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28 January 202014:57

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of South Sudan Awut Deng Acuil, Moscow, January 28, 2020

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Ladies and gentlemen,

We have had very good talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of South Sudan Awut Deng Acuil.

We met in Sochi last October, on the sidelines of the Russia–Africa Summit, held a bilateral meeting and signed a memorandum on consultations between our two countries’ foreign ministries.

Today we have discussed the prospects of bilateral cooperation, first of all with an emphasis on the development of its economic element. We have spoken about the prospects in energy, transport, infrastructure development and personnel training. Our South Sudanese friends showed their interest in establishing contacts in all these areas. The first contacts between our countries’ companies took place during the Russian Energy Week and the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, among other events. Based on those contacts, we came to share the opinion that it is necessary to expand them. We informed our colleagues about the Russian companies working in the oil and gas, infrastructure, railway and transport sectors that are ready to discuss possible mutually beneficial projects with our South Sudanese partners. We have agreed to promote direct contacts between our economic operators. We have also discussed ways of increasing the number of South Sudanese students at Russian universities. We can see our friends’ interest in this area of cooperation as well. We have been reassured that Russian companies that will go to South Sudan will find themselves in a comfortable work environment, including security and conditions on which they will negotiate with their partners. Back in 2016, we signed the Intergovernmental Agreement on Military Technical Cooperation, which is still effective. We have agreed to use this sphere of cooperation in order to strengthen security and military capability of South Sudan, of course only after the UN Security Council lifts its the restrictions on weapons trade with that country.

We have noted that the situation normalised in South Sudan thanks to the government’s policy to implement its agreements with the opposition, including the armed opposition. We believe that the UN Security Council should take this reality into account in its assessments and resolutions. The more active the normalisation is and the more sustainable these trends become, the more opportunities there will be to develop trade, economic, cultural and other cooperation. We welcomed the efforts of the international community and regional organisations that help promote the normalisation of the domestic political situation in South Sudan and stressed how important it was to implement the agreement signed by all South Sudanese parties in Addis Ababa back in 2018.

With regard to other issues on the international and regional agenda, we emphasised our readiness to further cooperate at the United Nations. We have the same approaches to the need to comply with all the norms and principles of the UN Charter, respecting sovereignty, independence and equality of all the UN member countries, resolving all problems exclusively by peaceful means and the unacceptability of the threat of force or use of force in violation of the UN Charter. We will coordinate our approaches to the issues on the UN agenda.

We have thanked our friends for their continued support of Russia’s main initiatives at the UN, including the new initiative first submitted for consideration to the UN General Assembly last autumn. I mean the resolution on strengthening and developing the system of agreements on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. This topic is crucial in the situation when the United States is trying to pull down this system and destroy the remaining multilateral tools that served as the base for the efforts to ensure strategic stability.

With regard to the African agenda, we have also reaffirmed our position of support for the Africans’ efforts to resolve their own problems. We share the view of the processes underway in Somalia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the entire Africa’s Great Lakes region. As a member of the UN Security Council, Russia will insist on respecting, first of all, the approaches developed by the African Union and sub-regional African organisations when discussing these and other conflicts in Africa.

We have also reaffirmed our readiness to promote the normalisation between South Sudan and Sudan. There are still issues to be addressed after these countries’ “divorce.” We support the countries’ search for mutually acceptable solutions that take into account the balance of interests.

We are very satisfied with the outcome of the talks, which will probable give a new boost to the development of our relations with this young African country.

Question: What are the reasons for the escalation in Idlib? What is the situation on the ground fraught with? What will happen with militants in this area?

Sergey Lavrov: These questions are regularly answered at briefings in the defence and foreign ministries. The militants that are almost fully controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (the organisation Jabhat al-Nusra turned into and whose cover it is using) regularly violate ceasefire agreements. A ceasefire was announced at the initiative of Russia and Turkey in early January. Since then, radicals in Idlib have violated it dozens of times. They are attacking and shelling from different weapons and positions the Syrian army and civilian facilities. Attempts to send drones to attack the Russian air base in Khmeimim have not stopped. Needless to say, such armed provocations, during which dozens of civilians and Syrian army personnel have been killed and hundreds wounded this month alone, cannot remain unanswered. We are supporting the efforts of the Syrian army to suppress these provocations in the Idlib zone.

