Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Moscow, April 28, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
This meeting took place amidst less than positive developments in the Syrian conflict settlement. We have already mentioned the April 14 unlawful attack on Syria by the United States, France and Great Britain under a completely unsubstantiated pretext and before OPCW experts could even start working. This attack, of course, set the clock back on our efforts to drive forward the political process.
However, today we firmly agreed to continue these efforts. We agreed on the specific steps that our countries will take, jointly and separately, to get back on the trajectory of steady progress towards the goals under UNSC Resolution 2254.
We also noted that we will stand against any attempts to undermine our cooperation. We stressed that the Astana format is firmly on its feet. We will continue to solve principled tasks related to de-escalation, relieving tension and conflict potential. There have been ceasefire violations. We have a mechanism to monitor these violations. We will continue to overcome this situation and do our best to strengthen trust between the parties on the ground.
Our trilateral cooperation is to a certain extent unique. A while ago, this cooperation managed to turn the tide in the fight against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists and to help hundreds of thousand Syrians avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.
Today we adopted a joint statement that will be circulated later. It reflects the main outcome of this meeting. At any rate, we are strongly committed to the understanding that there is no alternative to the political and diplomatic resolution of the Syrian crisis based on UNSC Resolution 2254 and the recommendations of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. Let me remind you that the Sochi Congress formalised 12 key principles of settling the Syrian crisis earlier proposed by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, officially and on behalf of the participating ethnic, religious and political groups from Syria. This alone was a breakthrough in the efforts to overcome the Syrian crisis because before Sochi, the attempts to have these 12 principles approved within the framework of the Geneva process, which we tried to revive, were in vain. Once again, in addition to this achievement in Sochi, we all helped the Syrian participants approve the objective of establishing the Constitutional Committee, agree on its fundamental principles and rules of operation, with assistance from UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.
Today we confirmed these goals and noted that it is absolutely unacceptable to allow a division in Syria based on ethnicity or religion.
We exchanged views on the meetings that the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura held in Tehran, Ankara and Moscow last week. We discussed preparations for the 9th round of the international talks on Syria in Astana, which will be held in mid-May. We have also agreed that the talks will coincide with a meeting of the working group on the release of detainees/hostages, the transfer of the bodies of those who lost their lives and the search for missing persons.
In the context of the efforts to give the Geneva process a new lease on life, we believe that certain statements made by some members of the external opposition are extremely detrimental to the process as they insist on Syrian conflict resolution that is dependent on political talks with preconditions, which include a regime change and bringing Syria’s leaders to trial as war criminals. Not only does this approach fly in the face of the letter and spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 but it is being blatantly used to hamper efforts to resume the negotiation process, given the breakthrough achieved at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
Today, we also reaffirmed that we need to continue increasing humanitarian aid. We will work to see that it is distributed as effectively as possible. We will work with the Syrian Government, the opposition and, of course, with our colleagues at the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Syrian Red Crescent Society and other international organisations. It is important that international aid, including assistance in mine clearing, is provided, without politicising it and without political preconditions, for the areas which are returning to a peaceful life as a result of our joint efforts.
I am sincerely grateful to my colleagues and friends for the opportunity to continue working together. I am confident that today’s talks, the outcome of which is incorporated in the Joint Statement, will help us consolidate our efforts to honestly and in full deliver on UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
Question: Turkish citizens still face visa issues. Did you discuss this matter with Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu during today’s meeting? When will we see concrete steps in this area?
Sergey Lavrov: We did discuss further efforts to streamline visa procedures during today’s meeting. Russia has put forward a number of specific proposals to this effect some time ago. Our first proposal was to restore a visa-free regime for holders of service passports, and the second one was to enable truck drivers working in the international road transport segment to cross the border without visas. Our Turkish friends promised to respond to these proposals. Implementing these proposals would benefit our citizens in meaningful ways. Moving forward, we intend to expand the categories of those who can travel under visa-free arrangements. All in all, we are interested in moving towards achieving this aim, as President of Russia Vladimir Putin has said a number of times at meetings with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Of course, now we are all under serious pressure from the terrorist threat, especially our Turkish friends who are suffering from the spill-over effect from what is happening in their region. In this situation, it is up to the relevant services of our respective countries to establish effective cooperation on concrete areas and work together in real time in order to track down international terrorist fighters.
