Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry following 2+2 talks between Russian and Egyptian foreign and defence ministers, Cairo, May 29, 2017
I would like to once again express our condolences over the heinous terrorist attack that happened recently, when unidentified gunmen opened fire on buses carrying Coptic Christians. This again reminds us of the need to remain vigilant and to develop broad international cooperation to combat terrorism. Today this issue was high on the agenda of the separate talks between the Russian and Egyptian foreign and defence ministers, and also at a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
We agree on the importance of building up international efforts against terrorism. Today we discussed practical measures that are being taken in this area and the need to diversify them and to strengthen our cooperation at the bilateral level and also within the UN, where Russia and Egypt are acting in concert at the UN Security Council. I would like to congratulate our Egyptian friends on initiating a crucial document, a Comprehensive International Framework to Counter Terrorist Narratives. This Egyptian initiative, which the UN Security Council has approved, has much in common with a Russian initiative that is still being considered. In other words, the UN Security Council has adopted an international legal framework for combating all elements of the terrorist ideology, including the causes of its proliferation.
We also discussed the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, where we are seeking to ensure peace, security and stability and to settle all conflicts that continue raging in this long-suffering region.
We held a detailed discussion on Syria and the vital need to continue working towards a settlement there. Our Egyptian friends support the Astana process, during which an agreement was reached on May 4 to create four de-escalation areas in Syria as the first step towards spreading the ceasefire regime throughout the country and a vital measure that will help separate the armed opposition from the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists. As you know, this goal has for years been a key priority of our relations with our American partners during the Obama administration, which failed to bring about such separation, primarily with regard to Jabhat al-Nusra, even though it is on the UN and US terrorist lists. There is now a possibility to attain such separation within the Astana process with support from Russia, Turkey and Iran as the guarantor countries. Experts from our countries and colleagues from several other states continue working to coordinate details necessary for implementing the idea of de-escalation areas. We would be happy to see our Egyptian friends join these efforts.
It is vital that the Astana process has given a fresh boost to the Geneva talks. We support the UN efforts led by UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and his team. Despite the modest results of the previous rounds, the arrangements which Mr de Mistura has put on paper and which many opposition groups and the Syrian Government have accepted are a step forward. They include the underlying principles of the Syrian state, including its secular nature. Moreover, an agreement was reached at the latest round of the Geneva talks, though not without difficulty, to start work on the constitutional reform. We urge all parties to the Geneva process to focus on this issue alongside other issues on the agenda, including transitional governance, the fight against terrorism and preparations for general elections.
We also talked about the situation in other hot spots in the region, including in Libya. We welcome the efforts taken by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates towards rapprochement between the Libyan parties. We support the initiatives on this issue advanced by the Arab League, the African Union and the UN.
We also discussed the Arab-Israeli settlement. Russia and Egypt are resolved to promote the two-state solution as per the UN documents. We welcome Egypt’s constructive contribution to settling the Palestinian issue and ensuring security on the Sinai Peninsula.
We held a constructive exchange of views on breaking the deadlock at the talks on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles in the Middle East.
At the beginning of our bilateral meeting, we discussed Russian-Egyptian political, trade, economic, investment and cultural relations. We have coordinated the priority cooperation areas, which we discussed at a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi today. The implementation of these projects will move our relations to a fundamentally new, strategic level. I am referring above all to the projects that can boost Egypt’s technological development, such as the construction of Egypt’s first nuclear power plant and the creation of a Russian industrial estate in Egypt. The implementation of these projects will create new jobs and entire industrial sectors in Egypt and will also create conditions for training qualified personnel. These and many other issues will be on the agenda of the next meeting of the Joint Russian-Egyptian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation this autumn.
We have also agreed to continue coordinating talks on a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union.
One more strategic area of our cooperation involves defence and military technology cooperation. This issue was discussed in detail at a meeting between Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu and Egyptian Defence Minister Sidqi Subhi.
