28 September 201903:30

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions following the High-Level Week of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, New York, September 27, 2019

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It is gratifying that you are interested in our attitude to international matters, the work of the UN General Assembly and the participation of the Russian delegation in it.

As usual, we have a packed schedule that includes dozens of meetings with the heads of state and government and their foreign ministers, talks with the UN Secretary-General and the President of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, as well as traditional contacts with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and within the framework of BRICS, the CSTO and the Middle East Quartet.

The session is taking place at a difficult period of time. There is no need to speak about this at length. There are numerous unsettled crises and conflicts, and the number of problems on the global political and economic stage has, regrettably, not decreased. Today we tried to present our understanding of the causes for this non-optimistic situation in our statement. We tried to analyse the concept of the rules-based order, which is being actively promoted by our Western colleagues, in order to see if it corresponds to the universal, generally recognised and collectively coordinated norms of international law. In our opinion, this concept does not correspond, and sometimes openly contradicts international law. This is why we will be working towards convincing all countries to resume a policy of respect for the UN Charter and other norms and principles of the universal international law. I assure you that very many of our partners share this view and support our efforts.

This year, the opening of the UN General Assembly session coincided with Russia’s presidency of the UN Security Council. Its central event was the ministerial meeting we held the day before yesterday to discuss counterterrorism cooperation between the UN and the CSTO, the SCO and the CIS.

We held one more ministerial event of the UN Security Council yesterday, where we discussed the strengthening of peace and security in Africa. We organised it together with three African members of the UN Security Council.

I believe that these two meetings were very fruitful. At the former talks we outlined additional opportunities that must be used to fight terrorism more effectively, by using the potential of regional organisations. The latter meeting has shown once again that African problems prevail on the agenda of the highest UN body, the Security Council. Our activities must be based on the “African solutions to African problems” principle, so that the Africans themselves use their experience and practices to address African problems and to help find compromises between the conflicting sides in any African country and any part of the African continent.

I believe that these discussions held within the framework of the High-Level Week of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, as well as the talks held during the side events, have confirmed that the humankind’s response to common threats can only be effective if undertaken with the central and coordinating role of the UN. Despite the organisation’s shortcomings, it is the most reliable mechanism we have created to this day. And I do not think we will create anything better in the near future.

Question: I have a question on Iran. How do you see the future of the JCPOA and US-Iranian relations based on the results of the current high level week of the General Assembly? In your remarks, you mentioned the Russian concept of collective security in the Persian Gulf – is it still on the table? Did you discuss it during your meetings at the UN?

Sergey Lavrov: This session of the General Assembly is not ground zero for the problems related to a collapse of the JCPOA. They started much earlier – a year and a half ago, when the United States unilaterally withdrew from this plan of action approved by the UN Security Council, thereby a part of international law, and said that they also forbid everybody to continue abiding by this plan and, in particular, trading with Iran, in which case sanctions will be introduced against them.

I believe these actions are destructive not only for the specific situation with the Iranian nuclear program, but also for the nuclear non-proliferation regime and, in general, for the developments in the region. Unfortunately, our American colleagues are viewing almost any aspect of the situation in the Middle East and North Africa through an anti-Iranian lens, as if deliberately trying to find as many reasons as possible to reinforce their unsubstantiated claims that Iran is the main source of evil in this region, and all the troubles come from Iran.

Our concept in this regard is to use the experience of other regions, in particular Europe, which had launched the process of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and ultimately came to the signing of the Helsinki Final Act and many important top-level declarations. I spoke about them today: this is the Charter for European Security and the Platform for Co-Operative Security in 1999. Those documents proclaimed the principles of dialogue, mutual consideration of each other’s interests, readiness to discuss mutual concerns, and most importantly, that no one should strengthen their security by infringing on the security of others.

This logic underlies our initiative – the Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf Area. We had initially advanced it a very long time ago, when it was still possible to prevent the aggravation that we are now witnessing. Unfortunately, not all the Gulf countries agreed to be proactive at that time. They said the idea was not bad and agreed to consider it, but they had to wait until it ripens. Now, in my opinion, it is already overripe. The fact that more and more Gulf countries, including, naturally, Arab countries, are beginning to think how to de-escalate this situation now, proves that the ideas we are promoting are relevant in one form or another. They are very simple – to sit at the negotiating table, not use the media for accusing each other, but put all these concerns on the table and begin discussing them in a businesslike manner, without targeting specific audiences, and achieve the satisfaction of all participants in this process.

