Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG)
Speech by the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and his answers to questions from the mass media during a joint press conference summarising the results of negotiations with the First Deputy President of the Council of Ministers (the Foreign Minister of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah) and the Secretary General of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani) after the third round of strategic ministerial dialogue between Russia and CCASG, Kuwait City, 19th February 2014
Mr. Secretary General,
First of all, I would like to express gratitude on behalf of our delegation to our Kuwaiti hosts, and especially His Highness Emir of Kuwait, for their hospitality and the wonderful work they did in their organisation of our work today.
During our meeting with the Emir this morning, we confirmed our willingness to ensuring a comprehensive promotion of Russian-Kuwaiti co-operation, and were pleased with the implementation of currently existing agreements. The Emir of Kuwait has been invited by the President of the Russian Federation to visit our country. Today we discussed the tasks necessary for making such a visit a substantially worthy one, and those necessary for attaining specific results in the trade and economic domain and in the domain of the implementation of large investment projects. We place an especially high level of importance on holding another session of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Co-operation faster than before.
We are seeing sufficient development in our relations in humanitarian matters as well. We have set up ties between the University of Kuwait and Russian higher education institutions, with a memorandum on co-operation with the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in preparation. Russia is creating a society characterised by Russian-Kuwaiti friendship. I am convinced that these steps will benefit our bilateral relations, which have been good throughout history, and that they will be harmonious interests of our people.
Today we conducted the third round of the strategic dialogue between Russia and the Co-operation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG). The first round was held in the UAE in 2011, the second in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Today we have confirmed that the accumulated experience of our interaction has fully proven its worth in this way.
We noted a mutual interest in not only continuing our trustworthy dialogue and sincere exchange of opinions, but also searching for joint action opportunities between Russia and the CCASG on various international and regional issues, primarily the settlement of crisis situations in the Middle East and North Africa.
We devoted special attention to Syria. We have some disagreements on issues related to the advancement to a common(!) goal: we wish to see Syria as a peaceful, flourishing country where all religious and ethnic groups have equal rights, and build a modern state and an effective economic system together. We share the opinion that we need to do everything we can to ease the humanitarian situation, and stop any violence and bloodshed on Syrian territory. We support the negotiations within the framework of the Geneva-2 conference. We expect that Lakhdar Brahimi, as Special Envoy for Syria, will play a part in their productive development.
We devoted special attention to the situation concerning Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. We showed support for their renewal in summer 2012. We deem it important to assist the parties in their search for mutually acceptable agreements based on the existing international legal framework which would allow for the guaranteed creation of an integral Palestinian state which will live in peace and security with its neighbours.
We discussed the situation concerning Iran's Nuclear Programme (INP). We share the opinion that the agreements established in Geneva last November are being implemented quite effectively. We wish that their implementation made it possible to access the second stage, the content of which is a subject of another round of P5+1 negotiations with Iran. We hope that the current stage will end with a final package of agreements which will fully resolve all the issues related to INP, which will allow for the effects of sanctions to end.
We believe that the development of events in all countries of the Middle East and North Africa must be based on conditions of good neighbour relations and consideration of each other's interests. Russia, as a country, is sincerely concerned about the fate of the region with whom it has many relations, and will aspire to contribute to this in all possible ways.
At the end, I would like to say that we are interested in developing good opportunities for discussing trade and economic co-operation in the form of strategic dialogue, in addition to quite active bilateral ties between the Russian Federation and Arab Gulf countries in trade, economic, humanitarian and other sectors. We would like to promote the idea of development of a security system in the Gulf region which would embrace all the coastal countries through co-ordination and implementation of measures aimed at increasing trust and transparency, and the extension of contacts in various areas, as an important aim in our joint efforts to normalise the situation in this region. The countries of the region are interested and we will be ready to actively develop such initiatives together with other members of the world community.
I wish to once again thank our hosts for their warm hospitality.
Question: Regarding the latest events in Ukraine, several Western officials have openly appealed for the introduction of sanctions against Ukrainian leaders, accusing them of these events and affirming that they have lost their legitimate authority. The Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski is going to visit Ukraine on an EU mission. How would you comment on such reactions of the West? Are there any chances of this issue getting the attention of the UNSC?
