Inter-American problems and regional policy
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Iraq Fuad Hussein, Moscow, November 25, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have had a constructive and substantive meeting with Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Relations, Foreign Minister of Iraq Fuad Hussein. Our countries are linked by long-standing and strong bonds of friendship. Russia and Iraq signed an agreement establishing diplomatic relations 76 years ago, and we have been active in various areas of cooperation since then, primarily in the fuel and energy and military-technical fields. Tomorrow, the Minister will have an opportunity to discuss ways to further deepen our economic cooperation in more detail with his colleague, Russian co-chair of the Russian-Iraqi intergovernmental commission on trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation, Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov.
We have exchanged views on many regional and international issues. We noted the positive interaction between our countries at the United Nations (UN), as well as our coinciding approaches when it comes to peaceful settlement of any conflicts through a dialogue of all parties involved with the support of the international community. This is the position that both Russia and Iraq share in regard to various crises in the Middle East and North Africa, including the situation in Syria, Yemen and other parts of that important region.
We are both active in joint international efforts to eliminate the remaining gangs of international terrorists, including in Syria and Iraq. In this regard, I would like to note the effective work of the Baghdad Information Centre where military specialists from Russia, Iraq, Syria and Iran participate in coordinating approaches to combating terrorism.
Russia supports the Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi Government’s efforts to stabilise the country, to eliminate extremist and terrorist threats and prepare for new parliamentary elections.
Our Iraqi friends have reaffirmed their interest in participating in international efforts to promote a Syrian settlement. They are observers in the Astana format. We also appreciated the participation of Iraq, along with several other Arab countries, in the recent International Conference on the Return of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Damascus.
We have discussed the situation around the Arab-Israeli conflict. We both share a common view that the efforts undertaken at the initiative of US President Donald Trump’s government to normalise relations between certain Arab states and Israel, for all their positive significance, should in no way substitute for a fair settlement of the Palestinian issue. There is a UN decision in place on this, and the Arab Peace Initiative. All these decisions need to be put into practice.
Our common interest is to facilitate conditions for the start of normalisation and building confidence in the Persian Gulf area. We reaffirmed the related concept of ensuring security in the region, which is now being discussed with our colleagues from the Arab and Gulf states, Iran and other countries in the region, as well as by the UN Security Council permanent members and other interested international participants.
I am convinced that Mr Minister’s visit will make it possible to promote bilateral cooperation in many diverse areas and find new opportunities for enhancing stability and security in the Middle East.
Question (translated from Arabic): The Iraqis consider the Russians to be their long-time and strong friend. It is expected that bilateral relations will reach a level that meets Iraq’s needs in many fields. Will this visit start a new phase in bilateral relations, especially in energy, technology and arms production?
Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, we have long-standing relations with friendly Iraq. Cooperation with Moscow has never prevented Iraq from developing close ties with Western and neighbouring countries. Cooperation is making headway in all areas where our interests coincide. We are willing to deepen and extend it to new areas.
By tradition, our country has played and continues playing an important role in ensuring Iraq’s defence capability and equipping its army and security forces, in part, due to the persisting terrorist threat. We are ready to meet any of Iraq’s needs in Russian military products. Iraqi Defence Minister Juma Inad plans to visit Russia in the foreseeable future. I am sure these issues will be discussed in detail.
As for energy industry, large Russian companies are operating in Iraq with their partners. Lukoil, Rosneft, Gazprom Neft and Bashneft have invested a total of over $13 billion in the Iraqi economy. Our companies and their Iraqi partners plan to continue this cooperation.
We traditionally maintain close humanitarian ties. Almost 4,000 Iraqi students study in Russia. We are doing our best to enable Iraqis and other foreign citizens to resume the academic process at our universities in the context of the current measures on overcoming the aftermath of the coronavirus infection.
As for our professional activities, several dozen Iraqi diplomats have attended upgrading courses in the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy. We agreed to continue and expand this practice. As Mr Fuad Hussein said, our experts are completing their work on many intergovernmental documents on law, healthcare and customs contacts. This will enhance our cooperation with friendly Iraq.
Question: Apart from strengthening Baghdad-Moscow political relations, what plans does Russia have for the further development of trade, economic and energy ties with the Kurdistan government and Iraq in general?
Sergey Lavrov: Today, we described in detail the development of close ties between our countries in the trade, economic, investment, education and military-technical fields. Tomorrow Mr Hussein will meet with Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Yury Borisov. They will review in detail the programme for the further work of the Intergovernmental Russian-Iraqi Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation. Tomorrow Mr Minister will also meet with Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov. Following the visit, we will have more areas for promoting bilateral cooperation.
Question (for both ministers): Many countries, for instance, France, had a negative reaction to the US decision to reduce its troops in Iraq. What do Baghdad and Moscow think about this? Doesn’t Russia plan to increase its role in countering terrorism in the region in general and Iraq in particular in this context?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Fuad Hussein): As for Moscow’s position on the US military presence abroad, this issue concerns those countries where US troops are stationed – Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The US moved its military contingent to Syria without invitation, illegally, in violation of international law. In Iraq, US troops stay by agreement with the government. As Mr Minister said, Iraq’s parliament made a definite decision and we are guided by this. This is the only legal foundation for American troops here. I am referring to consent by the host country.
Let me note that in the above three countries the Americans are fighting a terrorist threat that they have largely created themselves. The interference of the US and its allies in Iraq, Syria and Libya has not improved life in any of these countries. It has just created problems that their citizens, politicians and governments are now compelled to resolve. It is very important for US leaders to avoid similar foreign ventures in the future, especially since they create serious threats for the entire region.
We are cooperating with Iraq and other countries in the region in fighting terrorists regardless of US plans. The US is always either withdrawing or returning to somewhere. We have sustainable agreements, including the one on the Baghdad Information Centre in which specialists from Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria deal with the anti-terrorism struggle.
There is one more aspect of our anti-terrorism cooperation: the foreign terrorists and militants who have arrived in the region to take part in illegal terrorist activities, mostly from Europe. Many of them have been arrested. We believe they should be taken to court either in the countries they came from, Syria, Iraq or other states, or in the country they committed their terrorist crimes in. Any other alternative would be illegal. We urge our Western and other colleagues not to create legal conflicts. Take them to court yourselves if they are your citizens, or have the country where they committed the crime try them.
Russian citizens happened to be among those who were involved in illegal activities in the region. The position of their children is a separate problem. We are grateful to the Iraqi leaders for their close cooperation with the Foreign Ministry and Presidential Commissioner for Children's Rights Anna Kuznetsova. As a result of this cooperation, most of the identified children were sent back to Russia last year. This is an important part of our cooperation.