Media availability with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov following talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Tokyo, May 31, 2019
Question: You said you agreed not to disclose details of the discussion of the peace treaty. However, you noted that this dialogue will continue on the basis of the 1956 Declaration. Could you clarify the wording? What does it mean, for the Russian side, to develop the dialogue on the basis of the 1956 Declaration, taking into account that Article 9 of the document refers to two islands? How can you comment on recent reports in the Japanese media that Tokyo is ready to consider the “two by two” option to resolve the Kuril issue?
Sergei Lavrov: The 1956 Declaration clearly states that our country and Japan are to sign a peace treaty, and the territorial delineation will only be considered after that. There is no other way, only in this order. We keep explaining to our Japanese colleagues the necessity of concluding a peace treaty which will be not a peace treaty signed on the day following the end of the war but one reflecting the decades that have passed since, and the current level of relations between Russia and Japan, and, most important, one that sets benchmarks for their further development. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeatedly stressed the need to find a solution that would be supported by the peoples of both countries. To do that, relations should be elevated to a qualitatively new level which is what we are engaged in now.
Question: US President Donald Trump recently announced his interest in holding talks with Iran if Tehran wants to hold them. Does Moscow intend to be a mediator between the US and Iran and also between Iran and its Gulf neighbours?
Sergey Lavrov: We do not impose our services on anyone. We would welcome the start of talks as we welcomed the negotiations between the US and the DPRK and consider it important to develop talks on affairs in Venezuela. However, we are convinced that talks based on the idea of first stifling a country economically so as to make it beg for negotiations is not a productive model for foreign policy. We favour a conversation based on mutual respect, without any ultimatums or preconditions.
The Iranian leaders have already responded to these overtures by the US, emphasising there would be no dialogue under conditions of blackmail or the stifling sanctions that the US is trying to impose on the rest of the world in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Again, we will support any contact that the sides initiate based on mutual respect and by consent.
As for relations between Iran and its Arab neighbours in the Persian Gulf, I have already commented on this issue. Many years ago President Vladimir Putin announced Russia’s willingness to start building confidence and forming a security system in the Gulf. This was similar to the launch of the Helsinki process in Europe, which was crowned by the adoption of the Helsinki Final Act and the creation of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), now called the OSCE. We believe there are no identical situations but in many respects the European experience can be applied to the Persian Gulf. The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf and Iran could agree on transparency in military actions and military activities, invite each other to exercises and implement other confidence-building measures. The UN Security Council permanent members, representatives of the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the EU could all take part in this process to help them. This proposal remains valid. I think that Tehran’s initiative on the non-use of force against each other is a step in this direction. I know that not all, but many members of the Arab Cooperation Council are ready to consider this initiative. We will be prepared to promote this process.
Question: What does Moscow think about the Kosovo authorities’ intentions to strip a Russian member of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo of diplomatic immunity?
Sergey Lavrov: Those who claimed to be in charge in Kosovo have long ago lost control over the authorities there. In reality, it turns out that they did not heed anyone. Both the EU and the United States tried to manage them, and we can see the outcome of such attempts. As a result of such Western patronage, Kosovo authorities have the feeling of impunity and permissiveness. Their absolutely unacceptable behavior with regard to a Russian member of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo cannot be justified in any way. Their attempts to strip the Russian representative of the powers and status (that all UN mission’s members have) are a very serious matter to which the UN representatives must respond. The Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo Zahir Tanin has voiced a principled position and will not pander to such statements and intentions of the Pristina authorities. They have already annulled and trampled upon too many of their obligations, including those concluded with EU mediation four years ago [to establish a community of Kosovo’s Serbian municipalities]. They have violated UN Security Council Resolution 1244 by announcing the creation of their armed forces, which is forbidden. Many of their other actions show how dangerous it is to forgive consistent and numerous violations of international law by various parties to conflict situations. We will firmly demand that everyone respect UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which defined the parameters of the Kosovo settlement, and which states that any decision should become the result of a free and mutually acceptable process between Pristina and Belgrade alone.
