Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Moscow, December 14, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
My colleague and friend, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and I have held talks, which, as always, were productive and thorough. We covered the entire spectrum of bilateral relations, as well as regional and international matters. President Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan defined our relations as a strategic partnership during the summit that took place in Moscow in 2018. Last autumn, during President Putin’s state visit, the commitment to fill it with concrete content in all areas was reiterated.
We are doing quite well in our economic relations with trade growing by over 60 percent in the first nine months of 2020 to over $2 billion. The Intergovernmental Russia-UAE Commission on Trade, Economic and Technical Cooperation is operational, and ties between the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Emirati Mubadala Investment Company are getting stronger. Our respective energy departments are closely interacting within the OPEC+ group and the Gas Exporting Countries Forum. Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan will discuss these matters in more detail with Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov and Minister of Industry and Trade Dmitry Manturov.
Our cooperation in the high-tech sector, in particular, the peaceful use of outer space, is deepening. On December 2, our Soyuz carrier rocket put into orbit another UAE remote sensing satellite.
Our cooperation in combatting the coronavirus infection is expanding. The third phase of clinical trials of the Sputnik V vaccine has begun in the United Arab Emirates, and the possibility of its licensed production is under discussion.
We reviewed in detail the international and regional agenda, including the situation in the Middle East and North Africa. We have similar or overlapping positions on most of the problems there. From this angle, we discussed the situation in Libya and Yemen, as well as the Syrian and Middle East settlements based on the current relations between Palestine and Israel, and also exchanged views on the prospects for strengthening security in the Gulf.
We agreed to continue to cooperate and coordinate our actions in the UN, primarily, to mobilise the international community to form a truly universal front against terrorism. We will focus on a number of specific ideas in this regard. Just like Russia, the UAE pays special attention to fighting terrorist extremist ideology and countering the mentality of hatred and any manifestations of discrimination or extremism. I believe the talks were quite productive in terms of promoting our strategic partnership and giving it substance.
Question (addressed to both ministers): Security issues in the Persian Gulf were discussed during the talks. How do you see the situation? What are the results of cooperation in the region?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia has long raised the issue of the need to normalise the situation in the Persian Gulf. Many years ago we suggested that the coastal countries together with 'external support' think about the principles that could become the basis for confidence-building measures and gradually forming collective security in the region. We updated this concept recently. Last autumn, a meeting of political analysts and representatives from the expert community was held with the participation of delegations from the relevant countries, where the concept was discussed and, on the whole, received a positive response. We believe that in the current circumstances, also including the crisis over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme, as well as attempts to replace it with something else, contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 2231, the relevance of efforts in this area is becoming more significant.
We have repeatedly discussed the Russian initiative at meetings with the foreign ministers of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. We understand the difficulties that exist between some Arab countries in the region and the Islamic Republic of Iran. We are ready to help create conditions for starting a dialogue.
In order for the coastal countries to feel comfortable in the framework of the proposed dialogue, the Russian initiative also envisages its support by external players, including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the League of Arab States (LAS), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the European Union. Our proposals remain on the table. We are ready to discuss specific details and the subtle aspects of their implementation.
Question (addressed to both ministers): A report by the Pentagon Inspector General, which was released two weeks ago, says that the UAE may be providing funds to the Wagner Group fighting in Libya. Is it true that the UAE is funding the Wagner Group’s presence, or any other form of Russian presence, for that matter, in Libya?
Sergey Lavrov (answers after Abdullah Al Nahyan): We have repeatedly commented on various reports and news items regarding the Russian Federation’s moves to resolve the Libyan crisis. Our position is well known. All we are doing jointly with other external players, including our partners from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and some other countries, is intended to launch a negotiating, political process, involving all of the country’s major forces and historical regions. It is important that all participants in the process are really authorised to represent their respective political groups and regions, instead of being artificially picked by someone from the outside.
With this in mind, we have maintained contact with all Libyan parties [to the conflict] since the crisis broke out, encouraging them to engage in a national dialogue and to refuse to regard the use of force as a solution to resolving the problem in question. We have always promoted our view that the Libyans and their country’s neighbours must be invited to any international event focused on the Libyan issue. It was us who ensured that this format was finally chosen for the Berlin Conference, which took place last January, when initially the organisers did not even think of inviting the Libyans or their neighbours.
Our shared objective is to restore Libya’s statehood, which was wantonly destroyed in violation of international law in 2011. First, despite the already existing weapons embargo on Libya, our NATO colleagues actively supplied weapons to extremists and terrorists, seeking to use them to topple Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and later NATO launched an aggression against this sovereign state, a UN member, the implications of which we all have to deal with now. It is important to remember what caused the crisis in Libya.
Question: Israel has recently normalised relations with more Arab countries. Do you think this can help stabilise the situation in the Persian Gulf, considering Iran’s concerns?
Sergey Lavrov: When it comes to the Palestinian problem, we believe, and we share this opinion with the UAE, that the normalisation of Israel’s relations with Arab countries is gathering momentum. Overall, this is a positive factor, which is helping settle old differences and establish channels of civilised interaction based on law. When we put forth Russia’s official position regarding this process, we always point out that it must not overshadow, let alone bury the Palestinian problem, which must be settled on the basis of UN decisions and must stipulate the establishment of a Palestinian state, which will coexist with the state of Israel in peace and security. Mr Minister has reaffirmed again that this is also the position of the United Arab Emirates.
The international community should help relaunch direct talks between Palestine and Israel. Russia proposed on numerous occasions resuming the efforts of the quartet of international mediators, which comprises Russia, the United States, the UN and the EU. And we have been saying for many years now that the efforts of the quartet must also involve a representative of the Arab League.
Today we noted the recent establishment of one more quartet, the quartet of Arab countries, which includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan. I believe, and Mr Minister shares this view, that the efforts of the international and Arab quartets should be integrated to coordinate conditions for the resumption of direct Palestinian-Israeli talks.
The ultimate goal is overall normalisation in the region, the establishment of a Palestinian state and of Israel’s relations with all countries in that part of the world as stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative. I would like to remind you that this initiative was not just approved by the Arab League but also supported by the OIC. Moving towards this goal is our common task.