Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Government of National Unity of Libya, Najla Mangoush, Moscow, August 19, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are delighted to welcome the Libyan delegation led by Madam Mangoush, the first woman in the history of the Libyan state to hold the post of Foreign Minister.
We have agreed that the relations between the two countries go deep into history and have always been based on friendliness, mutual interest, sympathies between our peoples and consistent cooperation, both bilaterally and in the international arena. Today’s talks have confirmed our general commitment to preserve continuity in these friendly ties.
We have discussed the need to resume economic projects that were suspended 10 years ago after NATO launched an aggression against Libya and destroyed the Libyan state. In this respect, we placed special emphasis on reinstating the Russian-Libyan intergovernmental commission on trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation with the involvement of major companies such as Gazprom Neft, Tatneft and Russian Railways. These companies had been developing mutually beneficial projects with their Libyan partners until 2011.
Naturally, to fully restore economic ties for our countries’ mutual benefit, it is extremely important to consolidate the positive steps taken since last autumn to advance the peace process and to complete these processes by reaching an agreement between all Libyans on the unification of official agencies, and state institutions responsible for the economy and finance, the social sphere, and defence and security.
We have reaffirmed Russia’s support for the decisions made by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, including the decisions made at its August 15, 2021 meeting, such as the need to withdraw all foreign military personnel without exception from Libya’s territory.
Our Libyan friends informed us about their progress in the implementation of the political agreements. These agreements include preparations for a general election to be held at the end of December 2021.
We agree with our Libyan colleagues on the need to accelerate the development of the legislative framework for the electoral process, so that it can be approved by the parliament as soon as possible.
We also agreed to continue to expand contacts between the foreign ministries and to exchange assessments of the crises and conflicts that persist in the Middle East and North Africa. We used to have a useful dialogue in previous years and both sides are eager to resume it.
I am confident that Madam Minister and her delegation’s visit will contribute to the advancement of our cooperation in all the fields that have been mentioned and in others. We would also be happy to resume educational, humanitarian and cultural contacts.
Question: Is Moscow ready to work with the Taliban now that it controls almost all Afghan territory? Can we help achieve stability and security in Afghanistan in cooperation with the neighbouring countries?
Sergey Lavrov: The Taliban does not yet control the entire territory of Afghanistan. There are reports about the situation in the Panjshir Gorge, where the resistance forces led by Vice President Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud are now concentrated. This makes our position even more consistent.
In a situation where the entire nation of Afghanistan was in the grips of a civil war, we advocated the need for an urgent transition to a nationwide dialogue with the participation of all opposing Afghan forces and ethnic and religious groups in that country. Likewise, now that the Taliban have in fact taken power in Kabul and most other cities and provinces, we advocate a national dialogue that will make it possible to form a representative government which, with the support of the Afghan public, will proceed to develop the final arrangements for this multi-ethnic country.
What’s our take on this? In recent years, within the framework of the “expanded troika” (Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan) and in the Moscow format, which is generally recognised as the most effective mechanism for promoting external support for an Afghan settlement, we pushed for an early start to these talks. The government and the president of Afghanistan, who were bound by corresponding agreements, were not in a hurry to act on them. What happened, happened. When politicians are unable to work effectively, the temptation to resort to a military solution mounts. In any case, what we are now faced with absolutely confirms our consistent policy for creating the right external conditions and providing every support for a nationwide dialogue in Afghanistan.
I’m convinced that the Moscow format has the best chance to succeed since the situation has already taken on a region-wide dimension, and neighbouring countries and countries located further away from Afghanistan are responding to it. As a reminder, all five Central Asian states (China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia and the United States) and the conflicting parties are participating in the Moscow format. No official proposals have been made so far. However, the effectiveness of this “backup group” behind the Afghan talks has invariably been recognised by everyone. We stand ready to resume the Moscow format, if needed.
We welcomed the Taliban saying they want to start a dialogue with other political forces in Afghanistan. A meeting with the participation of Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah, former President Hamid Karzai and leader of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been announced. We operate on the premise that all members of this group said they were willing to meet and negotiate in the interests of the Afghan people. We will encourage these processes in every possible way and strive to translate these intentions into concrete actions.
Question (addressed to Najla Mangoush): What is the status of implementing the agreement on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Libya, since Turkey is reluctant to discuss this issue, and the other parties refuse to even recognise their presence in Libya?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Najla Mangoush): I would not assert that Turkey refuses to discuss this and the other parties do not recognise their presence. This issue came up at the Berlin 2 conference and is included in the final document. Indeed, Turkey made some statements that are open to interpretations, but they didn’t affect the Berlin Conference’s decisions. Moreover, on August 15, the 5+5 Joint Military Commission has clearly reiterated the goal of withdrawing all foreign armed groups without exception, regardless of their status.
At one point, when the fighting was still on, one side – the government in Tripoli – requested military assistance in one part of the region. The second, no less legitimate side, the parliament in Tobruk, requested military assistance from other sources. Because the balance of military efforts, including the efforts of the parties themselves and those who helped them, was kept “on the ground,” it was possible to reach an agreement on a ceasefire, which has remained in effect for more than a year now.
The withdrawal of these troops – this must take place no matter what – must be organised, as Madam Mangoush mentioned, in a step-by-step fashion and take place concurrently without creating an advantage for anyone’s side at any step. This is the most important thing, not the attempts to divert the discussion towards discussing certain players’ legitimacy or lack of it.
The Libyan Foreign Minister informed us that the Libyan leadership is now working to develop an advisory mechanism, which will be used to articulate specific variables for implementing the decision to withdraw all foreign military personnel. We stand ready to constructively participate in this work alongside other countries.