Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the State of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Doha, March 4, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to express gratitude to our hosts for their hospitality and warm welcome.
Today we held substantive talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the State of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. Before that, in the morning, I met with Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to whom I brought the warmest greetings and best regards from President of Russia Vladimir Putin.
Our talks have confirmed our mutual interest in maintaining a regular political dialogue based on trust and mutual benefit and in expanding practical Russian-Qatari interaction in a variety of fields.
We agree with our Qatari friends that we should continue to increase our trade and economic cooperation and promote bilateral trade.
We expressed our appreciation for the efforts taken by the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic and Technical Cooperation, which will convene for its next meeting in Moscow on April 10, when Moscow will also host the 4th International Exhibition Arabia EXPO and the 12th session of the Russian-Arab Business Council.
We also praised the high level of interaction between the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), as well as QIA’s shareholding in Rosneft.
We pointed out that Russian oil and gas companies LUKoil, Zarubezhneft, Gazprom and Novatek are interested in launching joint projects with Qatari partners.
We agreed to continue to coordinate our efforts on the global energy market, including at the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), which is headquartered in Doha. I hope to be able to visit the GECF headquarters after we complete our talks and to meet with GECF Secretary General Yury Sentyurin.
We noted that our countries also launched cooperation in sport after the FIFA World Cup was held successfully in Russia. The next World Cup will be held in Qatar in 2022. We pointed out that our concerned agencies maintain close contacts. We are ready to share our experience and to recommend to our Qatari friends the best way to hold this global tournament in light of the decisions that were taken and proved worthwhile during preparations for the World Cup in Russia.
Naturally, our discussions on international matters focused on the Middle East and North Africa, primarily Syria, Libya and Somalia. We agree with our Qatari partners that the situation there should be stabilised without delay based on international law and an inclusive political process, from which the extremists, no matter how fine their slogans may sound, must be excluded.
We also talked at length about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We believe that this conflict should be settled on the basis of universally recognised international law and that all-round assistance should be provided for the restoration of Palestinian unity as a key prerequisite for the resumption of effective direct talks with Israel.
We discussed the situation in the Persian Gulf. It is Russia’s wholehearted desire to see all aspects of this situation settled, including with due regard for the ideas which Russia has advanced in the past few years within the framework of a collective security concept for the Persian Gulf as a strategic part of the world.
I would like to once again express gratitude to our Qatari friends for their hospitality and to invite my colleague to visit Russia at his convenience.
Question: Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu has visited Russia at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin. Did they discuss a settlement solution for the Palestinian territory?
Sergey Lavrov: The visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Russia included discussions on the Palestinian-Israeli settlement. We reaffirmed our long-standing interest in overcoming the stalemate in this matter as soon as possible. We also confirmed our readiness to host a meeting between Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Russia, so that they will be able to resume direct dialogue without any preconditions. Our Israeli colleagues, including Mr Netanyahu, asked us about this. Mr Abbas expressed his agreement on this matter. Our proposal is still on the table. We believe that such a meeting would mark a major move towards the revival of trust, at the least. Any progress in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement would be impossible without this.
Question: Russia’s Ambassador to Qatar said Vladimir Putin may pay a visit to the region, in particular, to Qatar. Have the dates been set for this visit?
Sergey Lavrov: President of Russia Vladimir Putin was invited by His Royal Highness, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to visit your country. He accepted this invitation, as well as invitations to visit a number of neighbouring countries. The protocol services of the heads of state will decide when this visit will take place.
Question: Mr Lavrov, during your talks with the Qatar side did you touch upon the idea of establishing a working group for normalising the situation in Syria? What are the prospects for launching the work of this group in the context of continued provocations by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham coalition of groups, which controls most of Idlib, Latakia and also northern districts of Hama? What role will Doha play if this group starts working in the near future?
Sergey Lavrov: We did not discuss this subject during our talks. I don’t think there is any need to establish such groups for Syria. There is the generally accepted Astana process, where the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the armed opposition are conducting a sufficiently successful dialogue with the mediation of Russia, Turkey and Iran. We have already attained tangible results. UN and Jordanian representatives are involved as observers in this process. Earlier, the United States also took part in this process but later decided not to attend the meetings in Astana. Quite possibly, additional observers may join this process. There is also the institution of the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria, as well as regional countries interested in resolving the crisis as soon as possible.
