Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks and answers media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Adel al-Jubeir, Moscow, August 11, 2015

1527-11-08-2015

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Ladies and gentlemen,

We are pleased to welcome the delegation led by Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir here in Moscow. A week ago, we met in Qatar and, with the participation of US Secretary of State John Kerry, discussed in a trilateral format the situation in the Middle East and, in particular, ways to resolve the Syria situation. Today, we continued this conversation as a follow-up to the understandings reached in Doha. I believe that our discussion was quite useful.

We have reviewed the situation in Syria in the context of the overall situation in the Middle East and North Africa, including Libya, Yemen and Iraq. We agree on the need to consolidate our efforts in combating the common threat posed by the so-called Islamic State and other terrorist organisations. They represent a real threat to Russia, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region and beyond.

As you may be aware, during his meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammad bin Salman in St Petersburg in June, President Putin suggested outlining joint efforts to establish an international legal framework for creating a coalition to fight terrorism in that region. I’m confident that we will continue to discuss this initiative. We already have plans regarding ways to achieve this goal. Again, this conversation will continue.

This goal is part of the implementation of agreements on the Syrian settlement that were achieved and recorded in the Geneva communiqué dated June 30, 2012.

The approaches of Russia and Saudi Arabia towards implementing the Geneva communiqué share many features, although there still are some differences regarding specific ways to reach a settlement in this critically important Arab country. In any case, we agreed to continue practical steps (which we have agreed upon) that are designed to facilitate the resumption of the dialogue between the Government and the entire Syrian opposition under the auspices of UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.

We discussed the situation in Yemen, where a ceasefire and a political dialogue are becoming increasingly important. We have apprised our guests of the contacts between Russia and representatives of the Yemeni groups designed to assist UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in resuming talks based on the UN Security Council’s resolutions.

We shared our opinions about other hot spots in the region, including Iraq and Libya. We are on the same page on these issues as well.

We focused particularly on overcoming the dead alley in which the Middle East peace process has found itself following thwarted talks between the Palestinians and Israelis. We believe that the Arab Peace Initiative put forward by the King of Saudi Arabia in 2002 should underlie all future efforts in this area, and that the activities of the Quartet must be actively supported by the Arab League.

Regarding the achievement of an agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme, we have expressed hope that this new environment will be conducive to further efforts on establishing a constructive dialogue between all Gulf countries, including the Arab states and the Islamic Republic of Iran. We hope that as the parties are moving toward such a dialogue, they will take into account the provisions of the Russian concept of security in the Gulf region, which we have been promoting in our contacts with our partners, including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), for a few years now.

In addition to the international issues, we have examined in detail our current bilateral relations, which received a strong impetus during Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to Russia in June, which I already mentioned. We exchanged views on what needs to be done to implement the agreements reached during the visit, including in power engineering, the peaceful use of nuclear energy, investment cooperation, and joint projects in agriculture and civil construction.

We highly appreciate the importance that His Majesty King Salman and other senior Saudi leaders accord to promoting relations with Russia. We have confirmed the invitation extended by President Putin to the King of Saudi Arabia to visit Russia at a convenient time. We are convinced that such a visit will provide an additional impetus to all areas of our partnership with Saudi Arabia.

Question: There are still questions about Russian President Vladimir Putin's initiative on establishing a regional and international alliance, which was discussed on August 3 and today. Did you talk about Syria’s participation in it? (Initially the alliance was supposed to include Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic). On what items of the initiative did you disagree?

Sergey Lavrov: I have already said in my opening remarks that we discussed the goal of countering terrorism in the region and uniting for this purpose all forces that are opposed to terrorist groups, be it the Islamic State (ISIS), Jabhat al-Nusra or any other. Obviously, the armed forces of Syria, Iraq and Kurdish self-defence fighters in both countries are already taking part in it. I am convinced that many armed units, primarily those of Syrians who are pursuing their interests in their own state, find absolutely unacceptable the ideology and practices imposed by terrorists on their land. It is necessary to unite all of them. External players should use their influence on different groups to make their alliance as effective as possible.

