Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint press conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire Marcel Amon-Tanoh, Moscow, July 17, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire Marcel Amon-Tanoh were substantive.
Relations between our countries are traditionally friendly and are developing on the principles of equality, mutual respect and consideration for each other’s interests.
We reaffirmed our common interest in further increasing and promoting bilateral ties, above all in trade, economic and humanitarian areas. We have agreed to take additional measures to draft prospective projects in energy, infrastructure development and particularly in agriculture, which Côte d'Ivoire's economy is based on. In order to do this, we have agreed to encourage our business communities to establish direct contacts and use the opportunities provided by entrepreneur organisations more often, including, primarily, our trade and industry chambers.
In this context, we noted that the participation of an Ivorian delegation in the recent St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) was very useful. We have agreed to continue cooperating with Côte d'Ivoire in training highly qualified specialists at Russian universities. The quota for Ivorian students was increased to 60 for the next academic year.
We also noted the good prospects for military-technical cooperation. Our Ivorian friends are interested in strengthening their defense capability. In this context, the participation of an Ivorian delegation in the Army 2019 International Forum, held recently in Kubinka outside Moscow, was useful.
We noted how close our approaches were when discussing international and regional issues, including the necessity for every country to respect the basic principles of international law as stipulated in the UN Charter and, most importantly, to respect people’s right to choose a model of political and socioeconomic development for themselves.
As you know, Côte d'Ivoire is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. We had a detailed discussion on cooperation in this format and within the UN in general as well as in other multilateral formats.
Above all, we spoke about the need to settle the conflicts, which, unfortunately, still remain on the African continent. Russia is adamant that these conflicts must be settled by the African countries and organisations on the continent, while the international community must make every effort to support the agreements reached by the parties to the conflicts, with assistance from their neighbours.
We have expressed appreciation to our colleagues from Côte d’Ivoire for supporting our initiatives on the prevention of placing weapons in space, on international information security and on the unacceptability of glorifying Nazism. I will note that Côte d’Ivoire co-authored the resolution on combatting the glorification of Nazism last year. We appreciate this very much.
We talked about the threats created by terrorism and related criminal processes. We discussed the necessity to stop backing terrorism: from ideological support to arms smuggling, including the use of drug trafficking to fund terrorist activities.
We understand the need for reforming the United Nations, including the Security Council. We have confirmed our position, which implies that the main objective of such a reform should be an unconditional provision for greater representation from the developing Asian, African and Latin American countries.
In conclusion, I want to mention that we talked in detail about preparations for the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi this October. This will be the first ever summit like this. It will be preceded by an economic forum. We expect these events to become a landmark in the development of all Russian-African ties, which will help determine further directions for partnership with this significant continent.
I am quite satisfied with the results of our talks. I am sure they will help promote interaction in a variety of areas successfully and more effectively.
Question: The first Russia-Africa Summit will be held in Sochi in October. Russia wants to position itself in Africa in a new way. Support for Syria has been productive and made it possible to combat ISIS. Can we expect that Russia will be more active with respect to Africa and that its relations with the African countries will reach a totally new level?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia is assisting the Syrian Government in fighting terrorism and tangible results have been achieved. Specifically, the ISIS caliphate aggression has been stopped, although ISIS detachments continue, recruiting followers and sending envoys to neighboring and even remote countries, which includes Africa. We talked about this in detail today.
Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda in Maghreb – all of these are manifestations of growing terrorist activity on the African continent and these terrorist entities are beginning to interact more actively, coordinating their malicious plans. Combatting these phenomena is very important, including for settling differences, because in a number of conflicts, in Somali, Mali or Sahel and the Sahara region, threats from terrorist and extremist groups will appear anyway.
Russia, as you know, is advancing a number of initiatives in an antiterrorist vein, including the creation of a genuinely global coalition for fighting terrorism without any double standards.
In practical terms our National Antiterrorism Committee, which is under the Russian Federal Security Service, has established, and has been developing for some time, a data bank that makes it possible to track foreign terrorist fighters. This is a very relevant objective because these fighters are moving from Iraq and Syria to Libya and Afghanistan and from there to Central Asia, even reaching Southeast Asia. This foreign terrorist database already includes about 40 special services from 35 countries, including Interpol, the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee and the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. We invite our African friends to join this database.