Today we agreed to undertake these efforts and committed ourselves to exchange information regularly and in real time on persons that our countries have banned from our national territory in order to prevent their entry into either Turkey or Russia. It is also essential that we get information on the people who are being extradited from Turkey well in advance. We will do the same in keeping with the Consular Convention between our countries.
Question: There have been some critical statements regarding the Astana Process, its achievements and purpose. What do you think about them?
The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has recently visited the guarantor countries of the Astana Process: Iran, Russia and Turkey. Do you have a plan for cooperation with the UN on Syria?
Sergey Lavrov (speaks after the foreign ministers of Iran and Turkey): I would like to support what my colleagues have said. Let me add that the UN was invited to join the process from the outset. Either Staffan de Mistura or his deputy was present at all meetings in Astana. The UN can now do a great deal in order for the Astana Process to be effective. It has four main development vectors.
The first one was to set up de-escalation zones where the ceasefire was put in place, without including the terrorists, of course, who seek to find refuge in these areas and benefit from their status. It was a signature achievement of the Astana Process. There will be absolutely no compromise in these counterterrorism efforts, and those armed opposition groups that are patriots and want peace for their country must separate themselves from the terrorists without delay and expel them from these de-escalation areas. The UN is in contact with all the main armed groups and political forces of the Syrian opposition, and those who support and guide the opposition. Consequently, the UN could send them a clear message that they should refrain from getting embroiled with the terrorists or create any alliances with them, even if it is only an alliance of convenience. This is a very important area of our cooperation with the UN.
Humanitarian cooperation is the second priority for the Astana Process. We are proactive in our efforts to enable Syrians to return to a peaceful life. Russia has done a great deal to this effect, and so did Iran and Turkey. Of course, the UN must assume responsibility for carrying out a large-scale campaign in order to resolve issues for people returning to their homes, who want to live in peace once again, and satisfy their basic needs. In this area we are also working with UN humanitarian agencies, and help them reach agreements with the government of the Syrian Arab Republic in keeping with the international humanitarian law when it comes to deciding on specific modalities of humanitarian projects in Syria. We compel our Syrian colleagues in Damascus to be more flexible and constructive, although it is not always easy, taking into consideration the discrimination they face from some of our Western partners. Still, we are committed to these efforts. At the same time, Russia calls on the UN not to yield to any pressure designed to make humanitarian access a political issue. Of course, the UN has no right to play along with those who want humanitarian aid to be provided only in opposition-held areas. The UN has no right to act this way, and in fact has the responsibility to speak out against approaches of this kind.
The third priority for the Astana Process, and the Syrian settlement in general, is the political dialogue and talks. Just as my colleagues, I have already mentioned that in this area the Astana Process achieved far more than any other attempts to establish steady political contacts, culminating with the Sochi Congress. The participants in the Sochi Congress agreed on the principles for a settlement in Syria that were proposed, among others, by the UN (as far as cooperation with the UN is concerned), and agreed on the need to convene a constitutional committee under UN auspices in order to draft a new constitution for Syria as part of the UN Secretary-General Special Envoy’s mandate. This is a major asset for Staffan de Mistura. For this reason, it is quite strange when he is pressured to criticise the Astana Process and the outcomes of the Sochi Congress. Let me reiterate that the Sochi Declaration is currently the main asset Staffan de Mistura has in terms of delivering on the mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
To conclude, let me say that in all our undertakings, and no matter the nuances in the approaches we follow, which we do not hide, Iran, Turkey and Russia are committed to helping find concrete solutions in order to help Syrians achieve national reconciliation and agree on ways of restoring peace in their country in keeping with the principles enshrined in the UN Charter.
It seems that those who criticise the Astana Process and the outcomes of the Sochi Congress have a different agenda. To put it in simple terms, what they want is to prove that they are the ones who decide in our world. Unfortunately, or maybe luckily, this time is long gone. For them this is clearly unfortunate.