I hope that someday such a process will begin. We assumed that, in addition to the Gulf countries, the five permanent Security Council members, the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the European Union should also take part in it, as the EU is also interested in this region. Subsequently, if such a process suddenly begins, these principles and approaches could be extended to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where the need for a reliable, inclusive security system is more acute than ever.

Question: Can you tell us about your meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo? Did you talk about strategic stability, and where do you stand now? The Secretary has written on Twitter that the United States and Russia “must find a constructive path forward.” Does he really mean this, or are these only simple words again?

Sergey Lavrov: We did discuss a wide range of issues, as we have already reported in a press release. We discussed all aspects of strategic stability, including the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, namely in Syria and Libya, as well as Afghanistan. We also talked about Northeast Asia in the context of the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula, as well as about bilateral issues, in particular, following the talks held between our presidents, including during their latest meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit held in Osaka. They also had a telephone conversation in July. Proposals were advanced during these talks, first of all by the Russian side, regarding the creation of additional channels for interaction on business cooperation between our companies and also for discussing global challenges in a manner that would allow Russia and the United States to provide the best possible assistance to their settlement through the establishment of an expert council of prominent diplomats, politicians, retired military, as well as members of our intelligence and other security services. These proposals are on the table, just as our proposals, which I mentioned in my remarks today, regarding a joint moratorium on the deployment of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles following the regrettable demise of the INF Treaty, and making a statement to this effect, as well as starting talks on the prolongation of the New START treaty without delay.

Secretary Pompeo expressed readiness to discuss all these issues. However, he also confirmed the US position according to which it has become difficult for the US and Russia to do this alone, and that the framework of this job should be expanded. We would accept any format provided all the participants the United States would like to invite accept the invitation. Anyway, our position is that the New START treaty, which expires in February 2021, must be extended come what may. At least, we must do this so as to preserve at least one backbone instrument in the sphere of strategic stability. I hope that we will be able to continue talks on this matter with our American colleagues. This is what was said on the topic of strategic stability. I would like to note that the US reaction to this was not negative.

Of course, we also discussed bilateral issues. There are so many thorns between us that our deputies or the directors of the concerned ministry divisions meet several times a year to review these problems (we raise 90 percent of questions) but, unfortunately, have not found any solution to them so far. I certainly spoke about the outrageous incident with the US refusal to issue visas to a large number of Russian delegates – 13 persons in all. I repeated what I said on the day of my arrival, saying that I do not doubt that neither President Donald Trump, nor Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were in any way involved, and Mr Pompeo confirmed that this is indeed so. In this case, who takes the decisions that are directly concerned with Washington’s obligations to ensure the normal operations of the UN Headquarters? Another thought that comes to mind when such incidents take place is that those who take such decisions probably do so based on their own understanding of the general atmosphere in bilateral relations.

But this atmosphere is definitely being created by the US political class. New sanctions are adopted against Russia, which is demonised almost every day if not every hour. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said today regarding the scandal over the telephone conversation between US President Trump and President of Ukraine Zelensky that she thinks Russia “has a hand in this.” I believe this is paranoia, very obviously so. But when serious politicians and, subsequently, the media outlets who claim to be serious, spread such allegations around the world, the official who is responsible for issuing visas may think it would be better to play safe in this situation. In other words, problems should be analysed comprehensively and attempts should be made to normalise the overall atmosphere. This would help to restore Russian-US relations to a state everyone wants to see them in. Such expectations have been voiced by all our partners in both the emerging economies and Europe.

Question: Mr Minister, can I ask you about Syria, the formation of the new Constitutional Committee, your reaction to that, and given that this comes in the context of Resolution 2254 that calls for free and fair elections, do you now see the prospect of full democracy and free elections in Syria, something that has not happened since the Assad family took over 50 years ago?

