Inter-American problems and regional policy
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Arab Republic of Egypt Sameh Shoukry
My dear friend,
We have held very useful talks. As always, they were open, detailed and specific. I would like to once again thank our Egyptian friends for the reception accorded the Russian delegation today by the President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. We also had a lengthy and very detailed conversation with the President of Egypt.
We are satisfied with the high level of our bilateral cooperation that is developing in line with the agreements reached during the October 2018 visit by President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the Russian Federation. At that time, he signed the Treaty on Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation with President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Today, we reaffirmed our commitment to this fundamental document that makes it possible to elevate our cooperation in the most diverse fields to an entirely new level.
Apart from political dialogue, we discussed positive trends in trade and economic cooperation. In 2018, bilateral trade reached an all-time high and approached the $8 billion mark. Flagship investment projects, primarily the establishment of a Russian industrial zone in Egypt and construction of the first Egyptian nuclear power plant, are being successfully implemented.
We noted the useful role played by the Joint Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation. In 2019, Cairo will host a regular meeting of this Commission.
We discussed preparations for holding the Joint Year of Russian-Egyptian Cultural and Humanitarian Cooperation in 2020. The presidents of our countries voiced this initiative at their 2018 meeting.
Of course, we discussed the resumption of full-scale air service between our countries. We hope that joint efforts by Russian and Egyptian specialists to maintain adequate security at the Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh airports will soon yield results, and tourists from Russia will be able to visit these wonderful resorts in a more comfortable setting.
We had a constructive conversation on regional and international affairs. We focused on the situation in Syria, Libya and Yemen, the Middle East peace settlement, which we believe should be implemented in line with the Arab Peace Initiative prioritising the establishment of a Palestinian state.
We discussed the fight against terrorism and extremism, as well as current hotbeds of tension in Africa. Regarding all conflicts, Russia and the Arab Republic of Egypt staunchly advocate the resolution of disputes in line with international law and without any outside interference. We will continue to coordinate our actions in line with the plan of strategic political consultations between Russian and Egyptian foreign ministries.
We reaffirmed our interest in facilitating peace, security and confidence-building measures in the Persian Gulf region. It was decided to convene a conference in 2019 under UN auspices. The event’s participants will discuss the creation of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles in the Middle East.
With due consideration for Egypt’s chairmanship of the African Union, we are preparing the first Russia-Africa summit in history on the initiative of our countries’ presidents. The summit is scheduled to be held on October 24, 2019, in Sochi, with President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi chairing it. We have coordinated our steps to prepare for this truly significant event.
On the whole, we are very satisfied with the results of today’s talks. I am expecting that we will continue our dialogue in Moscow, and I am pleased to invite Foreign Minister of Egypt Sameh Shoukry to the Russian capital.
Question: Does Russia plan to promote initiatives in support of the UN efforts for de-escalation in Libya and resolution of the conflict by political means?
Sergey Lavrov: Today we talked about Libya at length with due consideration of the current events there. We are monitoring the movements of the armed forces, including the Libyan National Army, as well as other groups, including illegal armed groups that control a significant part of the country’s capital and other territories.
We exchanged information about the discussion regarding this situation in the UN Security Council, which met yesterday and is meeting again today. Our position is that there must not be attempts to lay the blame on one of the parties unilaterally.
What NATO did to that country in 2011 is the reason for the Libyan crisis. It is since then that Libya has turned into a failed state (let’s speak plainly), a black hole that serves as a transit area for the terrorists moving south along with illegal smuggling of weapons, as well as illegal migrants moving north. I think it is counterproductive to blame one party while exculpating others. It is very difficult to move forward without understanding the root causes.
Like Egypt, we believe that Libyans themselves must determine their fate and begin an inclusive and constructive dialogue without artificial deadlines that external parties are trying to impose and without being rushed against their will.
We welcomed the contacts between the Commander of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar and Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj. We are maintaining contacts with all the Libyan political forces and sending them the same signals over and over. We have never tried to side with any of the parties. I believe that this is the right course of action in this case as well.
The UNSC will convene again today and receive detailed information on how the events are developing. For example, our concern is that the armed groups in some parts of Libya announced that they will be using military aviation against the Libyan National Army. Those who exert influence on these groups must not allow an escalation to happen. We must urge the Libyans to stop any offensive military action and sit down at the negotiating table.
Question: When can we expect charter flights to resume to Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh? Who needs to take action and what needs to be done?
Sergey Lavrov: Thank you very much. I answered this question in my opening remarks. Experts are working on this and the progress is obvious. When? It is not very productive to make guesses on any matter.
Question: Despite the statements we hear, charter flights between Russia and Egypt have not been resumed for almost four years already. At the same time, tourists continue to fly to Turkey despite the assassination of Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov and the Russian aircraft having been shot down in Syria. It appears that the issue of resuming the charter flights to Egypt is politicised. Is it true?
Sergey Lavrov: As concerns another question regarding the resumption of air travel, you made it sound like we are retaliating against Egypt. There is no other way I can interpret your question. We are not talking about retaliation but about ensuring the proper level of anti-terrorist security, which Minister Shoukry covered extensively in his remarks.
Question: Does Russia support Khalifa Haftar?
Sergey Lavrov: We support all Libyan political forces so that they could reach agreement without anybody imposing anything.
Question: How do you assess the situation in Yemen considering that the humanitarian crisis has continued there since 2015 and the agreement between the Houthi movement and the government has not been fulfilled?
Sergey Lavrov: We support the Stockholm Agreement. We noted that the ceasefire regime is generally being observed although with some violations, which the parties blame each other for. Also, there is no progress in the separation of forces near Al Hudaydah. But we expect that the UN mission that was formed specifically for Al Hudaydah and Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, will continue their work. Like in any conflict, there is no other solution but an agreement between Yemenis themselves. Everybody who can influence various Yemeni groups from outside must encourage them to work towards this goal rather than to continue bloodshed.