Another problem that concerns many people is the continuing danger of piracy, in particular, in the Gulf of Guinea. We have experience in fighting piracy near the Somali coast that has been effective. A contact group was organised to coordinate Russian, Chinese, Indian and Western navy efforts in this area. This generally helped resolve the piracy problem near the Somali coast. I think this experience could be instrumental in fighting the similar problem in the Gulf of Guinea.
Regarding the continuing conflicts in Africa, I believe that Russia is making a significant contribution to promoting a settlement to these issues primarily by drawing a principled line that the African countries themselves should forge solutions, as I have mentioned many times, and the international community, while avoiding implications reminiscent of colonialism, should help the Africans with approaches developed by the conflicting parties themselves with intermediaries from various African sub-regional organisations or the African Union.
Second, we have stepped up our assistance for Africans in training personnel both in civilian specialties - the total number of grants for Africa is increased every year - and in specialties including cooperation between law enforcement authorities and security services.
Our military academies also train many cadets from the African countries, helping them strengthen the efficiency and defence potential of their armed forces.
As for economic cooperation, currently, the total volume of trade with Africa exceeds $20 billion. This may sound like a modest sum compared with China or some European countries, but please note that $20 billion last year is a substantial achievement for us. This is more than three times the trade volume for 2015. We agreed to maintain this momentum in every way we can.
In answer to the question of whether we intend to take our relations with Africa to a new level, I can say yes, we are planning for this. Moreover, a higher level is already taking shape. I am convinced that the summit, which is to take place in Sochi on October 24 this year, will become a landmark in developing and diversifying our partnerships in Africa.
Question: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, your US counterpart, said in his latest Fox News interview that the close Russia-Iran cooperation in Syria had aggravated the refugee problem in the country. In addition to this, he described this as a consequence of Russia’s refusal to withdraw from the JCPOA after the US example. How would you comment on these claims?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t quite see the connection between the refugee problem and the US withdrawal from the JCPOA. Let me note that no one but the United States itself has left the Plan. This is why I find it hard to say why Mike Pompeo decided to formulate the ideas that came into his head at that moment in this way. Perhaps you should better ask him.
As for the problem of refugees, who, as it follows from Mr Pompeo’s statement you have just quoted, have become much more active in leaving Syria on account of Russian and Iranian actions, I cannot understand the where from of Mike Pompeo’s information. According to our data, over 310,000 refugees have returned back to Syria from abroad alone since July 2018, including over 100,000 from Lebanon and 210,000 from Jordan, this not counting the internally displaced persons, who are also returning back to their homes.
This process continues day in day out. Each morning, I look through the data published by the Russian Centre for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in the Syrian Arab Republic. They put out a detailed information bulletin on a daily basis, covering all matters related to the return of refugees. More than one thousand persons return every single day, and this figure is constantly on the rise.
Incidentally, the bulletin contains both statistics on returning refugees as well as updates on the Russian party’s moves to support the Syrian government in creating the necessary conditions for people to return. The Syrian government restores water and electricity supplies and provides elementary social and educational services. This is what we are calling on our Western partners to do, if they are concerned with the fate of the Syrian refugees present in neighbouring countries of the region and in some European states. We are calling on them to provide normal conditions for people to return back home. So far, as you may know, the US and the European Union maintain an extreme, ideology-driven stance and are unwilling to invest in projects on territories controlled by the legitimate Syrian government. At the same time, they are trying in every way to organise the territories on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, which are controlled by the US-supervised opposition and the US “anti-ISIS” coalition allies.
I would like to advise our colleagues in Washington that they stop inventing some nonexistent facts like the one that the refugees continue to leave Syria, although in reality it is the other way around, and concentrate on the problems created by their own presence. Sharp contradictions are building up between the Kurds and the Arab tribes on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, where the Americans wish to establish a Kurdish quasi-state entity. The Arabs have lived in these lands for centuries but it is there that the Americans are bringing Kurds and Kurdish structures. This is a serious matter and it needs a response, because the Kurdish problem cannot be treated as lightly as that. It must be addressed in a highly responsible manner. So far, we do not see a responsible approach on the part of the Americans.