Sergey Lavrov: I cannot tell you about my reaction to the formation of the Constitutional Committee because we were directly involved in this process, unlike some of the other participants who did their utmost to hinder it. If not for them, the committee would have been established in December of last year. We know who tried to block these efforts, but we did not take offence or dig in our heels on this. We simply continued to help the Syrian Government and the opposition to harmonise their approaches. And we have succeeded. I am grateful to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his special envoy for Syria, Mr Geir Pedersen, for supporting this process delicately and diplomatically, helping Russia, Turkey and Iran as the guarantors of the Astana format to come to an agreement with the parties involves regarding the list of candidates and procedures acceptable to them. The UN Secretary-General has announced that they would like to convene the first session of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva within a month. We welcome this. What I want to say most of all is that I am glad that any resistance to this process has stopped, because that resistance was designed to prevent any Syrian settlement and to provoke confrontation, tension and scandals so as to be able to point the finger at you know who and to use this as a pretext for applying force. I am happy that reason has prevailed, including among our Western partners who are members of the so-called anti-terrorist coalition.

I talked about this with Mike Pompeo today. I believe that we are gradually developing an understanding on how to help the Syrians come to an agreement on their country’s future, provided that all external players without exception respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.

Regarding UNSC Resolution 2254, it is much more embracing and includes more provisions than only free elections. It does call for free elections, under the auspices of and with assistance from the UN, in which all Syrians will be able to participate. But that resolution calls for much more than that, including a constitutional reform, which must precede the elections. We know about certain plans to demand that elections be held during the formation of the constitution and regardless of the outcome of this process. This would be yet another provocation. I assure you that such ideas can only cut short the progress we have achieved up to now, as well as hinder any intra-Syrian agreements. The process must proceed gradually, step by step. When some people say that everything must be done at once or else they would start bombing raids, I hope that this is not in the interests of any regional country, including Syria’s neighbours. Remember that Resolution 2254 clearly set the goal of an uncompromising fight against terrorism. We must not forget about this or stop fighting, regardless of any debates on the implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254.

Question: It is rumoured that you often smoked in the UN building during your mission in New York and that you were fined for this. Do you still smoke? If so, have you been fined this time?

Sergey Lavrov: I have never been fined. This is not true, something of a myth. We strictly comply with all the decisions taken by the UN General Assembly regarding the rules of conduct in various parts of the UN Headquarters.

Question: Earlier on this week you spoke out in favour of resuming flights between Georgia and Russia. When can we expect practical action, and in what form could this be? Can we expect in this connection that flights to Ukraine will be resumed soon as well?

Sergey Lavrov: The decision to suspend flights to Georgia was taken in response to the outrageous actions of the opposition, which disrupted a meeting of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO). It was an orchestrated provocation. Violence was used against our deputies. When we took that decision, it was announced that it was a temporary solution and that we would revert it when the situation settles and when the Georgian authorities become aware of the need to cut short such actions.

On September 26, I had a meeting with Foreign Minister of Georgia David Zalkaliani at his request. I later read his lengthy comments, which probably took him longer to write than our meeting took us. One of the questions he asked concerned the resumption of flights. I told him that we never looked for a pretext to pick a quarrel with Georgia. Personally, I would only resume flights when the Georgian authorities start to act responsibly to normalise relations with Russia and stop paying any attention to the Russophobes who, I believe, the former president is trying to set against the Tbilisi government. The Georgian comments about that meeting make me smile and wonder.

Question: Several days before your trip to New York, the US administration allowed Viktor Bout’s wife and daughter to enter the United States. Did you manage to discuss the plight of certain Russian citizens (including Marsha Lazareva arrested in Kuwait) during your meetings with your American and Kuwaiti colleagues on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly?

Sergey Lavrov: We raise the problem of Viktor Bout every time we can during our contacts with the American side. I have mentioned the long list of thorns and problems in our relations, which we regularly forward to our American colleagues. One of our priorities are the fate of Viktor Bout, as well as Konstantin Yaroshenko, Maria Butina and the other Russian citizens who have been abducted by deceit or in gross violation of the national laws of the countries where they were arrested.

