Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura, Moscow, May 3, 2016
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to wish all those present a happy World Press Freedom Day which, in accordance with UN resolutions, is celebrated on May 3. I would like to express my gratitude for our cooperation, and my support for all journalists, especially those who continue to gather information in hot spots, risking their lives. I would also like to express my condolences to the families and friends of those who died carrying out their professional duties.
Today I held talks with Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura, which were very useful.
We deeply value a regular exchange of opinions with our colleagues from the UN, from the United States, with which we co-chair the International Syria Support Group (ISSG). We have the common position that all parameters of a settlement, in all of its aspects – political, military, humanitarian – are contained in the ISSG decisions that were approved by UNSC resolutions 2254 and 2268. These documents should remain the basis of all our settlement efforts. The main thing, as far as the political process is concerned, is to ensure that Syrians themselves decide their destiny at the negotiations table, where delegations of the Government and the entire spectrum of the opposition should be present, and external players must create all necessary conditions for such intra-Syrian dialogues without imposing their own formulas.
We have analysed the results of another round of intra-Syrian talks, held April 13–27 in Geneva. We greatly appreciate the efforts by Mr de Mistura and his team in promoting this process, which has been difficult. It has thus far not been possible to create the conditions for the dialogue to have a direct and a truly inclusive character. Nevertheless we see that our UN colleagues are moving in the right direction, and we will actively help them in their endeavours.
We paid attention, of course, to an unconstructive, ultimatum-like, I would even say arrogant stance which some of the regime’s opponents take, in particular the so-called High Negotiations Committee (HNC). We would like these attempts to be recognised by all of us as unacceptable and we would like patrons of such irreconcilable oppositionists to be guided by not their own ambitions, including neo-imperialist ones, but the interests of fulfilling the UNSC resolutions.
We discussed and paid much attention to the ceasefire regime declared at the initiative of Russia and the United States almost two months ago and unanimously approved by UNSC Resolution 2268. Our general assessment is that the level of violence has, of course, been greatly reduced. We are satisfied that more and more opposition units, which reject terrorist methods, are joining the ceasefire regime. According to published data, more than 90 settlements have declared that they have joined the truce regime, through the efforts of Russia’s Reconciliation Centre located in Hmeymim. Naturally, there are enough separate groups that would like to undermine the ceasefire regime and provoke escalation, and we cannot let them do this. We, jointly with our US partners, are directing our efforts toward having the events develop further in this way (to increase the number of participants in the ceasefire regime, to expand and consolidate this regime).
Military cooperation is developing as well. The militaries of the two countries are literally in daily contact. This cooperation, which is carried out through videoconferences, will become direct in the days to come, with the establishment of the joint Russia-US centre for prompt response to violations of the ceasefire regime in Geneva. We are grateful to the UN for its help in solving logistical issues involved in the establishment of this Russia-US centre in Geneva, where the militaries of both countries will discuss the specific development of the situation on the ground face to face. Corresponding response measures will have to be taken in those cases when the ceasefire regime will be tested.
As you may know, thanks to the efforts of the militaries of both countries, a ceasefire was declared in Latakia and Eastern Ghouta at this time. Our common goal, both with the Americans and UN members, is to expand this regime and, in the ideal scenario, make it indefinite. Now the Russian and US militaries are finalising the announcement of the ceasefire regime in Aleppo. I hope that in the days, or perhaps hours, to come, such a decision will be announced.
Of course, when making a decision where the ceasefire regime specifically is in force, we are obliged to fulfill UNSC Resolution 2254, which very clearly excluded from this regime the so-called Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra and all groups that are connected with them and are recognised as terrorist groups by the UNSC. It is not always possible to promptly resolve issues on the expansion of an area where a ceasefire regime is in force, because often our partners ask us to take into account the fact that there are moderate opposition units in corresponding areas that are mixed up with Jabhat al-Nusra positions. But we have a very simple answer to this. A long time ago, following the adoption of a corresponding resolution, we were guaranteed that the moderate opposition would leave areas occupied by Jabhat al-Nustra or the Islamic State. This, unfortunately, has not been done so far. This is one of the main topics that we are discussing with our US colleagues, and we urge them to fulfill the promises given in this regard. Those who consider themselves moderate should unconditionally cut their ties with terrorist groups, above all, with Jabhat al-Nustra, which more often than others tries to shield itself with groups that are not a part of it. And if these groups do not leave the terrorists’ positions, then I believe the conclusion is absolutely obvious.
We also underscore the necessity to close channels through which weaponry and militants are supplied to terrorists. In this regard, Russia considers the objective of closing the Turkish border, across which such transit passes actively, more and more relevant. In the next few days, a report by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be issued in compliance with UNSC decisions on preventing any supplies to terrorists. We very much hope that the facts that the UN Secretariat has on how the border is used to support terrorist groups will be reflected in the report by the UN Secretary-General.