The position that the US and its closest allies hold in relation to what is going on in Idlib is another source of grave concern. They are constantly trying to foment tension and they are demanding that Russia and Turkey refrain from implementing the memorandum on uprooting the terrorist threat in Idlib they have signed. All of this is highly reminiscent of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, which included a negative element implying that everyone should do whatever is possible to spare Jabhat al-Nusra. We are witnessing the same thing in relation to Idlib. We have grounds to believe that this policy reflects the US wish to preserve Jabhat al-Nusra, helping it shed the image of a terrorist organisation and join the political process as one of its participants. But this is a time bomb.
The US has repeatedly attempted to use terrorists in order to achieve its political and time-serving geopolitical goals. This is how Al Qaeda emerged after the Afghan events and ISIS after the US invasion in Iraq. In the Syrian context, Al Qaeda has partly blended in with Jabhat al-Nusra that keeps changing its names, but its essence is unchanged. I hope that our US colleagues will draw the right conclusions from their sad geopolitical engineering experience in that region.
Question: Can we consider the latest statement by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini that there is no alternative to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran, and also about the intention to develop the INSTEX payment system to sidestep US sanctions the first step in saving the Iranian nuclear deal? Will Washington’s pressure result in ultimate failure?
Sergey Lavrov: There is no alternative to the JCPOA. I don’t think anyone doubts this. That our US colleagues have a different opinion does not change this fact and life’s realities. Actually the whole world considers the plan to be the most important achievement in the last decade in terms of the non-proliferation regime. It is very dangerous to destroy this agreement. We are doing everything we can to prevent this.
Incidentally, when the US banned the purchase of Iranian oil and low-grade uranium and heavy water exports in excess of the limits established by the JCPOA, and Iran responded that it would insist on withdrawing some of its voluntary obligations, which is in keeping with the verification mechanisms of the JCPOA, the US demanded that Iran go back to meeting its commitments on the JCPOA. Israel also made similar statements. But if the US and Israel, after announcing that the JCPOA was a bad plan, now demand that Iran meet its commitments under the JCPOA, they are basically acknowledging the legitimacy of the plan. So, before making any statements on the part of the US and its supporters, it is necessary to determine their position. If it is a bad deal and the US does not intend to follow it, then the deal does not exist and no one can invoke any part of it. But if they demand that Iran follow it, then the US recognises its relevance and legitimacy.
It is important for our European colleagues as well to take a clear position on this. Yes, they say they intend to save the deal, but they are saying this primarily to Iran. In a situation where the US does not do anything and forbids others to cooperate with Iran, and the EU does not meet its obligations in full, it is unreasonable to expect Iran to save the situation by itself.
The European Union made the right move when it launched INSTEX, a system for money transaction services. Regrettably, INSTEX can only be used for humanitarian supplies so far, such as food and medications, which the US does not ban anyway.
Two days ago I met with EU Ambassador to Russia Markus Ederer. Several million dollars in transactions have come through this system so far.
This is nothing compared to the obligations undertaken by Iran’s partners under the JCPOA. They involve unrestricted purchases of Iranian oil and the unrestricted transfer of payments for oil.
I hear that our European colleagues are saying that their conscience is clear, that they have done all they can and now Russia and China should persuade Iran to maintain its obligations. According to the agreement, Iran is to enrich uranium only to a certain level and keep the stock on its territory under 300 kilograms. As for excess volume, Iran had the right to export it and this took place until recently. This was the key point of the agreement because Iran wanted to guarantee its right to uranium enrichment technology. This is an inalienable right of any signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The fact that it was made part of the agreement was a key element in the compromise. When the US in fact forbids everyone from following the UN Security Council’s resolution, it is unfair to point a finger at Iran and say that everything depends on you now, while they have launched the INSTEX mechanism and can relax.
We are continuing our dialogue with the EU three, our Chinese friends and Iran. We are planning to call a joint commission of JCPOA participants, without the US, of course. We will aim at finding real and not symbolic ways to provide Iran with economic benefits that are an integral part of this, as it is commonly called now, deal.