Today I reminded Secretary Pompeo about our concerns that should be given attention. It is good that Bout’s wife and daughter have been allowed to enter the country. This is humane. But it is not gratifying that this has happened for the first time in years and that he [Bout] is doing time on trumped-up charges based on trumped-up evidence. We will continue working so that justice prevails.

I recently dealt with the case of Marsha Lazareva while on a trip to Kuwait, including at my meetings with the Emir, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. We are told that they are working closely on this matter. They cite procedural problems. The problem looks clear to us, and it must be settled without delay just as our Kuwaiti friends have promised to do. You probably know that our British and American colleagues are helping us in this case. I hope that this powerful collective signal will have the desired effect.

Question: I’d like to ask you about your planned visit to Iraq. What are the objectives of your visit to Iraq? You will also visit the Kurdistan Region. Iraq is a big buyer of Russian weapons and also there are oil investments of Russia in Iraq. Is Russia planning to expand those interests and military cooperation with Iraq, given the current tension in the region?

Sergey Lavrov: We have very good relations with Iraq, and good cooperation in many fields, including economic ties and energy, as well as helping to strengthen the combat readiness of the Iraqi security forces, which still need support in their fight against terrorism. Terrorists in Iraq have received a very heavy blow, but the remains of their gangs still attack from time to time. We are ready to discuss the interests of the Iraqi side while taking into account how much our companies, including oil companies, see in the potential profits in the projects that can be considered. As for my visit to Iraq in general, I am starting to take cues from our American friends: they never announce visits to Iraq until they have arrived. So we’ll wait and see.

Question: Earlier this week, President Trump met with a dozen Latin American leaders, as well as with Venezuelan opposition; they did comment on more sanctions towards the government of Nicolas Maduro, more sanctions for his entourage, for his government, but they failed to comment on the alleged ties between the leader of the opposition Juan Guaido and local drug cartels. That’s after we saw pictures of Mr Guaido with local drug traffickers. I wanted to ask you: do you think the UN should react to this, to somebody with this background potentially becoming the president of Venezuela?

Sergey Lavrov: This is the level of the unfortunate squabbles the United States seems to be ready to start for any reason. Someone called, someone leaked something, someone passed that on, or if they were really entitled to disclose that or not, and so on. Still, I believe that the United Nations should be busy with more serious things. In the case of Venezuela, a serious and perhaps the most important thing is the protection of the UN Charter, which requires all countries to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states, not to interfere in their affairs, not to use force against them or threaten them with force, as well as a peaceful settlement of disputes.

Question: Do you think there’s still time for dialogue between the opposition and the government in Venezuela?

Sergey Lavrov: Today I spoke with Venezuelan Executive Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. They are determined to maintain dialogue with the opposition and seek a national consensus. Naturally, they are engaged in a dialogue with the part of the opposition that is ready for this. Representatives of Juan Guaido change their position in the morning and in the evening, and every other day. First they rejected all initiatives in general. Juan Guaido said he did not need any proposals from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) or from the Montevideo Mechanism. Then he apparently established a dialogue between his representatives and representatives of the government – the so-called Oslo process. Now the Venezuelan government, as the representatives of the country's leadership I have mentioned confirmed, is ready for the Oslo process. But the reason for Juan Guaido and Co’s changeable moods is that he is not an independent figure. He is told what to do to create another reason for the crisis, to escalate tension, to justify the application of the Monroe Doctrine or the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Pact) mechanism. The states that have activated this mechanism are actually seriously discussing the possibility of military intervention in Venezuela. Of course, I cannot decide for a sovereign state – we do not interfere in their affairs – but I have a feeling that, if this does happen, the peoples of all of Latin America, and most of its population will be seriously offended. This will throw them back to the period of two hundred years ago.

Question: I also wanted to ask you – there’s been information suggesting that you met with some of the delegation of the opposition in Venezuela. Did you do that?

Sergey Lavrov: About the alleged meeting with a certain gentleman Juan Guaido has appointed to some post. I was told he said somewhere that he had talked to me. This is a blatant lie. Unfortunately, one fool makes many. When fake news is being spread around the world, primarily starting with the United States, to justify some political step, it becomes viral. They learn from the Americans how to plant a lie and then use it to show that Russia has allegedly abandoned the Venezuelan government. A lowly and mean act, and unworthy of a man.

