The Minister’s meetings
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Senior Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia Prak Sokhon, Moscow, August 24, 2017
Our talks went very well, in the traditionally friendly atmosphere, and were quite substantive.
We reviewed the state of the event-filled cooperation between Russian and Cambodia, primarily in the spirit of the agreements reached at the meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen on the sidelines of the Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi in May 2016. We noted that these agreements serve as a basis for developing our political dialogue and relations between our parliaments and parties, improving our cooperation in international affairs, and strengthening our cultural and humanitarian ties, including in the sphere of tourism, education, and youth contacts.
In these positive political circumstances, we are interested in taking our partnership to a new level. In this vein, we reviewed concrete steps to be taken in order to improve the legal framework, expand trade and economic cooperation, military and military-technical cooperation, and continue training Cambodian specialists in various specialties at the Russian universities.
We noted the positive dynamics in economic ties, the progressive growth of mutual trade, the establishment of practical cooperation in energy, transport, and space exploration. Interesting bilateral projects are being prepared across all these areas, which were substantively discussed in Moscow yesterday at the 10th meeting of the Intergovernmental Russian-Cambodian Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation co-chaired by Senior Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia Prak Sokhon and Minister of Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation Nikolay Nikiforov. They believe the meeting was productive and opened up good prospects for mutually beneficial joint projects.
Notably, there is also a multilateral track in our trade and economic dialogue. Last year, a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Cambodia, a bilateral working group was created which is operational and is considering prospects for signing an agreement on a free trade area. This work between the EAEU and Cambodia seamlessly complements the contacts that the Eurasian Economic Commission (EAEC) has already established with ASEAN as an organisation.
Signing the Programme of Exchanges in the sphere of tourism for 2018-2020 was another important event that took place yesterday as part of the visit of Senior Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia Prak Sokhon and his delegation. I think that this area will also enjoy increased interest of our citizens given the magnificent monuments and spectacular nature of Cambodia.
We noted that our approaches to key international issues are close or overlap, and we agreed to improve our coordination at multilateral venues. We have just signed the Plan of Consultations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia for 2018-2020.
We compared notes on current developments in various regions of the world and issues that are being discussed at the UN. We are grateful to Cambodia for its continued support of Russia’s initiatives. We reciprocate, including our interaction during elections to various UN bodies.
We welcome the commitment of our Cambodian friends to play an increasingly active role in regional affairs. Cambodia’s efforts to promote integration in Southeast Asia and to harmonise with similar processes in the Eurasian space deserve every support.
We covered our relations with ASEAN, which marks its 50th anniversary this month, and has established itself as one of the centres in the emerging polycentric world order. As part of the agreements reached during the Russia-ASEAN Sochi Summit held in May 2016, we agreed to continue to work together to bring the relations between Russia and this organisation to a strategic level, and to continue practical dialogue across various areas. These matters were discussed in detail in Manila at the Russia-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting earlier this month. We spoke in favour of closer interaction between the Association, the EAEU and the SCO with an eye towards forming the Greater Eurasian Partnership.
We are grateful to Cambodia, which, in the context of the dialogue between Russia and ASEAN, is overseeing economic issues. We have developed a roadmap for cooperation in this area. We appreciate the efforts that Cambodian friends are making to implement the projects agreed upon in this document.
We are also actively interacting not only on economic but also on political issues in the Asia-Pacific region within the framework of the East Asian summits, and we are actively participating in a dialogue on building an architecture of equal and indivisible security in the APR. Five rounds of consultations have already been held on this subject. From now on, they will be regular and will be held at the ASEAN headquarters site in Jakarta.
In general, I would like to emphasise once again that we are quite satisfied with the pace and depth that are characteristic of our cooperation in all areas without exception. Minister Sokhon and I will continue to work actively to implement the agreements reached by our leaders.
Question: During their recent contacts Moscow and Ankara agreed to step up efforts on accommodating views on the fourth de-escalation zone in the Syrian province of Idlib. Is this realistic in the context of Jabhat al-Nusra’s continued control of this province? Do recent tensions in US-Russian relations affect coordination of efforts in this area, including the equally important humanitarian efforts in Syria, all the more so as the UN has again expressed concern over the high civilian death toll as a result of air attacks on Raqqa?
Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, we hope that the current intensive consultations between the participants in the Astana format will allow them to conclude agreements on the fourth de-escalation zone in Idlib following the zones in south-western Syria, Eastern Guta and Homs. The gist of the de-escalation zones initiative was to create, as soon as possible, stable conditions for an end to bloodshed, and the beginning of dialogue between the Syrian Government and local authorities cooperating with various armed groups. It is absolutely clear that such truces cannot apply to terrorists from ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups blacklisted by the UN Security Council. One of the most complicated tasks at negotiations on de-escalation zones was to separate the normal armed opposition from terrorists, including Jabhat al-Nusra – something the Obama administration promised to do but failed. Now these opportunities are being used fairly efficiently. The armed units that signed agreements on three operating de-escalation zones have assumed commitments to separate from Jabhat al-Nusra, which remains an absolutely legitimate target for air strikes along with ISIS.
As for Moscow-Washington relations and their impact on work in Syria, we are pragmatists and understand that there is no room for grievances or a misplaced sense of prestige. This is a threat to all of us, not only the future for the peoples of this region - Syria and other states. Terrorists are already operating in Europe, overseas and in South-Eastern and Central Asia. So we have common tasks in this respect and realise the responsibility of the work that is now being done.
As far as I heard from US officials, including US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, their approach is the same. Ms Nauert even expressed the desire to expand a sphere of cooperation the other day. We are ready for this and are talking about this all the time. It wasn’t us who started this absolutely useless struggle in the world arena and set this incomprehensible sanctions spiral in motion. We hope that cooler heads and common sense will finally prevail.
By the way, you also mentioned humanitarian cooperation. Delivery of humanitarian relief has substantially improved after the formation of these de-escalation zones, including its supply inside these zones. At first we had to whip up our colleagues from international organisations who were a bit slow. We reminded them that when the developments in Aleppo and other parts of Syria were very alarming, they were permanently demanding that armed actions must be stopped for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Now that armed actions have stopped, humanitarian agencies are not very active in transporting their cargo to the de-escalation zones. I hope now this will improve. At any rate UN statistics on this account are very positive and the trend is good.
Question: Washington is accusing Moscow of supplying weapons to the Taliban. Moscow has convincingly rejected this more than once. Why was this issue raised again?
Sergey Lavrov: This is not the first time we are accused of supporting and even arming the Taliban. Recently, the Department of State made this accusation. At a news conference in the Department of States journalists asked the official spokesperson to present facts but not a single fact was presented just like there was not a single fact to confirm our interference in the US election, breaking into sites, or government-supported hackers. It is sad that a campaign based on falsehoods is generating so much heat in a serious country like the United States. Let me repeat that the people driving it have nothing to be proud of.
Speaking about the Taliban, and Afghanistan and the United States in general, our Foreign Ministry expressed regret in its comment that the new strategy announced by Washington is focused on achieving a settlement by force. We are convinced that this strategy has no prospects. In parallel, we noted that this strategy reflects the White House’s fairly interesting position on relations with the Taliban.
Let me recall that up to now we have cited two reasons for our contacts with the Taliban: first, the need to resolve practical issues on which security of our citizens and offices in Afghanistan depends, and, second, a striving to encourage the Taliban to dialogue with the Government and official authorities of Afghanistan on the basis of the criteria (this is important) established by the UN Security Council. The latter ruled that if the Taliban complies with three requirements – break ties with terrorists, end the armed struggle and respect the Constitution of Afghanistan – they will have the right to sit at the negotiating table. We are maintaining contacts with the Taliban exclusively on these terms, pushing them to comply with the requirements of the UN Security Council.
If I understood the new US strategy correctly, they allow contacts with the Taliban without the Taliban’s complying with any terms whatsoever. I don’t think this meets our common interest in following a coordinated line that is endorsed by the UN Security Council but hope we will provide insight into this apparent contradiction during our contacts with US experts on Afghanistan.