Now I will say a few words about the lot of the militants staying there. First, if they are ready to disassociate themselves from terrorists as the Russian-Turkish memorandum of September 17, 2018 requires, they should do so. For the time being, we see that Jabhat al-Busra is playing the prevailing role in the guise of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which has been identified as a terrorist organisation by the UN Security Council and major regional players. They are consolidating their positions. Thus, many militants that are not members of terrorist structures go to fight in Libya, contrary to UN Security Council resolutions that declare unacceptable any interference in the Libyan domestic crisis. While militants are leaving the Idlib zone, the influence of the radicals there is becoming even stronger.

Yesterday I discussed this in detail over the telephone with Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu. We agreed to streamline our work on the implementation of agreements to separate the armed opposition that is patriotic and is ready to take part in the political process. Its members must disassociate from terrorists that are recognised as such by the UN Security Council. These agreements must be carried out.

Naturally, we are doing all we can to persuade the Syrian leaders to respond proportionally to these provocations, fully taking into account the requirements of international humanitarian law and civilian needs. Militants from armed formations should stop any contacts with terrorists, while the latter should surrender – there can be no mercy for them. Humanitarian corridors have been created especially for civilians to get out of this zone. Terrorists continue to attack them, impeding civilians leaving and trying to use them as a human shield. Therefore, I would like to repeat that it is necessary to carry out honestly and fully the Russian-Turkish agreements without trying to gain time to let terrorists strengthen their positions and replenish their reserves.

Question: US President Donald Trump is hoping for “the deal of the century.” However, the Palestinians consider it to be a new plan against them, which is designed to get around the law and agreements with Israel. What is Russia’s position on this issue?

Sergey Lavrov: The “deal of the century” that the United States wants to offer for the Palestinian-Israeli settlement has been advertised for many years but we have not seen it. We were not told any details about it during our contacts with the Americans. All we were told was that it will resolve all the problems in one go. We know how the US administration always wants to find radical solutions to many international problems. However, this does not always produce positive results.

We have heard comments on the gist of the “deal of the century.” There are some leaks. If these comments are authentic, it represents a fundamentally new approach to the resolution of problems between Palestine and Israel. This approach differs from everything that has been recognised by the international community as the foundation for a settlement so far (UN Security Council resolutions, the Madrid principles and the Arab Peace Initiative). Therefore, right now I am simply saying that this is what we think about it if these rumours are true. But, of course, we need to wait for the official publication of this proposal. I hope it will be published and will not be closed to the international community. When the text is published, it will be most important to identify the positions of the sides, primarily the position of the Palestinians because, as I far as I know, this proposal is about the creation of a Palestinian state, an issue on which the international community has adopted resolutions. Needless to say, it will be essential to understand the position of the Arab friends of Palestine and the Arab League, considering that it has made the Arab Peace Initiative, which was approved by the international community, an inalienable part of resolving the problem of the two states – Israel and Palestine.

Naturally, I would very much like the quartet of international mediators – Russia, the United States, the UN and the EU – to analyse the situation as well. The mechanism, which has by and large remained idle in the past few years, is not being used in the search for mutually acceptable solutions. But let us not make any preliminary conclusions because rumours are rumours. We must wait for official proposals and understand the specific attitudes of the interested parties to them.

Question:  Are there plans to evacuate Russian citizens because of the complicated epidemiological situation in Wuhan, China, due to the spread of coronavirus? 

Sergey Lavrov: A special commission of the Russian Government is dealing with these issues. Members of this commission, for instance, Rosturism (Federal Agency for Tourism) and Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare) have already expressed their opinion in this regard. We have nothing to add to their statements. All information is published on their websites. All our citizens, those who are in China now or planned to visit, can review it, and we hope they will come to the right conclusions and stay safe.

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