Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answer to a question on the outcome of his talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council, Vienna, December 7, 2017
Question: Could you comment on your meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson?
Sergey Lavrov: The meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fairly concrete and long – about an hour. We paid particular attention to the implementation of the agreements sealed in the statement by the Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump issued in Danang on the sidelines of the APEC summit. In particular, we discussed the contacts between our foreign policy departments, the military on the ground, and raised some issues that need to be clarified in terms of what is going on. We agreed on the need to prevent any actions that would put into question or threaten our shared commitment to Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
We discussed the political process under the UN aegis which was reinvigorated after the start of the Astana process and more recently has been given a push by the initiatives put forward in Sochi at the trilateral summit of the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey. We welcomed the resumption of the Geneva talks but expressed our conviction that the Government and the opposition should take part in them without any preliminary conditions. This was stressed and reaffirmed when this round was resumed by UN Secretary -General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. But unfortunately, some members of the opposition have taken a stand that runs counter to their own obligations and have put forward preliminary conditions. We fully agree on this point with the Americans that there must be no preconditions. Direct negotiations should begin on the preparation of a new constitution and on holding elections.
We have briefed US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the progress in the preparation for the Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue, which would involve broad representation of the opposition circles and the tribes living in Syria. In the framework of this dialogue we will try to help to initiate a constitutional reform and a discussion of practical aspects of the holding of future elections under UN supervision.
Another topic we discussed was Ukraine. On that issue we have still less common ground, although Russia and the US have many differences on Syria as well. We discussed them, and the topic was also discussed by our military. On Ukraine, we explained that there was no alternative to the Minsk Agreements. We have asked the American side to reaffirm that this remains their position as well. I hope that the confirmation does reflect the current state of affairs in Washington.
We are concerned about the attempts to turn on its head our initiative on sending UN guards to ensure the security of the OSCE mission. The initiative fits in a hundred per cent with the spirit and letter of the Vienna agreements. Our initiative would have UN guards follow the OSCE observers whenever they work and wherever they go. What we heard from US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker is something entirely different. His approach is that without getting over-focused on the issues of the special status for Donbass, amnesty, preparation for elections through direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, an immediate introduction should begin of what amounts to a UN administration which would oversee everything that happens in the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR. Obviously, in this case there can be no question of any Minsk process because its core is precisely direct negotiations and reaching agreements on all the aspects I have mentioned.
We have drawn attention to the fact that it would be very wrong to send signals of this kind to the Ukrainians because it would reinforce their feeling that they could ignore their obligations and drift away from the Minsk Agreements. In fact some government members have said publicly that they can solve the problem by military means. We called on Washington to stop such provocations.
We discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Our position there is unchanged. We are convinced that the vicious spiral of confrontation, recklessness and provocations must be stopped. We have explained how we see the opportunities for implementing the Russia-China roadmap to defuse tensions and create conditions for starting negotiations in any format acceptable to the countries immediately concerned. We are aware that North Korea wants first and foremost to talk with the US on guarantees of its security. We are ready to support and take part in assisting such negotiations. We have brought this message home to our US counterpart, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
We have confirmed the usefulness of contacts over Afghanistan between the representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the State Department. There were contacts in September and again in December. Here, too, there is a need to understand better who wants what. We were somewhat alarmed by Washington’s announcement of a new strategy which basically envisages the use of force to resolve the Afghan crisis. This is not a realistic approach. We have discussed it. We have agreed that our representatives would continue to be in contact and compare their approaches and of course cooperate with the other countries involved in the Afghan settlement.
We have asked for an explanation of the rationale for the decisions to move the eventual US Embassy in Israel from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. We have asked what consequences they expect that move to have for the efforts being made under the UN auspices, in the framework of the international Quartet of mediators. We have many questions. We have drawn attention to the fears expressed by Arab and Muslim countries in general, the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation that this may undermine and even put paid to the negotiations on a two-state solution when the State of Israel and the State of Palestine would live a secure full life side by side. All this is reflected in the UN General Assembly and UNSC resolutions which may now be under test.
We have agreed to continue contacts at the level of our experts in order to better understand the American approach (there are some aspects that remain to be clarified) and how to work within the Quartet of international mediators (Russia, the US, the UN and the European Union).
We have of course reminded out counterparts of all the issues on our bilateral agenda that damage our relations. We stressed again that cooperation on international issues that are of concern to the Americans is stymied by the continuing persistent, consistent and conscious attempts to destroy bilateral relations.
We have agreed that our deputies will continue contacts on this topic although the last two or three rounds have drawn a blank, as well as contacts on strategic stability of the treaties between us on strategic offensive arms reductions, medium- and shorter-range missiles and the issues arising over the Treaty on Open Skies.