Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Remarks and Answers to Media Questions at Joint Press Conference with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Al Nahyan after First Ministerial Meeting of the Strategic Dialogue between Russia and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, Abu Dhabi, November 1, 2011
I sincerely thank you, Sheikh Abdullah, for your hospitality.
Your wonderful country has always been very hospitable, not only for conducting official meetings, but also for Russian tourists coming here with pleasure, whose number is constantly growing.
The talks held today in the United Arab Emirates have clearly shown that our two countries wish to develop further and deepen their cooperation in areas of trade, investment, culture, sports, education, and science. I am confident that next year's regularly scheduled session of the Russia-UAE Intergovernmental Trade and Economic Cooperation Commission will help strengthen the existing base and plan very important new projects.
We are grateful to the United Arab Emirates' leadership for their assistance in the opening of a Russian Orthodox Church in Sharjah – the first in the Arabian Peninsula.
The consultations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia are the first ministerial meeting of this kind. We long ago agreed to make proper arrangements for it, and I am glad that this is what happened. A productive conversation took place. We adopted a Memorandum of Understanding on Strategic Dialogue, which enshrines such areas of our cooperation as economics, political dialogue, cultural collaboration, and counteraction against new challenges and threats. We also agreed a Joint Statement that contains our vision of problems on the international agenda. The positions of Russia and the GCC states in many respects almost coincide. This primarily concerns the importance of observing international law and the centrality of the United Nations as well as the necessity of doing everything to ensure that any crises and conflicts are settled by political and diplomatic means. We also agreed and, accordingly, informed our special envoys that the next meeting will be held in Moscow and that by this time the experts of our countries will prepare an Action Plan to implement the Strategic Partnership, which will cover all areas of cooperation between Russia and the GCC states.
Once again I would like to thank the hosts of today's event. I am sure this meeting will necessarily be followed by important practical steps to benefit our countries and peoples.
Question: The Yemeni opposition delegation's visit to Russia has shown that the Russian leadership has demonstrated a new approach to the settlement in Yemen. Is this true? And what is the Russian line in Syrian affairs?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I do not think that you can talk about some new position of the Russian Government with regard to the situation in Yemen, because it is reproduced in the UN Security Council resolution adopted unanimously a few days ago. This document is based on support for the initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council urging both the government and the opposition to sit down and negotiate a compromise that would resolve the conflict. This is an honest proposal and it is now being realized. We are convinced that this approach to Yemen's developments, presupposing a dialogue between authorities and opposition forces, must be applied to the situation in Syria as well. Russia's position on this issue is also reflected in the draft joint resolution of Russia and China submitted to the UN Security Council, providing for the peaceful settlement of the conflict without any outside interference, on the basis of an inclusive national dialogue in which all responsible forces of Syria must participate.
I am pleased that the Arab League committee at its meeting yesterday in Doha endorsed the initiative, which we hope the Syrian leadership will accept, aimed precisely at facilitating a dialogue between the government and all segments of the Syrian opposition. This is the only way to ensure that the Syrians themselves make decisions concerning the future of their country, political dialogue and national reconciliation, acting through peaceful means without resorting to force.
Question: If the Syria peace initiative does not succeed, is Russia going to continue to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: You know we do not support regimes, but advocate for respect for international law. Of course, we have a lot of questions regarding the application of international law since the adoption of the UN Security Council resolutions on Libya. After the drama that occurred there, which carried off tens of thousands of lives under the resonant slogans about the protection of civilians, we are extremely concerned that some leaders of the coalition forces, and later the NATO Secretary-General called the Libyan operation a "model" for the future.
As for Russia, we will not allow anything like this to happen again in the future. I repeat, we do not support regimes, nor did we support Colonel Gaddafi's regime, we spoke in support of the initiative of the African Union, which some important NATO member countries, unfortunately, ignored and rejected. They took advantage of the mandate issued by the UN Security Council and used it to solve the problem by military means at the cost tens of thousands of civilian lives.