Question: Does the United States influence Japan’s position in the peace treaty talks? In the 1950s, the United State torpedoed the talks conducted under the 1956 Declaration.
Sergey Lavrov: I will not go into details while discussing the US influence on Russian-Japanese relations. But Japan always underscores the fundamental nature of its military union with Washington. This is an established fact, and our Japanese colleagues actively heed it in all their foreign policy contacts without exception, and not just in relations with the Russian Federation.
Question: What do you think about the United States stating yesterday that Russia allegedly violated the nuclear testing moratorium?
Sergey Lavrov: The outlandish nature of the claim that Russia is allegedly conducting nuclear tests has already been exposed by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) and respected and reputable experts in the United States itself. Perhaps, after the Russian-speaking woman in Ibiza turned out to be a Bosnian national, they feel the need to come up with something else.
Question: I have a question about joint economic activities that are being discussed during the talks now. There are five main areas, including seafood production, vegetable production, tourism, waste disposal and wind power. Which of these areas, do you think, is the most reliable? Will there be any agreements reached in this area before the end of June?
Sergey Lavrov: There is nothing sensational about these five areas. They are not high tech. However, aquaculture, waste disposal, tourism and wind energy directly affect people's lives. So, we actively support establishing a dialogue on all these matters in order to begin practical projects in each of these areas.
At the same time, we are telling our Japanese friends that we cannot limit ourselves to these areas of cooperation. We should look for new, including high-tech, areas of joint work as part of the economic activity on the islands.
As for the order of priority, all these areas deserve our attention. There is a systemic issue that concerns freedom of movement. In order for us to be able to engage in joint business activities, we need to remove barriers to moving between Japan and Russia. Working groups were created on the southern Kuril Islands as part of our joint economic activities, one on commercial aspects of joint economic activities, one on legal aspects and one on creating free movement regulations for residents of the Sakhalin Region and Hokkaido Prefecture. Members of the last group are discussing a topic which is important for all five areas, that is the ability to freely enter and leave for the Russians working with their Japanese partners and the Japanese who will be involved in implementing these five projects.
Question: Given the security situation in the Asia-Pacific Region, the results of public opinion polls in Russia and relations between Russia and the United States, the transfer of the Kuril Islands to Japan appears impossible. Why did Russia agree, in November 2018, to speed up the negotiating process based on the 1956 Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration, which indicated the possibility of transferring the two islands?
Sergey Lavrov: The security situation in the APR has a direct impact on our relations not only with Japan, but all other countries of this region as well. We cannot ignore the fact that in its doctrinal documents the United States declared Russia an adversary and an enemy, and never tires of officially stating that we must be brought to reason, including by certain preventive military measures. We bring this to the attention of our Japanese partners and do so in the sense that such aggressive US rhetoric is accompanied by constant confirmation by the highest-level Japanese leaders of the fundamental nature of their military alliance with the United States. Put these two facts together and you will see what the problem is all about. I hope our Japanese colleagues understand this as well.
Speaking of the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956, unlike Japan, which the Americans, as you rightly said, forced to freeze its implementation by concluding, in 1960, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, we, in fact, have never refused to comply with this document. However, from day one of his presidency, President Putin emphasised that we would take a responsible approach to all the obligations signed by the Soviet Union. Russia is the successor to the Soviet Union and was recognised as such by the international community.
We are willing to comply with all the documents concluded by the country called the Soviet Union, including the 1956 Declaration, according to which the USSR, in good faith and accommodating the request of the Japanese people, is willing to solve the border demarcation issue provided there is a peace treaty between us which is impossible to conclude without recognising the results of World War II. The very fact that the basis of such a prospect is outlined as the goodwill of the Soviet Union and its willingness to take into account the interests of the Japanese people means only one thing: at the time of the Declaration’s signing, these islands were considered an integral part of the Soviet Union by both parties. Without recognising this fact, it is almost impossible to move forward on the basis of this declaration.
I am not going to go into much detail, but what I just said is not a secret. This is our approach. So, we are abiding by our arrangement with our Japanese colleagues not to divulge the details of our talks.