We maintain contacts with all our regional partners, and we work not only in line with the Astana format but also with all countries of this important region that can influence the Syrian peace process one way or another, and we will continue these efforts. We are in contact with representatives of the so-called small group on Syria, namely, its Western participants. Together with our Turkish colleagues, we have worked with French and German representatives. On October 27, 2018, Istanbul hosted this four-sided summit. We also discuss the situation in Syria with our US colleagues, including service personnel and foreign policy agencies, via another channel.
Therefore this ramified network of contacts can and must eventually yield results. And it hardly makes any sense to set up some new group. Bear in mind that the International Syria Support Group, established by Russia and the United States with UN support, still formally exists. Members of this group have not gathered in the plenary format for a long time. But members of two specialised groups (for maintaining the ceasefire regime and for humanitarian issues) meet regularly, two to three times a month, in Geneva. These groups involve representatives of over 20 countries, including countries of the Middle East, Western countries, the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, Iran and others. So, there is no shortage of mechanisms. It is only important that everyone is guided by UN Security Council Resolution 2254, just like we are doing in the Astana format, so that the people of Syria themselves address matters of the Syrian peace process, so that no one hampers their efforts, like some of our Western partners tried to do in December 2018, when they saw to it that the establishment of the Constitutional Committee was called off. We perceive this calmly and rationally, and we intend to complete the work launched in the Astana format. I am confident that our UN colleagues comprehend their responsibility for convening this mechanism as soon as possible.
Question: According to the media, last year, Qatar was planning to buy the S-400 air defence system from Russia, which prompted a negative reaction from Saudi Arabia. What is the status of this deal and are new ones being planned?
Sergey Lavrov: I can only reiterate what my colleague and friend said regarding our military-technical cooperation. It is regulated within a bilateral format. Eighteen months ago, we signed an intergovernmental agreement on military-technical cooperation and we have renewed our commitment to abide by this document today. We will consider our Qatari partners’ requests for Russian military equipment as they come in.
Question: Currently, talks with the Taliban are underway in Doha. Prior to that, meetings with the participation of the Afghan opposition groups were held in Russia. Do you count on these talks bringing favourable outcomes, on both tracks?
Sergey Lavrov: We are following the Doha talks between the Americans and the Taliban.
The Taliban also came to Moscow as part of our efforts to mobilise the international community, primarily, Afghanistan’s neighbours, to give the Afghans a hand as they are about to begin a meaningful political process.. It’s a good thing that no one is looking askance at these efforts now. At the beginning of this process, our US colleagues tried to accuse us, more or less, of violating UN Security Council resolutions, although everyone was well aware that at that time the Americans themselves had regular meetings with the Taliban.
Now, this nervousness in Washington is subsiding. Washington’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad periodically meets with my Deputy, Igor Morgulov, and Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov. They maintain close contacts. I believe that it is a good thing to avoid trying to compete artificially, but instead to unite efforts, because Russia, the United States, Afghanistan’s neighbours and other countries can help the Afghans start a national dialogue to end this conflict.
Question: US National Security Advisor John Bolton said that Washington is not afraid to use the word Monroe Doctrine regarding Venezuela. Do you believe that it is legitimate to evoke this 19th century doctrine?
Sergey Lavrov: Since the UN was established in 1945, international law has been governed by the Charter of this universal and most legitimate Organisation. The "backyard" theory and practice is, by and large, offensive. I assume that Latin American countries will respond to this arrogant statement by Mr Bolton. He referred to the applicability of the Monroe Doctrine to Venezuela, but insulted the whole of Latin America. Several days ago, Washington followed up with an official threat that Venezuela was not the end of the story, and Cuba and Nicaragua were next. So, it’s up to the countries of that region to think about this philosophy and politics.
John Bolton has made a name for himself with his statements. We’ve known each other for quite a while now. He recently tweeted that President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro lied when he said that Russia had sent him a batch of medical supplies. I’m not sure where he gets his information from, but some time ago we did supply 7.5 tonnes of medications to the Venezuelan state, the people of Venezuela, through the World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation. So, no one misled anyone. It appears that Mr Bolton got incorrect information from someone and chose to immediately spread it across the world.
I would still stick to the need to monitor specific actions. In this sense, we are concerned about what the United States is planning to do in Venezuela. I pointed this out clearly to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he called me 36 hours ago to express his concern that the Venezuelan leadership was threatening Juan Guaido. I said that no one should be threatening anyone to begin with, because the Americans are actually threatening the entire Venezuelan nation as they demand that the army break the oath and incite it to stage an insurrection. If there’s anyone who should be concerned about not resorting to a policy of threats, it is the United States itself.