Of course, we also talked about the possibility of resuming flights between our countries. As you know, these flights were suspended after the October 2015 tragedy, when 224 Russian citizens were killed in the explosion of a passenger liner over Sinai. Together with our Egyptian friends, we should do our best to prevent other tragedies of this kind. In this context, it is vital to finish the investigation into this accident and to implement the practical measures which our countries coordinated in December 2015. Their full implementation will create conditions for the resumption of flights between our countries. Once again, the issue concerns the implementation of our agreements. We have not advanced any new conditions. We know about rumours to the contrary, but they are not true.
Overall, we are satisfied with our talks, which have confirmed the importance of the 2+2 format. Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu and I have invited our Egyptian colleagues to meet in Moscow at the next round of the 2+2 talks.
I would like to again thank our hosts for their hospitality.
Question (addressed to both ministers): Did you discuss the coordination of efforts against terrorism, especially considering the horrible terrorist attack against Coptic Christians that took place in Egypt several days ago?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Sameh Hassan Shoukry): Russia supports initiatives that can really help fight terrorism and block the channels used to deliver financial support, weapons and recruit new fighters. These initiatives are aimed at eradicating the ideology of terrorism and extremism. This is the goal of President Vladimir Putin’s initiative for a global and truly international front against terrorism, which he advanced at the 70th UN General Assembly. Initiatives in this sphere must be truly comprehensive and inclusive, and should not be devised to support attempts to isolate any forces, especially if these attempts are made, let us be honest about it, in the context of internal contradictions within Islam. I hope that all of us will unite, regardless of the relatively secondary issues that bear no relation to terrorism, and if we do, we will succeed.
Question (addressed to both ministers): The UN-backed Libyan Government of National Accord has recently accused the National Salvation Government of the escalation of violence in the country. We are talking about the armed groups that took part in overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and enjoyed wide support of the Western countries. In a manner of speaking, the explosive situation in Libya, from which terrorists spread not only throughout the region but also throughout the world, as we can see from the Manchester terror attack, is the result of some Western countries’ policies.
Question (addressed to Sergey Lavrov): Do you think that responsibility for these consequences lies with Western countries? Can the fight against terrorism be effective when the main players cannot coordinate their actions?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Sameh Hassan Shoukry): Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has recently admitted that the invasion of Iraq was based on a fictitious pretext, which was used to convince the world that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I hope to see conscience wake up in those who organised the aggression against Libya in violation of international law and the relevant UN Security Council resolution, who are guilty of bombing Libya, overthrowing its government and turning the country into a black hole and a transit lane for terrorists, thugs, arms traffickers and illegal migrants. We now see the consequences of that misguided and irresponsible policy. We are not rejoicing at the tragedies in the Middle East and Europe, and we are not going to say, “We told you so.” But we must learn this lesson, or our efforts will be obstructed by double standards again and again.
It is a fact, as you have pointed out, that the government of Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown largely with the help of those who had come from Europe. Those people were allowed to leave although it was clear where they were headed, and later they were allowed to return. In the past, they had European citizenship and so enjoyed the liberties of the free democratic states, including the right to travel abroad on business. But theirs was a highly specific business.
The belief that you can flirt with or pamper to extremists, including those monitored by the security services, in the hope that they would remain loyal to European values and would not bite the hand that fed them, has been shattered by dozens of terrorist attacks in Europe. Take Great Britain, which has suspended counterterrorism cooperation with Russia for reasons that have no relation to fighting this evil. I want to repeat: we believe that we must abandon all considerations of secondary importance, even if they appear important to someone, because there is nothing more important now than combating terrorism and the terrorist ideology. We can only do this together.
All of us want to settle the Libyan crisis, but if we fail to prevent the destruction of Syria, just as we failed in Iraq and Libya, we will not be worth our salt as politicians and diplomats. This will mean that we have not learned the lessons of the horrible tragedies that have happened in this region.
As we have said, today we discussed practical aspects of fighting terrorism. We have agreed to work towards creating a truly universal front against terrorism without double standards, or attempts to exclude anyone from this process or exploit the fight against terrorism for geopolitical purposes.