Question: There has been a lot of coverage in this country, the United States, both in the general media and specifically in the Jewish media, about your country’s growing relationship with Israel. I believe, Mr Netanyahu made at least one recent visit to meet with President Putin. Can you tell me, sir, how you view this growing relationship and how you see it developing?

Sergey Lavrov: This was by far not the only visit made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and far from the only meeting he had with President Vladimir Putin of Russia this year. They have very good, trust-based relations.

We see our ties with Israel as strategic in nature. Almost one and a half million citizens [of Israel] hail from the former Soviet Union or the Russian Federation. As you may already know, there is a political party over there, Our Home is Israel, which mostly relies on Russian-speaking voters. We are not indifferent to the fate of these people. We are not indifferent to Israel’s security, including with account taken of the terrible tragedy, the Holocaust, that the Jews went through during WWII. We hold sacred all that happened to the Jewish people at that time, when we were saving those people – the Red Army, among others, saved a lot of Jews. It is not a factor of small importance for us that the State of Israel not just remembers this but holds the liberators in veneration, particularly in a situation where our less civilised partners demolish monuments and desecrate graves, including those of Holocaust victims. This is a very important detail. There are people who promote their own version of WWII – who began it and who is to blame – and who compare Communism to Nazism, and it is these people who destroy monuments to Holocaust victims. Just draw your own conclusions as to what aims are pursued by these people and how they should be treated.

Incidentally, there is a very fine monument to the Soviet liberator soldiers (The Victory Monument in Netanya commemorating the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany in WWII) in Netanya, Israel. According to Prime Minister Netanyahu, they will unveil a Monument to the Victims of the Leningrad Siege in January [2020]. This event will be timed to coincide with the next anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. President Putin has received an invitation to visit these events, including to the opening of the Leningrad siege victims museum.

Apart from spiritual and historical ties, we maintain quite decent economic cooperation and a very good, trust-based dialogue on Middle East problems, including on Syria and other parts of this region. This is so because we emphasise in all our approaches that comprehensive solutions to all these problems must take into account Israel’s security interests. This is a basic point. Regrettably, we are unable to emerge from the impasse, where the Palestinian problem is being driven into. This will have a negative impact on the general situation, including on Israel’s interests.           

Question: This morning we’ve heard Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan calling the international community for help in Kashmir, especially after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke the constitutional autonomy of Kashmir back in August. Imran said it was a warning that this could be a dangerous escalation between two countries, which hold nuclear power. Has the international community evoked Kashmir during the 74th General Assembly? And what would be your answer to Prime Minister Imran Khan, as you are presiding in the Security Council?

Sergey Lavrov: Yesterday I had a meeting with Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan. We discussed the Kashmir issue and reaffirmed that a direct dialogue between India and Pakistan was necessary. They signed relevant documents in Lahore and Shimla back in the 1970s-1980s. These declarations and agreements are still in force. Like most states, we speak in favour of the two countries looking for a consensus based on these documents.

Question: Bangladesh is in a difficult situation, with a large number of Rohingya refugees. The country itself is in a problematic position in terms of the economic, social and democratic rights. Could you mediate with Burma’s authorities in order to send them back with proper dignity, considering that Dhaka and Naypyidaw are close allies of Russia?

Sergey Lavrov: This is not a matter that can be solved with Russia’s mediation. Nobody has asked Russia to do this. There is general understanding, even following the discussion on this at the UN Security Council, that people must be sent back. In order to do this, proper conditions must be set, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees needs to be involved. Direct ways out are needed, via a dialogue and an agreement on all the technical issues, including places where these refugees can return and guarantees for their security.

Like every other business, this requires calm and confident bilateral work. The attempts to draw public attention to this topic – with this attention always being tense and not exactly positive – only raise tensions and make both sides less inclined to agree. The dialogue is the only solution. Like everyone else, we have no magic tricks, except what I have said.

Question: Turkey has been negotiating the creation of a safe zone in Syria with the United States for some time. Can you tell us what Russia’s position is on that?

