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30 October 201901:08

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu following trilateral talks on Syria, Geneva, October 29, 2019

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We have met today ahead of a highly significant event.  I am referring to a meeting of the Constitutional Committee, which is scheduled to be held tomorrow. We have held a trilateral meeting with my Iranian and Turkish colleagues and then we had a detailed discussion with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen. Naturally, the main subject of these events was the upcoming meeting of the Constitutional Committee.

As you know, the decision to create this committee was taken by the Syrians themselves at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi in January 2018 at the initiative of the three states of the Astana process, whose representatives are here today. Since then, we covered a long and windy path towards the main event that will be held tomorrow, the start of direct intra-Syrian talks. In our opinion, this is a great victory that we achieved together. Most importantly, it is an accomplishment of the Syrian people. I would like to emphasise that this is not an accomplishment of any of the Syrian sides, but of the Syrian people as a whole, including the Government, the opposition and all Syrians.

We pointed out that the main goal is to ensure the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, especially when it comes to facilitating the political process, which will be implemented by the Syrians themselves and will be their cause. All the external players should create the most favourable conditions possible for this process to proceed in the agreed manner, so that the Syrians find points of mutual agreement with the help of Special Envoy Geir Pedersen.

Of course, the Constitutional Committee cannot settle all the problems. The humanitarian problems of Syria must be dealt with simultaneously without any politicisation, discrimination and preconditions, and with support for the efforts to create conditions for the return of refugees and internally displaced people back home.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today we will distribute the text of the trilateral statement approved by the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran. This statement reaffirms our full commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, our resolve to root out terrorism in all its forms in Syria and our rejection of any separatist aspirations in that country.

In this statement, we also welcome the start of the operation of the Constitutional Committee. We point out that it is yet another proof that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict. We also express our support for this committee. We encourage the sides to come to an agreement and support the efforts of Special Envoy Geir Pedersen to facilitate this process.

We hope that the Constitutional Committee members will be driven by a desire to reach a compromise and to interact constructively and will not be subjected to external interference. This committee should not have any artificial deadlines imposed from outside. Its activities should be aimed at achieving general and broad-based accord.

In closing, our statement emphasises the importance of overcoming humanitarian challenges throughout Syria. This is crucial. We emphasise the need to create proper conditions for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.

I would like to sincerely thank my colleagues for their ongoing cooperation in the Astana format. We agreed to continue to work vigorously in cooperation with all the Syrian parties in the interests of restoring durable and long-term stabilisation on the ground, eliminating the remaining hotbeds of terrorism, improving the humanitarian situation and, of course, making progress in the political process.

Question (addressed to Sergey Lavrov): How does Russia feel about what’s happening on the Syria-Turkey border and the fact that the United States still has its troops deployed near the oil rigs? Russia has been saying from day one that the US presence in Syria is illegitimate, but now the Americans are talking about their economic interests in a destroyed country. Is that appropriate?

Sergey Lavrov: With regard to US actions in Syria, of course, they run counter to international law. The United States and members of the US-led coalition have no legal grounds to be in Syria. They are there against the position of the legitimate Syrian government. A couple of days after it had been announced that all the US troops would withdraw from Syria, it was stated that they would stay there.

Even the troops withdrawn to Iraq started returning back to Syria under the pretext of protecting oil fields from ISIS. I think this is just an excuse, all the more so as the US leaders publicly announced in March that ISIS was defeated and completely destroyed. But if you take a principled approach to the situation, then, of course, this is an illegal action. The expert community in the United States is discussing ways to evaluate the current developments. Experts are expressing an opinion which we absolutely share. They are citing the rulings made by international courts on similar cases. According to these rulings, illegal exploitation of natural resources of a sovereign state without its consent is illegal. We operate on this premise. Our US colleagues are well aware of our position. We will uphold it.

Question (retranslated from English): UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen has repeatedly stated that there are five armies in Syria. This makes the political process more complex. The United States is withdrawing its troops. I would like to find out when Turkey, Russia and Iran will withdraw their troops from Syria?

Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Mohammad Javad Zarif): Also, the Sochi accords both on Idlib a year ago and the agreements reached on October 22 about the Syria-Turkey border were approved by Damascus, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in person and, in fact, the Kurds as well. So, we believe that the activities we are talking about are aimed at achieving peace and ultimately ensuring Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. I can’t recall similar assessments regarding the actions taken by the US-created coalition. Yes, we have to work with who’s available on the ground. The “deconflicting” is real and the military are in contact. But I don’t think that the presence which was mentioned by my colleagues and, even more so, the presence regulated by the agreements, including the Sochi agreements, can be compared with illegal presence of the coalition and, especially, arrogant statements that this presence is allegedly required to protect Syria’s oil riches. It turns out that they are protecting them against Syria itself.

Frankly speaking, I have not heard Geir Pedersen complain about the presence of five armies in Syria as the main obstacle to his efforts. At least, he never let us know about this.

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