Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to Russian media questions following President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 Summit, Hamburg, July 7, 2017
Question: Mr Lavrov, how did this long meeting go?
Sergey Lavrov: If the presidents see that they have issues to discuss and to solve something rather than just exchange opinions, I don’t think that time is of paramount importance. Indeed, they had a very long conversation. My feeling was confirmed that President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the United States Donald Trump are driven by the national interests of their countries and pursue them primarily by seeking to achieve mutually beneficial agreements rather than trying to act out confrontational scenarios and invent problems out of the blue. It was in this concrete and business-like vein that Syria, Ukraine, the Korean Peninsula, cyber security and a number of other issues were discussed.
Agreements were reached on some quite concrete things.
First, literally today, Russian, US and Jordanian experts finished work in Jordan’s capital Amman and agreed on a memorandum on de-escalation zones in the south-west of Syria – in Daraa, Quneitra and Souweida. The ceasefire in this zone will come in effect on July 9 at 12 pm Damascus time.
Russia and the United States have undertaken commitments to ensure the ceasefire regime by all the groups present there and also to provide humanitarian access and establish contacts between the opposition in that region and the Monitoring Centre being set up in the capital of Jordan. In the beginning, security around this de-escalation zone will be provided by Russian military police in coordination with Americans and Jordanians. It is crucial that the document clearly confirms the commitment of Russia, Jordan and the United States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and the UN Security Council resolutions which laid the foundation for promoting a political settlement. This is the agreement that both the presidents welcomed today.
Second. While discussing Ukraine, the US side reported that they had appointed a special envoy to assist in settling the Ukrainian crisis. It was agreed to set up a channel between Russian and US officials so as to use US capabilities for promoting a settlement on the basis of the Minsk agreements and relying on the groundwork laid by the Contact Group and in the Normandy format. We expect that the US envoy on the Ukrainian settlement will arrive shortly in Russia for consultations.
The third issue is cyber security which was understandably given considerable attention. The presidents agreed that this area is becoming ever more dangerous. There are numerous threats emerging in cyber space, including a terrorist threat, threats in other areas of organised crime, such threats to the normal functioning of societies as child pornography, pedophilia, the so-called suicide networks. Of course, President Trump also mentioned that certain circles in the United States keep on spinning the issue of Russia’s interference in the US elections even though they are unable to prove that.
All these issued combined, including fight against terrorism, organised crime, hacking in all its forms, were agreed as subjects of Russian-US interaction. A bilateral working group will be set up for that purpose.
The fourth agreement envisions shorter procedures for appointing new ambassadors, the Russian ambassador to the USA and the US ambassador to Russia.
Question: Was the issue of the Russian diplomatic property on US territory raised?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, it was. We will continue seeking justice.
Question: Did the sides fail to agree on anything on this issue?
Sergey Lavrov: If I said we will continue doing this, it means there is still work to do.
Question: You are a diplomat and you notice details. There are no minor details in diplomacy. What do you think about the atmosphere at the meeting? What set the tone? Where can things go from here in your opinion?
Sergey Lavrov: The atmosphere was constructive. As I said in the beginning, the tone was set by the desire of both presidents to promote the national interests of Russia and the United States, respectively. It was determined by the understanding that each country will be able to do this better if we cooperate and seek a balance of interests, and also if we work for stabilisation in different parts of the world, where the situation is very turbulent, be it the Middle East or North Africa, the Korean Peninsula or Afghanistan.
Question: Were there any agreements on Ukraine? US President Donald Trump had proposals on a different plan.
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t remember US President Donald Trump offering some other plan. A lengthy conversation with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today in the morning did not reveal any departures from the Minsk agreements either. Just as during the conversation with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Paris yesterday, it was stated that the sides are interested in speeding up the implementation of the Minsk agreements and are determined to work toward this.
Question: What was said on Russia’s “interference” in the US election?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already spoken on this subject.
Question: Now you have essentially announced the agreement on the south of Syria. Two days ago the result in Astana was zero although this issue was discussed. Is the Russia-US-Jordan format you mentioned new? Will you put it through Astana later on? Will you discuss it with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan tomorrow?
Sergey Lavrov: Read the May 4 Memorandum approved in Astana. It deals with four de-escalation zones in Syria: northern (in the area of Idlib); a zone a bit to the north of Homs; a zone covering the greater part of Eastern Ghouta and the south-west of Syria. Obviously, it will be very difficult to agree on anything in the south-west without the Jordanians and the Americans who are working with the Jordanians and representing the interests of the coalition in this region. Three other zones were primarily discussed in Astana a couple of days ago. As we said, there is an understanding on how the zones near Homs and Eastern Ghouta should look. The discussion of the northern zone is still going on.
Question: Is it true that US President Donald Trump raised the issue of the alleged Russian interference in the US elections and that he hinted that he does not believe the allegations?
Sergey Lavrov: President Trump said – I am sure that either he himself or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will confirm this – that this campaign is getting increasingly strange, because not a single fact to prove these allegations has been provided over the many months since they were first reported. The Congressmen who led the campaign and who called various members of the US administration out on the carpet have admitted this. President Trump has said that President Vladimir Putin assured him that this is not true and that the Russian authorities did not try to influence US elections. President Trump said he accepted this denial. This is all.
Question: Did they discuss North Korea?
Sergey Lavrov: You don’t seem to be listening. I have said twice that they discussed North Korea. Secretary Tillerson and I have been instructed to continue and strengthen cooperation between our ministries on all international issues, including North Korea, directly, and also at the UN Security Council.
Question: Did they discuss the possibility of the United States joining the Normandy format?
Sergey Lavrov: As I have said, a bilateral channel will be created to support the efforts taken by the Contact Group and in the framework of the Normandy Format.
Question: Did Moscow ask Washington to influence its partners in Kiev?
Sergey Lavrov: This is what we keep asking our partners in Washington and Europe.
Question: And what is the answer?
Sergey Lavrov: The answer is that they want all parties to the Minsk Agreements, including Ukraine as the key party, to implement these agreements. I can tell you that our Western partners, as we see it, are aware of the need to further influence this process, which has ground to a halt.
Question: How would you describe the relationship between President Putin and President Trump? Are they colleagues, partners or possibly even friends?
Sergey Lavrov: This is conjecture. I have told you about the atmosphere at these talks. You can come to your own conclusions.
Question: Has President Trump explained the statement he made in Poland?
Sergey Lavrov: This issue was not discussed. We believe the parties should discuss the issues on the meeting agenda. I have described what was discussed today. I confirm that both presidents have shown the resolve to find solutions that will meet the national interests of Russia, the United States and the international community.
Question: The G20 is an economic forum. Are there plans for a meeting in a political format to discuss political issues?
Sergey Lavrov: The meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump was purely political and was held as a side event, which can be held at any meeting, even a sports tournament.
Question: Did they discuss the future of detained Russians, Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko?
Sergey Lavrov: We continue to work on this issue. We believe that this is a clearly humanitarian issue and that our American colleagues will make the right decision and will find a correct solution.