Sergey Lavrov: We are deeply concerned about the events in Ukraine. We have many times provided warning related to the development such events. The Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have provided their principled assessments of the situation in this country today. Unfortunately, all the agreements were established at a time when Ukraine showed its good will, and readiness to search for compromises and implement part of their obligations have been disrupted by radical opposition, who organised a campaign against the Verkhovna Rada. When they were not let in for known reasons (this action was not sanctioned) they started to throw Molotov cocktails at the police and use firearms. As you know, the numbers of killed and wounded are significant. It is a fact that these radicals have not only light weapons, but also grenade launchers. This is very serious. The attempts to occupy administrative buildings and those of the prosecutor's office, police, and military units are continuing.
We cannot characterise this in any way other than as an attempt at a coup d'etat and the seizure of power by force. The extremists are certainly guilty: they have been attempting to turn it into a force scenario all these weeks and months. The opposition is refusing to make compromises and is proclaiming requirements to the powers outside the legal framework; they are also seriously responsible for not being able to fulfil their agreements, including in the Rada.
I cannot omit mentioning the responsibility of the West (at least many Western countries), which has attempted to interfere in these events in all possible ways: supporting actions of the opposition outside the legal framework (sometimes even making passes at militants), setting ultimatums, threatening with sanctions and continuing to do so and, generally, supporting provocative actions. At the same time, they have insistently and consistently shied away from any principled assessments of actions of extremists, including Neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic manifestations – we drew their attention to this many times and warned about the dangers of "burying their heads in the sand".
Now they are attempting to unfairly shift the blame to us. We hear accusations from some Western political actors that Russia is attempting to "re-Soviet" – to hear them say it, the post-Soviet space is guilty of everything. These are attempts to use improper means. Any observer who has even a bit of common sense (while being unprejudiced) understands this well.
We confirm that the situation must be settled within the framework of constitutional prerogatives by the acting powers of Ukraine, and warn against any attempts at insistent mediation. We have observed such attempts many times – it seems to me that our European partners have already had enough of "mediation". In this situation, we appeal to everybody to place the interests of Ukraine and its people above personal geopolitical plans.
Representatives of European countries and the United States have been staying in Ukraine almost every day in the last three months. What did they do when in contact with the government and the opposition? According to mass media reports, they also had contacts with radicals. They spent all their time on Maidan. I think that this is detrimental mediation (and life itself has proven this). Obtrusiveness always leads to undesirable results. As long as it involves assisting acting Ukrainian authorities within the framework of the Constitution, we will support any forms of external contribution to the settlement of this crisis. However, I repeat that the power and opposition representing certain segments of the population in the Verkhovna Rada should be responsible for the final decisions. We do not want to be obtrusive or advise others to do the same, like our far too intrusive Western partners do. This only does harm.
Question (translation from Arabic): You mentioned differing opinions on the Syrian crisis. Could you be more specific about the disagreements between the Syrian parties? How would you comment on the United States' accusation of Russia of the failure of Geneva-2?
Sergey Lavrov: Before we talk about the failure of any events, we need to wait for it to end. Such types of "prophecies" seem suspicious – they encourage one to think that the persons telling them wish them to come true.
We have just talked about the Palestine-Israel Peace Process. Why is nobody saying that our US partners have failed? We support their efforts. They asked for nine months; Palestinians and Israeli agreed. This dialogue is very tough (though this is an optimistic description of the situation) and we are not happy about this. However, nobody is saying that it is a failure – that we need to "slam the door" and search for other ways to bring about settlement. Everybody understands that there is no way other than dialogue based on earlier agreed principles.
This concerns not only the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but also any crisis situation in today's world, including in Syria. Everybody says that there is no military solution. Against this backdrop, any intensifying attempts to present the Geneva-2 as a failure make us think that somebody is still planning a forceful scenario. This is categorically unacceptable. We proceed from our unfaltering position that the Geneva Communiqué of 30th June 2012, with the intention of stopping any violence and starting a dialogue between the Syrian government and the entire spectrum of Syrian opposition forces, should be implemented in full scope. This has not been done yet, because not all the Syrian opposition groups are represented in Geneva.
According to the Geneva Communiqué, the political process should finally lead to the transfer to a new state structure. Before this can be done (again according to the Geneva Communiqué), it is necessary to agree on the principles on which the State will be built. It must be laic and democratic, and guarantee equal rights to all ethnic and religious groups. And only after the parameters of the new State order are agreed between the Government and the entire spectrum of opposition forces, will it be possible to start a talk about personalities in the transitional governing body.