Sergey Lavrov: Of course, we discuss this issue at our meetings with our Turkish and American colleagues, for a very serious reason – because this is taking place in Syria. Both Turkey and the United States have signed many documents and voted for resolutions that clearly call on everyone to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. So we are concerned about this problem. In 1998, Syria and Turkey signed the Adana Agreement, which sealed the mechanisms coordinated by the two countries to protect security in the border area. I see no reason why neighbouring countries, in this case Turkey and Syria, use this principle of mutual acceptability to protect the safety of the Republic of Turkey.  This desire and approach by Ankara are justified because terrorists are infiltrating Turkey from the areas controlled by the United States.

The third aspect of this problem also concerns the sovereignty of Syria. This involves the Kurds. The Americans, who are trying to make use of them, are improving the areas populated by the Kurds and establishing local governments. Nothing of the kind is being done in Syria’s regions west of the Euphrates. When we call for improving settlements for the returning refugees and displaced people, we are told that the political process must come first and everything else after that. But east of the Euphrates nobody is waiting for the political process. Money is being invested there and the basic services – healthcare, education, water and electricity – are provided to the people. This worries the Arab tribes who have always lived east of the Euphrates. They do not like what the Americans are doing in a part of these tribes’ land. This is a very explosive situation.

Of course, we believe that the solution to the Kurdish question must lie within the framework of Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We believe this needs to be discussed at talks that the Syrian Government attends. We will not only remember what Turkey and the United States say about their commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity, but will use it to evaluate the operations taking place east of the Euphrates.

Question: The US Special Envoy for Syria James Jeffrey said that the Syrian Government was still trying to win a military victory and then he said the Constitutional Committee at this stage was symbolic. What is your response to that?

Sergey Lavrov: I cannot comment on what Mr James Jeffrey is saying. We are in constant contact with our American colleagues, but their comments – on Syria, or on any other conflict – are changing daily depending on the mood or the current political situation.

The Syrian Government was accused of not wanting to adopt UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Then they were accused of refusing to support the results of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress (NDC), a conference which Russia, with the support of Turkey and Iran, held in Sochi in January 2018. The NDC was a turning point in the effort to move from words to real work on a political settlement. It was at the Sochi congress that several parameters were determined that laid the foundation for the creation of the Constitutional Committee (the term Constitutional Committee was first used there) as well as its regulations and procedures. They said the Syrian Government did not want to support that document, just like before it had allegedly not wanted to support UNSCR 2254. All of this was untrue, to put it mildly,  because Damascus supported both UNSC Resolution 2254 and the NDC Declaration, as well as all the subsequent steps prescribed by the agenda set by the Astana format mediators. Those actions were aimed at launching a fully-fledged political process in Geneva with the facilitating role of the UN.

What is the Syrian Government refusing now? If James Jeffrey believes the Syrian Government is opting for a military victory, well, this is news to me. It faithfully reaffirms all of its obligations, including during meetings at the UN Security Council on Syrian issues. If relying on a military solution means that the Syrian army, with our support, will uncompromisingly fight the remaining terrorists, including Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a group some are trying to present as a moderate force, then this is an unscrupulous distortion of facts, as many in America are trying to do today. No one ever drew a parallel between fighting terrorism and a military solution to the conflict. The armed opposition is a participant in the Astana process and a party to the agreement on the Constitutional Committee.

Question: You spoke today about the double standards and abuse of international law by some western countries. Your country is also now supporting Israel and you know this is in violation of international law; you know it’s taking Palestinian land; you know it’s building settlements and building a wall on Palestinian land, putting a thousand people in prison, and you have warm relations with Israel. Mr Abbas wanted to expand on those mediators. Why don’t you step forward and do something about the question of Palestine, using this leverage, with your warm relations with Israel? Can you use that to really step in into the peace process?

Sergey Lavrov: As I already said, all the games around the Palestinian problem –the promised “deal of the century,” the $50 billion offer in exchange for refugees never returning to Palestine, an attempt to first persuade the Arab countries to normalise relations with Israel, and only then address the Palestinian problem (a plan that is in direct conflict with the Arab Peace Initiative) – all this is now driving Palestinian-Israeli settlement into a dead end, if not led there by now.