We are supporters of the kind of approach which is now applied to Yemen. The GCC's initiative was launched, and everyone – the Cooperation Council itself, Arab League, EU, US, Russia and China – have acted very responsibly, not dictating artificial deadlines but providing sufficient time – months – for the stated purpose to be achieved.
I think it is the decision (of the UNSC) on Yemen that is a model for the future, rather than the resolutions on Libya, which were grossly violated, causing serious damage to the reputation of the Security Council. And we, I can assure you, won't allow that anymore.
Thus, the resolution on Yemen is an example of responsible conduct of responsible members of the international community that care not about their own PR campaigns but about the future of the countries of the region and that will, indeed, be guided by the need to protect human rights not at the cost of killing civilians, but through negotiations even though they could possibly be difficult and painful. Here is the vector to move forward.
Question: Could you comment on the situation surrounding Palestine, which has become a full member of UNESCO, and on the decision of the United States, which has declared that it no longer intends to finance the Organization?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I think Palestine's membership of UNESCO is quite a natural response to the application of Ramallah. Voting in the governing bodies of the Organization took place in a legitimate manner. To consider this step in a confrontational context is wrong. Doubtlessly, Palestinian membership of UNESCO or any other specialized UN agency and even the UN itself, is not seen by the Palestinian leadership as an alternative to negotiations. The Palestinian Authority has clearly stated that in its bid to the United Nations, UNESCO or other organization, it is firmly committed to tackling the problem through negotiations, reaffirming their readiness to continue dialogue with Israel without preconditions, but on the basis of the existing international documents of the UN or other agreed decisions. This is the position of the Middle East Quartet comprising Russia, UN, US and EU, approved on September 23 this year in the statement which contains the timetable for the negotiations and once again clearly confirms the provision that the existing international legal basis for them must be taken into consideration.
It is unfortunate that the United States has decided to cut UNESCO funding. This will not help create an atmosphere conducive to the resumption of negotiations. I hope the decision will be reconsidered.
Question: What do you think are the prospects for the Arab League and Syria to agree on the cessation of violence, and do you know anything about the proposals of the Arab League committee?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: As I said, we support the proposals. We believe they manifest a constructive approach consisting not only in demands to the Syrian authorities, but also urging the opposition not to embrace radical, extremist armed groups operating destructively, not to receive arms from abroad (there are several reports of arms being smuggled in for opposition groups that no one has denied) and not to refuse offers of negotiation. This is what the initiative of the Arab League committee is all about, which we strongly support, and we hope that Syria will accept it. However, we cannot treat this subject in isolation. First of all, because if in Syria something goes wrong, many countries will be most adversely affected, and, secondly, taking into account the lessons of Libya. We witnessed the actual facts of public condoning of the flow of arms to Libya despite a UN Security Council embargo, facts acknowledged by officials. They also admitted sending special force units to participate in combat operations, and helping to guide NATO aircraft onto targets in Libya. If initially we were told that Syria was not Libya, now we hear from highly respected members of the North Atlantic Alliance that the Libya operation is a "model" for the future. We are very concerned about the fate of this region because we have a lot of friends there with whom we have maintained close and warm relations for decades, with some of them – for centuries. With many countries in the region we have much in common in terms of history, culture and traditions. This is one reason why we cannot ignore what is happening there.
Another reason is that a repeat of the Libyan "scenario" would have very bad geopolitical consequences not only for the Middle East and North Africa, but also for other regions of the world, given the fact that NATO's Strategic Concept, approved last year, provides for the use of force anywhere on the globe. While NATO says that the alliance will act in accordance with international law and the UN Charter, the Libyan operation gives us other evidence.
These two reasons – our geographical, historical and cultural proximity to the region, as well as the inadmissibility of an irresponsible approach to the future of humanity – encourage us to do all we can to avoid scenarios where force or threats of force are used, along with sanctions or isolation of important players in any region of the world.
It is our belief that the answer to all problems, whether in Syria or anywhere else, is the strict adherence to international law and the involvement of all participants in any given situation.