Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs of the Sultanate of Oman Yousuf bin Alawi, Moscow, February 18, 2019
Our talks were very good.
We discussed the entire range of topics related to Russian-Omani relations. We pointed out that our ties have been traditionally amicable and we spoke in favour of their further development.
We expressed a high opinion of the level of our political dialogue and expressed mutual interest in stimulating our inter-parliamentary cooperation. We noted that a visit to Moscow which Chairman of the Omani State Council Yahya bin Mahfoudh al-Mantheri plans to make this year at the invitation of Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko would be a big step towards this.
We noted the positive development of mutual trade, which increased by over 60 per cent in 2018, although there is still much to do in absolute figures. We agreed to give an impetus to our ties in the field of investment, energy, information technology, mining and agriculture.
We launched direct flights between Moscow and Muscat in October 2018. Together with Oman’s initiative to liberalise visa requirements for Russian citizens, this has certainly helped expand business and tourist exchanges. Today we reminded our Omani colleagues about our proposal for signing an intergovernmental agreement on visa-free travel for our citizens on a regular basis.
We are alarmed by the negative developments in the Middle East and North Africa. We believe that it is necessary to promote a constructive and unifying agenda in the region, to remove dividing lines and to join efforts for a consolidated response to threats and challenges. These are the underlying principles of the Russian concept of security in the Persian Gulf, which we advanced some time ago and which our Omani partners supported.
We have a common stand on Syria. There is no alternative to UN Security Council Resolution 2254. It should be implemented without exception. In this context, we updated our counterparts on the efforts taken towards this end by Russia, Turkey and Iran as the guarantor countries of the Astana format, including on the outcome of the fourth summit of the three countries held in Sochi on February 14. We believe that the attainment of this goal can be facilitated by the normalisation of Syria’s relations with the other Arab countries and its return to the Arab League.
We are concerned about the atmosphere at the talks on the Middle East settlement. We see obvious attempts to revise the accepted international legal principles of the peace process in the Middle East. We believe that it is of crucial importance that all the members of the international community confirm their commitment to the relevant resolutions of the UN General Assembly and Security Council, as well as to the Arab Peace Initiative. In light of these problems, it is extremely important for the Palestinians to show strength and responsibility in order to consolidate their forces. We are doing our best to facilitate this. In particular, we informed our Omani colleagues about last week’s consultations held in Moscow between the main Palestinian groups.
We confirmed our high assessment of the prudent and balanced position based on international law which the Sultanate of Oman has on the majority of regional topics, including the Yemeni settlement where Oman has an important conciliatory mission.
I am grateful to my colleague, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs of the Sultanate of Oman Yousuf bin Alawi, for our teamwork, which we will continue during a working breakfast.
Question: What indicates the effectiveness of Russian-Omani cooperation on Yemen?
Sergey Lavrov: Just like Oman, Russia has called for a political and diplomatic solution based on an inclusive dialogue between all the Yemeni forces since the very beginning of the conflict. We maintain contacts with all these political forces, trying to keep them away from the temptation of using armed force against each other and to convince them to launch talks under UN auspices and in keeping with the ideas proposed by UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths.
In particular, both sides welcomed the consultations held by the concerned parties in Stockholm in December 2018 and the agreements they reached. Russia helped the formalisation of these agreements at the UN Security Council. They stipulate that the conflicting parties withdraw their troops from the port of Hodeida so that the port’s facilities can be used for civilian purposes, as well as exchange hostages and prisoners.
We welcomed the offer made by Oman together with Kuwait to provide aircraft for the delivery of these persons to the exchange area.
Unfortunately, the implementation of the Stockholm agreements has faltered. Such things happened before. We are working together with our Omani colleagues and other countries taking part in the efforts to facilitate the political process, trying to convince the sides to resume the implementation of these agreements.
Whatever the situation, we must do our best to ensure the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to all those who are in need of it in Yemen.
Question: US President Donald Trump has called on European countries to take back over 800 ISIS fighters captured east of the Euphrates, adding that the alternative is that the US will be forced to release them. Is it legal to demand that terrorists are returned to their home countries? Are we ready to take back Russian citizens if there are any among these 800 ISIS fighters?
Sergey Lavrov: These people are suspected foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs). This is how they are defined in a relevant UN Security Council resolution, which provides a clear list of steps to be taken with regard to FTFs who are captured by the countries that are fighting terrorists. We must comply with these provisions. The first step that must be taken by all means is to ensure transparency and to provide the data for these persons.
In the past, the United States moved the suspected terrorists captured in the region, in particular, in Afghanistan and other countries, to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, where these persons were kept for years without trial (by the way, the US has not replied to our request about a Russian citizen kept there), or delivered them to secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. The latter led to a major scandal, which was quickly stifled, though. So, first we must analyse the matter, because the United States might take diametrically opposite steps in such a situation.
Overall, apart from setting up prisons for terrorists, the United States has done a lot of other damage east of the Euphrates, which we will have to clear up. It won’t be an easy job. The problem concerns military bases and the weapons delivered to the Kurds. For example, these bases and weapons cause serious concern in Turkey. But the biggest problem there, is the illegal de-confliction zone in al-Tanf, where the Americans train fighters for subsequent operations in Syria and where the notorious Rukban refugee camp is located. The refugees should have long been moved from Rukban, as the Syrian government and Russia have been urging. But the United States and the US-sponsored extremists who control the camp prohibit the refugees from leaving. I hope that the UN employees who recently accompanied the second UN aid convoy to Rukban and could see that something is very wrong there will provide the necessary information to the UN Security Council.