million Euros for the period 2011-2013 to the Project Support Instrument being set up under the auspices of the Arctic Council, including projects in the field of environmental protection and the prevention of sea and land pollution in the Arctic region. Together with contributions from several other countries the Russian contribution will constitute a solid financial basis to build practical cooperation. I think that this was the most intense and productive session, which will mark a milestone and take our cooperation to a qualitatively new level.

Question: Could you please comment on the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Speaking of the Agreement, it prescribes a mechanism for collaboration and control. As I've said, a permanent Secretariat will operate. Under the guidance of a presiding country the Secretariat will be responsible for the implementation of decisions in between ministerial sessions. In between ministerial-level sessions, convened every two years, meetings at the level of deputy ministers take place, alongside monthly meetings of senior officials who are fully empowered to monitor how the accords are being fulfilled and how new documents are being prepared in accordance with the instructions of the ministers.

Question: What will be the budget of the Secretariat?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The budget will be small. Most of it will consist of the money to pay for the work of 10 staff, including the head of the secretariat. The budget also provides for their upkeep and business trips to various events. The approximate amount is 1 million Euros. For program projects, contributions will be made in addition to the regular budget.

Question: The head of the Council Secretariat, will that be an elected or rotational post?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: It will be both an elected and rotational post. This will be the subject of a special agreement. The Secretariat, of course, will not be created overnight. The main thing is that the decision on its creation has been adopted. The Secretariat will be based on Norwegian territory, in the city of Tromso. Sweden, the chair for the coming two years, is authorized to get candidates approved.

Question: On what basis will the various countries be represented in the Secretariat?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I think that one of the fundamental principles, regardless of who is elected head of the Secretariat, will be that every Arctic Council member country must be represented in this structure.

Question: Did you meet with Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of the Arctic Council session? Did you discuss anti-missile defense issues with her?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Yes, we had a conversation. We discussed missile defense issues and agreed that a political impetus must be given to the work of experts, so that by the presidents' meeting at Deauville on the sidelines of the G8 summit, it is possible to report some results. So far the process is slow. The US Secretary of State assured me that for her part she will take appropriate action.

Question: Is a new six-power meeting on Iran's nuclear program in the offing?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Iranians wrote a letter to Catherine Ashton. In turn, she said that the message offers nothing new, but only contains a proposal to hold a meeting at any time, without any conditions, to discuss international and regional issues, but not the Iranian nuclear program (INP).This is inconsistent with our approach because we stand for the dialogue with Iran to consider the question of a full and meaningful participation of Iran in resolving various regional problems, but not at the expense of serious discussion on the INS. We all want to be 100 percent sure that it contains no military dimension. This requires Iran to answer IAEA questions. Therefore, we will encourage our Iranian neighbors to move toward compliance with the decisions taken by the agency and supported by the UN Security Council.

Question: Today, Clinton stated that the US considered it necessary to step up pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. How can you comment on this?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: No one is happy when in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, as in all other states there are disturbing developments, with blood being shed, people being killed and force being used, regardless of who does it – government or opposition. We are concerned that the processes of national reconciliation and the start of dialogue advocated by all the healthy forces in Syria, including the Syrian leadership, are being impeded by the desire of some groups to draw external forces into the conflict in support of their actions. The calculation is that foreign players will get imbued with this problem and will not only condemn the violence there, but subsequently repeat the Libyan scenario, including the use of force.

Much to our regret, the Libyan situation has become a temptation for many of the opposition to create similar conditions in the region, hoping that Western countries will not remain on the sidelines and will intervene in the conflict in favor of one of the parties. This is an alarming prospect. I hope this won't happen.

It is important that the Syrian authorities address all emerging problems within the country only through dialogue and the search for national consensus involving all political forces in the process of national reconciliation.

On the other hand, the time is ripe and even overripe for reform in most of these countries. We are talking about socio-economic and political reforms. People want democratic change, of course, given the specificity of each country. These processes are completely objective; they can't be artificially delayed, as this will only aggravate the situation. On the other hand, the opposition must also act responsibly and not try to draw foreign players in, so they put pressure or use force on the side of one of the participants in the internal conflict.

We do not want the Libya scenario repeated, not to mention the fact that the situation in Libya itself must be set on a political footing as swiftly as possible. We're witnessing a large number of violations of the resolutions of the UN Security Council. Over the last few days, there have been reports of the NATO air force bombing civilian targets, including hospitals and a burns center, which was almost completely destroyed: collapsed floors, broken windows. Russian Embassy officials visited it. Ukrainian doctors are working there. Our diplomats are trying to assist them. The same holds true for broadcasting corporation facilities. Reports that there was damage to the DPRK embassy have been confirmed.

This is an unacceptable situation; the United Nations Security Council did not authorize any such thing. Attempts to justify what's happening by claiming that the coalition does not go beyond the mandate are insufficient. In accordance with the adopted resolutions, the Security Council should receive reports on how they are being fulfilled and how the authorization to use force is being realized in practice. Such reports are being presented; they are the subject of fastidious debate.