Our position flows directly from the agreed text of the Geneva Communiqué of 30th June 2012. We think that it is counterproductive to the final result of the negotiation process from this complex programme, all the more so given that everybody supports comprehensive implementation of the Geneva Communiqué.
The most acute problem now is easing the humanitarian situation in Syria. People are suffering. We are working consistently with the Government and the SAR opposition, international agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Syrian Red Crescent Society. Things are not happening as quickly as we would like them to happen, but positive advances have taken place: individual populated areas are gradually becoming unblocked; humanitarian aid is being delivered to them; women, children and other civilians are leaving these places. We need to expand this to other regions of Syria – agree on local cease-fires, the supply of humanitarian aid, and the exchange of detainees. This requires time and effort. This is much more complicated than pretending that the situation cannot be resolved in a political way with claims that it is necessary to resort to force.
We have become worried in situations where, having heard that Geneva-2 has failed, the opposition will get false impressions and end up under illusion that they need to be stubborn and that others will accuse the Government of everything, but the world community will come to help, like it was in Libya. I hope that nobody wishes for a repeat of the Libyan experiment, and will be much more responsible.
We are deeply worried about the spread of terrorism in Syria and its "overflow" to neighbouring countries, including Iraq and Lebanon, where there has been another terrorist attack near the Embassy of Kuwait today. If we close our eyes to this phenomenon, these threats will spread and will become absolutely real for other countries of the region. We do not wish this for our friends. We wish to fight together with them against terrorism according to the UN principles that terrorism has no nationality or religion and that it cannot be justified.
Our common task is to see all the problems as a package: all to make the Government and the opposition feel responsibility for the fate of their country, and not to make it a hotbed of terrorist groups and threats throughout the entire region; not to implement the plans of terrorist organisations to create a caliphate and establish their own orders there – this has happened in several regions of Syria, where Sharia-based law has been introduced. People are executed without court and trial processes, women are abused. You know all of this.
Our approach is simple – we need to treat this as a complex. We should not present the case in such a way that suggests that terrorists are in Syria only because the regime does not want to give their power away. Our Western partners promote such simplified logic. This is extremely dangerous and is an attempt to place personal geopolitical interests above the interests of the Syrian people and the people of the entire region.
Question (translation from Arabic): We have not heard about disagreements regarding the Syrian crisis between Russia and the countries present at today's session.
Sergey Lavrov: As I have already said, our disagreements are minor, therefore you have not heard about any major problems. We agree that we wish to have peace in Syria, and we wish this peace to be achieved through negotiations on the basis of full and comprehensive implementation of the Geneva Communiqué.
As for security in the Gulf region, everything must be clear here: there are the Arab countries of the Gulf region, and there is Iran; they both have a lack of trust, at least between individual CCASG countries and Iran. This can hardly contribute to the interests of coastal states. We propose to consider the possibility to start a process, which will allow for the start of a dialogue, and develop and implement trust measures. We can assist such a process within the ambit of international organisations – the UNSC, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the European Union – if required. We present this idea primarily to the countries of the region. If they are interested, we will be ready to actively contribute to normalisation of the situation, improvement of the general atmosphere and elimination of existing risks (probably due to the lack of regular mechanisms and dialogue channels) together with our international partners.
Question (to both ministers): How are the relations between CCASG countries and Iran developing? What mediation efforts might be undertaken by Russia in this issue?
Sergey Lavrov (answers after Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah): We are sincerely interested in the normalisation of relations between all the Gulf countries, including – and maybe primarily – Saudi Arabia and Iran. We will welcome any forms of contact and sustainable dialogue. If our partners in Saudi Arabia and Iran think that they are interested and request such a dialogue, we will respond positively to any of their requests for our external assistance. We will not be obtrusive.
Question (translation from English): How do summit level contacts between Russia and Kuwait contribute to the development of relations between the two countries?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already said that we maintain a regular political dialogue with countries of the Gulf, including Kuwait. Today we have confirmed the issue of an invitation to His Highness Emir of Kuwait to visit the Russian Federation, and agreed to prepare specific solutions which can be formalised at a summit level meeting, including in the trade and economic sectors and as far as the implementation of large investment projects is concerned. Summit and high level contacts always contribute to the development of relations, and stimulate specific agreements and projects in certain areas. We are convinced that these new summit level contacts between our countries will contribute to the development of partnership with Kuwait and the strengthening of Russia's ties with CCASG countries.