As my Saudi colleague Adel Al Jubeir and I have already said, Russia and Saudi Arabia support all principles of the June 30, 2012 Geneva communique, in particular, the need to preserve government institutions, including the Syrian army. I believe its participation in the effective struggle against terrorists is truly essential.

I have already said that though we hold identical positions on the settlement of the crisis, we also have our differences, and one of them concerns the destiny of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. We believe that all issues of settlement, including the parameters of the transitional period and political reforms, should be resolved by Syrians themselves. The Geneva communique reads that these issues should be resolved by consensus between the Government and the entire spectrum of opposition forces. One of the practical results of today’s talks is that they promote the unification of the opposition on a constructive platform. In other words, opposition forces will explain how they see the future of their country, which will improve the effectiveness of the dialogue that is now being prepared under the UN aegis.

Question: Moscow is now preparing for a major meeting on the Syrian settlement. When will it take place? Are you planning any contacts with representatives and coordinators of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces?

Sergey Lavrov: We are not planning any large meeting of the Syrian opposition forces. This information is incorrect. We conducted two meetings in February and April. Now we are continuing contacts on an individual basis. A number of opposition leaders are expected to come to Moscow in the near future, including Chairman of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Unity Party Saleh Muslim and member of the so-called Cairo-2 Committee Haitham Manaa. The head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, Khaled Khoja, has also been invited. Their visits are not part of some collective meeting. Let me repeat that they will be held on an individual basis. We will work with them on the basis of the common approach that Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir and I have just presented.

Question: The UK has endorsed the French proposal regarding the waiving of the veto power in a situation demanding urgent measures to put an end to mass crimes. Could you comment on this?

Sergey Lavrov: This is not the first time ideas regarding veto waiving or the voluntary limitation of the veto power have been raised. We believe that they do not have much of a chance because the veto power is enshrined in the UN Charter without any conditions or qualifications. All states that have ratified this major document in international law must respect this provision of the Charter.

Even if there is a hypothetical discussion of this idea, an array of questions immediately arises. First of all, if the veto power is waived in cases involving mass crimes, who will determine the “mass” criterion? How much is a mass? A hundred people? A thousand? If it is 100, then the veto power can be used if there are 99 people, but not 100?

Similar problems have arisen over the notorious concept of humanitarian intervention. It is impossible to take an objective approach to this situation. At one time, in the course of debate, the responsibility to protect implied the right of humanitarian intervention, i.e., in cases where those who wanted to intervene wanted to do so. There was no talk then about responsibility, about the need to intervene in situations that met certain criteria, but they wanted to preserve the right to choose: when a country is rich and important, to justify their intervention, and in other cases, simply to turn a blind eye to tragedies affecting poor states that are not economically interesting.

Here is a recent example. Our Western colleagues at the UN Security Council stubbornly pushed for a Srebrenica resolution, which we vetoed. They also cited the need to pay tribute to the memory of the victims of mass crimes, but for some reason, only those who fell at the hands of the Serbs, even though there were victims on all sides, and crimes were committed by all parties in the Bosnian conflict. The co-sponsors needed precisely the kind of document that would support their one-sided interpretation of what happened in Bosnia, or of the Russian veto, so that they could then blame us for blocking the work of the UN Security Council.

We are a little worried by the intensifying attempts as of late to provoke confrontation at the Security Council by submitting unilateral resolutions, be it Srebrenica or the Malaysian Boeing. To call a spade a spade, this is not diplomacy anymore, but an attempt to turn the UN Security Council into a propaganda tool.

Diplomacy is being seriously affected even without that. It is being damaged by the fact that our Western colleagues increasingly prefer sanctions to this tool, believing that in this way, it will be easier and more effective to achieve their geopolitical goals. We discuss this frankly with our colleagues, above all, with permanent members of the UN Security Council, reminding them that the UN Charter endows the permanent members of this body with a special responsibility, which should be appreciated, and that no attempts should be made to cause problems within the Group of Five.