So far, in the opinion of Brazil, India, China, Russia and South Africa, the coalition's responses to the questions raised cannot satisfy us. Therefore, it is necessary to make expeditious use of the services of the UN Secretary General's special envoy Abdelilah Al-Khatib, and the mediation services of the African Union to encourage the parties to sit down at the negotiating table without preconditions. Of course, this will be a new Libya, a new political system. But it is necessary to seek agreement with those upon whom the prospects for calming the situation depend.

Attempts to multiply the Libyan experience in other countries of the region are very dangerous, whether it is Yemen, Syria or Bahrain – passions are seething practically everywhere. It is necessary to exercise an utterly responsible approach which should be equally solicitous of the rights, liberties and security of civilians and which cannot ignore the problem of destabilization of this key geopolitical region.

Question: Can the coalition's actions lead to a split in the UN Security Council?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The coalition must report to the Council. The Contact Group is a self-organized structure, which has proclaimed itself a kind of mechanism responsible for the implementation of the resolutions. From the viewpoint of international law this group has no legitimacy. Legitimacy is solely in the hands of the UN Security Council, which has the exclusive power and authority to monitor the implementation of its decisions. That the Contact Group lacks legitimacy, its participants understand themselves. Recently French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe publicly stated the desire of the coalition to invite Russia to participate in this mechanism. Apart from this statement in the press, I have not received any other signals from Paris.

We do not need to join this structure. Russia is a member of the UN Security Council, we did not impede the adoption of resolution 1973, but we did not support it either, because, while sharing its goal of protecting civilians, we had serious doubts about the stated methods as sanctions on any state to address the task set. Therefore, we abstained from voting.

I repeat: the resolution contains explicit provisions on reporting to the UN Security Council with respect to the humanitarian situation, including the impact of what is happening on the real situation of people and in regard to the interception of sea-going vessels and the consequences of the use of force. The interception of such vessels is causing many questions. There are examples where there were no timely reports of this. After reminders the reports did come in, but in a number of cases it turned out that the civilian goods had been intercepted, and the reasons given for returning the vessel to the port of dispatch were often vague. One of the most serious episodes was the case when a ship was not let through to Libya carrying the equipment needed to perform Libya's obligations concerning chemical weapons destruction. These obligations are internationally recognized, and the entire international community is interested in their fulfillment. We also put this question to the coalition, but there has been no answer so far.

I would really like to see a comprehensive approach prevail without any compromises in respect of the main principle – to protect the civilian population. This principle cannot be used to justify actions that are contrary to international law and contrary to the decisions of the UN Security Council.

Question: A large number of EU member states are members of the Arctic Council. Nevertheless, the EU intends to get observer status. Why is that?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The European Union is an organization that strives to establish itself in any region where there is at least one of its members. With the expansion of the EU, these aspirations are also expanding geographically. When Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union, the organization developed its Strategy for the Black Sea. Prior to this, the EU had formulated the Northern Dimension strategy, relying on the member countries located in this region. Now a Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region is being shaped. There are plans to develop an Arctic Concept. Probably there is nothing shameful in this. These are natural processes. The EU is reaching out to the respective water areas and regions.

At the same time we talk with our EU partners about the necessity to consider the presence in our common space of established intergovernmental and interstate structures when developing approaches to a particular region; for example, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSECO), in which the European Union is an observer. The EU Black Sea Strategy is a document aimed at establishing the EU's predominance in this region and which regards the BSECO as a junior partner.

We are conducting a normal and constructive dialogue, and it seems to me that we are finding understanding. Our arguments are perceived constructively. We will continue to work. For example, a similar situation occurred with the Northern Dimension. In the mid 2000's the EU formulated its concept and invited Iceland, Norway and Russia to cooperate in the implementation of its decisions. We politely asked to sit down at the negotiating table and look at the concept from the standpoint of the reflection in it of our interests as well. Iceland, Norway and Russia jointly with the EU formulated a new document on the Northern Dimension, which is the result of collective creativity. Now it is being quite successfully implemented, and we cooperate on an equal footing. Such an approach should also prevail with respect to other regions, including the Arctic.

With regard to the physical presence of EU member states and the European Commission in the Arctic Council as observers, after the Lisbon Treaty the EU has gained an international legal personality. The striving to establish itself in the structures where members of this organization are represented is in principle understandable. But this must be done while respecting the rules that prevail in the international structures. The document on the rights and obligations of observers, which we approved today, clearly delineates how one can become an observer. This is a coherent procedure which inter alia provides for recognition of the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the Arctic states in the region.

Question: Would not a large number of observers result in the dilution of the interests of the Arctic states?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The document adopted today especially specifies that the eight states of the Arctic Council have the exclusive prerogative to make decisions about how to do business in our common home. All those interested in cooperation in our region should follow the rules formulated in the document.

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