We are confident (I also said this at the General Assembly) that this is not in the interests of Israel and not in the interests of anyone else. Because only a two-state solution, only the creation of a Palestinian state promised 70 years ago can ensure peace and stability in this entire region, can alleviate the severity of the problem, also by drastically limiting extremists’ chances of recruiting young people from Arab streets. We say this frankly to the Israelis. Unfortunately, the US policy of doing this alone remains in demand.

I have met with Abu Mazen here at the UN General Assembly. He did not complain about Russia doing little to facilitate a solution to this problem, to break the deadlock. If we take all the circumstances, the entire scope of difficulties cluttering the current stage of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, the restoration of Palestinian unity would be the most obvious, the very first and simplest step, paradoxical as that may be.

True, both Fatah and Hamas have external supporters – those who support them, and these are not the same countries. Yet, they are Palestinians, all of them. They could have joined ranks, restored the unity of Palestinian National Authority, held elections and established cooperation – all this would have greatly strengthened the Palestinians’ position in the negotiations and in general in the international arena. It is entirely up to them and the Arabs – it is unlikely that anyone else can do it for them.

Their inability to do this plays into the hands of those who keep saying they do not know with whom to negotiate, since there is no single team, no coordinated negotiators. This is not quite proper of course, but I am describing how those who do not want a settlement interpret the situation. Russia has already hosted several intra-Palestinian meetings with the participation of Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad – there were about 12-15 delegations present – providing them all with a venue where they could agree, through dialogue, on how to restore unity. They made declarations and statements, but have not moved any further. However, I believe this is the most important part of work on the Palestinian track. We strongly support the efforts of those countries that want to promote Palestinian unity with us. I note, in particular, the efforts of Egypt and several other countries.

Question: Before your meeting with Secretary Pompeo, it was reported that you had said to the press that there would be a surprise response, because members of your delegation were not given visas. Does that still stand?

Sergey Lavrov: I said this the day before yesterday at a meeting of the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, when I gave my comments to reporters. I discussed this matter with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday and today. Once again, please note that I have no doubt that neither he nor President Trump knew about this and did not give this order. My colleague confirmed this to me.

Of course, we cannot leave this unanswered and we will certainly keep the situation in mind next time international events are held in New York or anywhere else in the United States. We will check and recheck many times to what extent visa issuing officials have received instructions from their seniors, in this case, the State Department. I will not going to discuss any additional measures at this time.

Unfortunately, we now have many problems with the Americans. We were never inclined to take an “eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth.” We could not fail to respond to what the Obama administration had done, literally like raiders or bandits seizing our diplomatic property in the United States and we did the same with some US-owned property. But engaging in this kind of raider attack in a country where the Constitution and many other laws refer to private property as “sacred” is simply unbecoming for the United States as a great power, and its people with its rich democratic and law-abiding traditions. Yahoo! News reminisced, out of the blue, about Obama taking our property from us and leaked a new "sensation" that it was done allegedly because our summer residences outside Washington and New York were "spy nests." This is very unseemly behaviour.

Of course, we want everything to return to normal, at least as regards normal working conditions for our diplomats in the United States and US diplomats in Russia. Not everything depends on us, but we will be looking for incentives.

Question: During a traditional conference call, Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said Russia would not want transcripts of phone calls between Vladimir Putin and President Trump released. Is this a concern of yours? Are there other concerns about the ongoing domestic turmoil in the United States?

Sergey Lavrov: You know, my mother told me that reading other people's letters is unbecoming behaviour. I'm used to operating on this premise. All the more so, we are talking about the letters of two men whom their respective nations have elected to top posts. There are traditions and there are rules of proper behaviour, including diplomatic ones, which imply a certain level of confidentiality and consistency in these matters. I’m not going to comment on who decided to publish a telephone conversation between US President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky. There is such a thing as diplomatic practice. Making all matters public, and stating loudly and tearfully that if a particular administration does not show a certain note – whether to its family or partners - this administration will be torn to shreds. Is that democracy? How can one even function under such conditions? So we will follow the letter and the spirit of the Vienna conventions on diplomatic and consular relations, which lay all this out. I recommend the media, which are so zealously trying to find out whether they can publish something else, refer to these important documents that govern diplomatic relations.

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