Russia advocates for the revival of the culture of dialogue, which produces real results, as was the case with Iran’s nuclear programme and the resolution of various aspects of Syria’s chemical disarmament. Perhaps this is the path to follow. It is less conspicuous, more time-consuming, but far more effective and favourable for international relations as a whole than the constant attempts to provoke scandals unilaterally. US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA'>: We are not planning any large meeting of the Syrian opposition forces. This information is incorrect. We conducted two meetings in February and April. Now we are continuing contacts on an individual basis. A number of opposition leaders are expected to come to Moscow in the near future, including Chairman of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Unity Party Saleh Muslim and member of the so-called Cairo-2 Committee Haitham Manaa. The head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, Khaled Khoja, has also been invited. Their visits are not part of some collective meeting. Let me repeat that they will be held on an individual basis. We will work with them on the basis of the common approach that Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir and I have just presented.

Question (to Adel al-Jubeir): It's well known that Russia and Saudi Arabia don’t see eye to eye on the Geneva communiqué. Are both sides willing to address this issue? As part of President Putin’s initiative to establish a regional coalition to combat terrorism, can we expect any formal meetings between Riyadh and Damascus?

Sergei Lavrov (speaking after Adel al-Jubeir): Since our guest mentioned Russia in some of her questions, I’d like to make a couple of comments.

As for the coalition, we’re not talking about a coalition in the conventional sense, which involves a commander-in-chief, different branches of the armed forces under his command, etc. Our approach is simple. The Syrian and the Iraqi armies, the Kurds and the armed Syrian opposition groups that enjoy external support are already fighting terrorists on the ground. The fact is that, without forming any additional armies in the region, or sending more of them into the war zone, we must coordinate, in some way, all those who are already waging war with terrorists, so that they can focus on the main goal, which is overcoming the threat of terrorism. The Syrians and the Iraqis can settle their accounts later, when the threat is no longer there.

Not only Russia but many foreign military experts are absolutely convinced that without uniting all those who oppose terrorists on the ground, the air strikes carried out by the Unites States and the coalition will have little effect, and ISIS is unlikely to be defeated. Better coordinated efforts on the ground, in line with what President Putin said, and with what I just mentioned, will, by and large, help achieve the goals of the coalition that is now fighting terrorists using air strikes. It is important to make sure that any and all anti-terrorist actions, including by the coalition led by the United States, are consistent with international law and are completely legitimate, both in Iraq, whose government has provided its consent, and in Syria, where the approach must be the same.

As my colleague and friend Adel al-Jubeir said, we do have our differences concerning mainly one issue: the fate of Bashar al-Assad. I wouldn’t want any of the influential countries, which are, one way or another, involved in the events surrounding the Syrian crisis, to hope that the al-Assad issue can be resolved by force. The only military solution that is possible here is if power is seized by ISIS or other terrorists. I don’t think anyone wants to see this happen.

Today, we talked about how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not pose any real threat. Perhaps, we can discuss issues that arose in Syria and continue to escalate, but al-Assad does not threaten any neighbouring country, whereas ISIS threatens not just Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia, and says so publicly, but this terrorist mechanism is also making some maps that cover territories from Spain to Pakistan. So, here we need to see how these two threats stack up against each other.

The first issue concerned contradictions between Russia and Saudi Arabia regarding the Geneva communiqué of June 2012. Right off the bat, I can tell you that there are no contradictions. Saudi Arabia and Russia advocate full compliance with the Geneva communiqué, including, as the communiqué states, the creation of a transitional governing body, which will assume all executive power. The membership of such a body, and the decision to create it, should be based on the general consent between the Syrian government and all Syrian opposition groups.

The Geneva communiqué was approved by a binding UN Security Council resolution by consensus. There’s nothing to argue about. Today, we tried to move closer toward joining our efforts in order to facilitate the beginning of a dialogue on full compliance with the Geneva communiqué.

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