Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Moscow, October 4, 2021
We have had very good talks. Both sides are pleased with the high level and quality of our bilateral relations. They are developing successfully and consistently in accordance with the Agreement on Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation signed between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of the Arab Republic of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which came into force in January 2021. We are interested in building up our multifaceted interaction in all spheres. We pointed out the importance of active collaboration between all concerned ministries and agencies, including foreign ministries. We welcomed the dialogue between our defence ministries and security councils and noted the positive effects of regular meetings between our foreign and defence ministers in the 2+2 format. We have agreed to make arrangements to hold the next such meeting early next year.
Our trade and economic ties are developing steadily. Despite a certain decline in mutual trade last year, the growth trend resumed early this year. We agree that the restoration of positive growth will be promoted by the full-scale resumption of flights between Russian cities and the Egyptian Red Sea resorts in August 2021.
We talked about the importance of large joint investment projects, namely the construction of the El Dabaa nuclear power plant and the establishment of a Russian industrial zone in Egypt. The Joint Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation is playing an important role in boosting our business cooperation. During the latest meeting held in June this year, the commission’s co-chairs – our ministers of industry and trade – mapped out practical ways to deepen our interaction and expand mutual trade.
We talked at length about a number of current issues. Our countries are committed to the central role of the UN and to respect for the norms of international law during the settlement of existing crises and conflicts, including in the Middle East and Africa. We have agreed to continue our close interaction on issues on the agenda of the UN and other multilateral forums.
We exchanged views on the developments in Libya and on what the external players, including Egypt and Russia, can do to help implement the agreements reached in Geneva a year ago, in particular, to prepare for the national elections scheduled for December 24. We pointed out that the successful organisation of the election process depends on the establishment of a legal framework and on further efforts to incorporate government agencies and restore joint armed forces.
We discussed the withdrawal of all non-Libyan armed groups and military units from the country. Our position is clear: this should be done in stages and in a synchronised manner to avoid any risk of undermining the existing balance of power which has helped maintain a truce in Libya for more than a year now.
We reaffirmed the importance of the UN mission in supporting Libya’s progress toward a settlement and ensuring that the international community has a role on the ground.
We had quite a detailed conversation on the political settlement in Syria based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and emphasised the need to preserve the Syrian Arab Republic’s (SAR’s) unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty, and that encouraging separatist trends is unacceptable. We noted that it was especially important at the present stage to provide effective assistance to the Syrians in overcoming the consequences of an armed conflict that has been dragging on for many years. We spoke out against attempts to politicise humanitarian aid, including efforts to help refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes as soon as possible.
We share the view that there is no alternative to the universally recognised international legal framework of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that only direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians can bring about a comprehensive solution to all matters relating to the final status. Talks to this effect have our full support and encouragement. We stand for a revival of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators, working in close cooperation with the Arab League. Just like Egypt, Russia has done much to help the Palestinians restore unity and to promote intra-Palestinian contacts.
These were useful talks, reflecting the high level of our strategic cooperation.
Question: President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Sochi last week, but the situation around Idlib remains vague. Will anything be done to implement the Russia-Turkey agreements, especially with regard to anti-terrorist activities? When Russia talks about the withdrawal of foreign troops from Syria, mainly the American units, does this also imply the Turkish units in the northwest of the country? Ibrahim Kalın, the Turkish President’s representative, said Turkey has the right to be in Syria as long as Russia and the United States are there.
Sergey Lavrov: There is a terrorist threat in the Idlib de-escalation zone. It is even growing stronger in some areas, and we expressed concern over this today. Terrorist groups continue attacking Syrian army positions just beyond the Idlib de-escalation zone. Moreover, they are trying to act against the Russian troop contingent. Russia unequivocally confirms the need to implement the agreements between President Putin and President Erdogan on isolating the terrorists, primarily Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (no matter what new attire it might use), with the ultimate purpose of suppressing these terrorists groups. This is our approach. The sooner this is done the better. In practical terms, we will insist on the full implementation of these agreements.
As for the presence of foreign armed forces and military units in Syria, Resolution 2254 (which has not been cancelled by anyone) that was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council, explicitly reaffirms the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. In line with this resolution, only the armed forces of countries that are invited by the lawful government of the SAR, a UN member, have the right to be on Syrian territory. This applies to the American units. In addition to regular troops, there are numerous units of so-called private military companies. We need to bear this in mind as well.
As for Mr Kalin’s statements, I will recall the words of President Erdogan who has announced officially many times that the Syrian Arab Republic is an independent country and Turkey will fully respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. In terms of a final settlement, we will assume that this is Turkey’s position.
Question: The lower chamber of Japan’s legislature elected former Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to be Japan’s Prime Minister, by majority vote. The new Government lineup was approved today. How will the new Government affect the Moscow-Tokyo dialogue on the peace treaty?
Sergey Lavrov: We have not had time to discuss the situation in Japan with Mr Shoukry. It is too early to discuss how the new Government will affect anything at all. It has just been appointed, agreed upon and endorsed.
Moreover, as the new Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida announced that Japan will hold parliamentary elections in the near future. As I understand it, the new team is preparing for this. Once the permanent government is established, it will be possible to talk about the assessments of its foreign policy actions. But we must wait for the elections and the new government to be formed and also for an announcement of its political platform.
As for Mr Kishida, I worked with him when he was foreign minister; we had constructive and sincere relations.
I would like to add that it was during his work as Japanese Foreign Minister that we drafted a concept of joint economic activities on the southern Kuril Islands under instructions from the Russian President and the Japanese Prime Minister. We will have to wait and see to what extent we will be able to ensure the continuity of Russian-Japanese cooperation in this and other areas.