Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Moscow, January 14, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
We had substantive and meaningful talks. We discussed the further development of the friendly and trustworthy relations between our countries in accordance with the agreements reached during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Riyadh in the autumn of 2019, and subsequent telephone conversations at top level.
We have had decent growth in trade despite the pandemic-related aberrations of last year. From January to October 2020, trade grew by 6 percent, approaching $1.5 billion. This trend was facilitated by the work of the Joint Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic and Scientific Cooperation. Its co-chairmen – Energy Minister of Russia Alexander Novak and Energy Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Abdul Azis Bin Salman met in Riyadh in December 2020. They agreed to hold a full-fledged meeting of the commission in the first half of this year.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia maintain close cooperation. They have already invested $2.5 billion through their joint platform. At present, they are working on 12 projects in various areas.
We are cooperating with Saudi Arabia in countering the spread of COVID-19. We are studying the possibility of holding phase-3 clinical testing of the Sputnik V vaccine on Saudi territory and localising its production there.
We are coordinating our actions with Saudi Arabia in the world oil market, including within OPEC+. This has a stabilising impact on oil prices.
We are discussing specific projects in advanced areas such as outer space exploration and the atomic energy industry. We agreed to expedite the drafting of several documents that will strengthen our contractual foundation.
We are also cooperating in the Russian-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group that was set up by Russia and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) several years ago. The group holds annual meetings. Our Saudi friends proposed holding the next meeting in Saudi Arabia. We hope the circumstances will allow us to do this next autumn.
We discussed in detail the developments in the Middle East and North Africa. The potential for conflict remains there. We share the view on the need to take steps towards stabilisation in the region.
Russia welcomed the results of the summit of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), which was held in the Saudi city of AlUla on January 5, 2021. We believe the decisions of this summit will help create conditions for promoting the initiative on a collective security system in the Gulf, in part, with consideration for Russia’s proposals.
We spoke in detail about settlement in Syria, primarily the need to fulfil UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We told our partners about Russia’s efforts in the Astana format and in Geneva that hosts the ongoing talks of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.
We support the UN’s efforts for a genuine inclusive intra-Libyan dialogue involving all regions and political forces of the country. The protracted delay in appointing a new UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya hampered the process. This matter will be resolved within the next few days. We expect it to enable our UN colleagues to act more constructively.
We welcomed the recent statements on establishing a new government in Yemen involving representatives of the Southern Transitional Council and other political forces and praised the intermediary role played by Saudi Arabia.
We likewise welcome the UN’s efforts aimed at initiating a constructive dialogue with the Ansar Allah Houthi movement. We noticed that there are those who would like to disrupt this process. I mean the missile attack on Aden Airport at a time when the plane carrying new Cabinet members of the Yemen Arab Republic landed there on a flight from Riyadh on December 30, 2020. We insist on an unbiased and comprehensive investigation of this incident.
We share the opinion of Saudi Arabia that the challenges facing the region cannot be resolved in full unless the Palestinian issue is settled based on current international law, including the Arab Peace Initiative put forward by the King of Saudi Arabia.
We touched on other matters of concern in the region, specifically related to Iraq and Lebanon. We have agreed to continue consultations on all these issues. Our exchange of views and assessments helps us better build our policies on the key issues in the region.
We are satisfied with today’s talks. My gratitude goes to my colleague.
Question (translated from Arabic): What is Russia’s view on the role of Saudi Arabia in settling the problems in the Gulf area and what can Russia do to help reach stability in this sub-region?
Sergey Lavrov: As for restoring the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council, I believe all of its members deserve support. On the whole, we regard the results of the summit as very positive. I would like to emphasise that in addition to Kuwait, which actively promoted this initiative, Saudi Arabia also played a special role as the leading council member. It volunteered to host this summit. As you know, it took place in AlUla. This is an important step towards stabilising the Gulf area. Russia is not simply interested in this. We have promoted the concept of collective security in this region for many years. Of course, the decisions reached at the summit will promote conditions for serious, substantive discussions on these ideas and initiatives.
Question (translated from Arabic and addressed to both ministers): How will the listing of Ansar Allah as a terrorist organisation by the US Department of State affect the progress of the political process in Yemen? Will it make it more difficult? What is Saudi Arabia’s attitude to this decision?
Sergey Lavrov (adds after Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud): I would like the political process to avoid being damaged by this. But many experts, including UN representatives, fear that a negative effect may ensue. During the talks we welcomed the position of Saudi Arabia that favours genuine inclusiveness in the political process in Yemen, including Houthis and others.
Question (translated from Arabic and addressed to Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud): There are tensions in relations between the United States and Iran. Russia is supporting Iran. What does Saudi Arabia think about the role of this cooperation in stabilising the situation in the region?
Sergey Lavrov (adds after Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud): We are interested in a normal dialogue between Iran and the Arab countries in the Gulf. We want them to reach agreements on building trust and transparency in military affairs and on promoting cooperation in general. This is exactly the goal of our proposal to draft a security concept for the Gulf. The main task is to prevent attempts to undermine efforts to create an environment for this dialogue.
Unfortunately, our American colleagues (at least, the current administration) have been doing all they can to prevent this dialogue. Interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states and imposition of ideological concepts on these countries are unacceptable. Nobody should be doing that. We are seeing that in this region the United States and its closest allies behave like a bull in a china shop. Unfortunately, Iraq, Libya and the attempt to destroy Syria have had extremely negative repercussions for the countries and peoples of this region.
We discussed this in detail. I emphasised again that we understand the concerns of Saudi Arabia, including those linked with the developments around Iran. We realise that Saudi Arabia is worried about Tehran’s missile programme and its activities in various countries in the region. The conference that we suggest holding to discuss collective security in the Gulf may well embrace all these issues, as well as the concerns of the other participants, including Iran. The main thing is to build this dialogue on the foundation of genuine equality. All outside parties must help the sides reach a consensus rather than set them against each other.
In January, Foreign Minister of Iran Javad Zarif is expected to visit Moscow. We discussed this issue with him and will continue reviewing it in the context of our current exchange of views with Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.
Question: You talked about the conflict in Syria. Did you discuss the destiny of President of Syria Bashar al-Assad? What was the outcome of this? Do you have similar views on the US and Iranian presence in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: As for Syria, we and Saudi Arabia have much in common in our approaches to the key problems of settlement. Like our Saudi friends, we want the Syrians to determine their own approaches to national development and decide their destiny without outside interference. This also applies to the assessment of the presence of foreign troops on Syrian territory.
Another aspect that reaffirms our coinciding positions is the importance of Syria returning to the Arab League as soon as possible. We share this ultimate goal, but many problems will have to be resolved along the way and they are far from simple.
We cooperate with Saudi Arabia in supporting the Geneva negotiations in the framework of the Constitutional Committee and its commission to draft a constitution, which is supposed to hold the fifth session in late January. We confirmed the agreement that in our contacts with the delegations of the Syrian Government and the opposition we will motivate both to seek constructive work. We appreciate Saudi Arabia’s intention to help Syrian representatives in every possible way, including the opposition members on which Saudi Arabia has influence, to pursue a line towards reaching accord with the government delegation and the independent representatives in the Constitutional Committee.
I know this is a responsible approach that emphasises our common conviction that the Syrians themselves must decide on the destiny of their country.