Russia (and not only us, of course) is concerned by Turkey’s bombardment of Syria, the ongoing requirement to create some safe zones in Syria, not to mention the more and more frequent calls to prepare a ground operation. We are convinced that those who appeal to it are not interested in a real political settlement and are banking on a solution by force. This is a path to a catastrophic development of the situation. Such appeals should be suppressed. What is also troublesome is that those who make such appeals try to justify them by the fact that the ceasefire regime allegedly is not working. I explained that thanks to the efforts taken by Russian and US militaries, the progress is evident. But I would like to stress once again that our partners should do all they can to remove moderate oppositionists relying on foreign support from positions held by terrorists to make this regime valid and comprehensive.
Today we have also thoroughly discussed the goals we have in the humanitarian sphere, issues related to the extension of humanitarian access to different blocked Syrian districts. Progress has been achieved here as well, but it is evident that more is required. We understand it is necessary to work both with the opposition and Syria’s Government so that we can see more positive changes here.
In general I believe that today’s meeting helped us better understand how to prepare for the next steps, including the next round of talks and issues considered by the ISSG. We are thankful to Mr Staffan de Mistura and his colleagues for their visit to Moscow and a very informative conversation. We will continue to closely cooperate and coordinate our actions.
From answers to media questions:
Question: Moscow and Washington have agreed on setting up a new monitoring centre in Geneva. How will it be different from the existing ones in Hmeymim and Amman? How will it promote the settlement of the Syrian conflict?
Sergey Lavrov: Mr de Mistura and I have already mentioned the establishment of a joint centre for prompt response to violations of the ceasefire regime, which is now being set up by US and Russian militaries in Geneva. The UN provides us with premises and other logistical components necessary for this centre.
What new will appear with the establishment of this centre? I believe there will be more efficient information exchange, assessments and development of response measures on an everyday basis. Unlike the current contacts, which are carried out remotely via videoconferences between Hmeymim and Amman (the heads of these two centres have met only a couple of times), there will be a continuously operating joint centre, where Russian and US militaries will, while sitting at one table, show each other relevant maps, make specific proposals and think about how to suppress persisting violations of the ceasefire regime.
This will be a leap forward toward more intensive coordination of the Russian side with the US and the anti-terrorist coalition, headed by the US, in general.
Question (addressed to Staffan de Mistura): There are many groups taking various stances regarding a peaceful settlement process among Syrian armed opposition units. Some support the ceasefire regime while others reject it. How can the ISSG guarantee that all parties will comply with the terms of a truce, taking into account that areas, where different groups are operating, overlap?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Staffan de Mistura): I absolutely agree with Mr de Mistura. Those who do not agree with these rules are a legitimate target, as the UN Security Council has resolved.
Question: Following today’s meeting, do you believe that there are sufficient conditions for holding another ISSG meeting?
Sergey Lavrov: As for the ISSG’s further work, we do not rule out holding a new meeting of the Group in the near future, of course, proceeding from the assumption that we will not invent new settlement plans. All road map parameters have already been agreed upon and approved by the UN Security Council. This goes for the ceasefire regime, which we have thoroughly discussed today, humanitarian access to the entire territory of Syria (which a Target Group for Humanitarian Cooperation is actively involved in, in Geneva), and the political process as well. We will hope that another meeting of the ISSG will be well-prepared and will have some “value added.” This might be done if one concentrates on support for the efforts of Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura. As I have already said, the last round of talks was very useful and specific. We can think of the form in which such support would be rendered to our colleagues from the UN. And we will naturally be interested in finding the optimal way to render such support. But I would like to reiterate that this can refer to decisions that have already been adopted, to more detailed approaches to a given question dealing with the political process. But in no circumstances should this deal with rewriting something that was approved by the UN Security Council, including the main principle: only Syrians themselves can decide the destiny of their own country.
Question: Could you please specify whether these response measures provide for the application of military measures? Who will be taking them: the Russian side, the coalition headed by the United States or the Syrian Army?
Sergey Lavrov: As for who will be taking measures to prevent violations of the ceasefire regime, the answer is contained in UNSC Resolution 2268, which approved the Russian-US plan. This plan has been reproduced in an attachment to the aforementioned resolution and is an open document, I will not repeat it.
Question (addressed to Staffan de Mistura): Some key regional players insist on the resignation of Syrian President Basshar al-Assad as a key preliminary condition. How can one speak about the promotion of the political process and the beginning of direct talks between Syria’s Government and the opposition when they are taking such a rigid stance? Especially, as we all believe, when this hinders any transition to a political settlement?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking before Staffan de Mistura): I would like to take this opportunity, before Mr de Mistura answers your question, to underscore Russia’s position, which I have already outlined today. Everybody has signed on to the fundamental principle that only Syrians can decide the destiny of their own country. This has to be respected in full. We urge all of our partners, first and foremost, the United States, as the ISSG chair, to use their influence on the members of the coalition that they head to completely put an end to such ultimatums targeted at disrupting the negotiation process and, probably, an attempt to justify a scenario involving the use of force. This contradicts all decisions that have been taken, starting from the Geneva Communique of June 2012, according to which the transition process and political reforms in Syria must be based on an intra-Syrian dialogue between the Syrian Government and the entire spectrum of the opposition, and must be defined based on their mutual agreement. This is the only path that will be stable, and that will not create new risks in this extremely important country of the region.