Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabriel Ashkenazi, Moscow, March 17, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to have held an in-person meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabriel Ashkenazi during his first visit to Russia in this capacity. Before that, we met on the sidelines of international forums and have spoken by telephone.
It was important to fully review our bilateral relations, exchange assessments of the regional situation and international relations, in general. We believe that Russian-Israeli bilateral ties are making progress in accordance with the agreements reached between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We agreed to hold a meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, the coronavirus situation permitting.
We reiterated our commitment to promote interaction across all areas, including the economy, culture, science and education. Steady contacts have been established between the defence ministries. Russia and Israel have consistently opposed the increasingly frequent attempts to rewrite the history of WWII, to glorify Nazi war criminals and to revive neo-Nazism. We emphasised the importance of our acting jointly with the overwhelming majority of other countries in adopting the related annual resolution by the UN General Assembly.
We coordinated our approaches on current regional matters, focusing on relations between the Arab countries and Israel. Moscow welcomes the normalisation of Israel's relations with a number of Arab states and believes this should help advance a comprehensive settlement in the region, including the long-standing Palestinian problem. I reiterated Russia's commitment to further facilitate the direct dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians based on the existing international legal framework, which provides for the creation of a Palestinian state that would coexist in peace and security with Israel and other countries in the region.
With regard to Syria, we have an overlapping position on the need for a political settlement based on the principles laid down in UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We declared our principled support for Syria’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, and the Syrians’ legitimate right to decide on their own future without outside interference. We updated our Israeli friends on Russia’s activities as part of the Astana format and other channels in order to help overcome various aspects of the Syria crisis. We focused particularly on stepping up the Constitutional Committee’s activities and shared our steps designed to make the upcoming 6th meeting of the Constitutional Committee’s drafting committee productive. We also spoke about the need to help overcome the humanitarian crisis in Syria, where the infrastructure has been destroyed and the people are suffering badly in the wake of crippling sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries.
We discussed the situation in the Gulf, as well as the ongoing efforts to fully restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and to resolve the situation related to the Iranian nuclear programme. We also focused on ways to establish an inclusive, mutually respectful and a specific talks-oriented process on other matters of concern for the countries in the region. We mentioned Russia’s initiative to form a collective security system in the Gulf region with the potential to include neighbouring countries.
I believe we had productive talks. We appreciate mutual trust in our contacts with our Israeli colleagues on all matters on the bilateral and multilateral agendas. My colleague and friend invited me to visit Israel, which I will do with pleasure.
Question: The small body of the Constitutional Committee will soon hold its sixth session. Can we expect any kind of breakthrough as distinct from previous sessions? Does Moscow support UN Secretary-General Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen’s initiative to expand the number of participating countries so as to expedite the settlement of the issues in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: Along with our partners in the Astana format, we are working to ensure results at yet another session of the Constitutional Committee’s small body. There are grounds to hope for progress, that the small body will manage to establish direct contact between the key delegations in the Constitutional Committee format – the government’s and the opposition’s.
The groups in the small body are already exchanging considerations, in writing, during preparations for this session. This will create conditions for more productive discussions at the upcoming session. We hope Mr Pedersen will soon announce the dates of this session. We believe it should be held in late March or early April, before the holy month of Ramadan.
Mr Pedersen suggested expanding the range of mediators as well. He proposed bringing together the participants in the Astana format and the so-called Small Group on Syria that includes the leading Western countries and three Arab states. We are willing to look for any way to create external conditions that will allow the Syrians to decide their destiny themselves in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
If Mr Pedersen is seriously promoting this approach, it should be put on paper conceptually. The Astana format is firmly committed to the principles of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, including the need to allow the Syrians to come to terms themselves, to prevent interference in their internal affairs, curtail any encroachment on Syria’s territorial integrity, and to counter separatism, to name a few. We do not simply support these principles in the Astana format but are guided by them.
I don’t know whether the participants in the Small Group on Syria, whom Mr Pedersen wants to involve in this work, share the same approach. Moreover, I have never seen a written description of their positions. The Western countries (the US, Germany, Britain and France) show in their regular actions that these principles do not suit them. At this point, we need to determine on which foundation Mr Pedersen wants to pursue the new format. I would like to emphasise that we will only accept a foundation that is clearly based on a commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
Question: Gabriel Ashkenazi talked about Israel's response to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which said it was an independent organisation and was not going to politicise this issue. What can you say about this?
Sergey Lavrov: We have a negative impression of this body. This is our principled and consistent position. When the ICC was created, we hoped it would be an independent and professional judicial body with the potential to eventually become a universal body. In reality, it turned out to be the other way round.
The ICC has not lived up to our expectations. It has repeatedly demonstrated a political bias, a lack of professionalism or understanding of certain rules of international law, made mistakes in using them and, contrary to the Rome Statute provisions, unjustifiably tried to expand its competence by invading spheres that are beyond its terms of reference. All of that is further aggravated by its low efficiency and high operating costs. This also needs to be accounted for. Not only Russia, but many other countries justifiably criticised the ICC. Its activities are taken with much pain by a number of African countries.
When the UN Security Council transferred a number of cases to the ICC (in particular, on Libya and Sudan), the court performed poorly and once again proved its lack of professionalism. It is not surprising that any hope of seeing this body grow into a universal body quickly vanished. Russia has refused to participate in this and has revoked its signature under statute. Israel did so even earlier. China, India and many other states are not part of the ICC. Even the countries that are parties to the Rome Statute recognise the systemic problems plaguing ICC functions.
Unfortunately, the ICC has discredited itself and the mission that was entrusted to it. Any action taken in The Hague must be viewed through this lens and in light of the court's tarnished reputation.