Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani, Moscow, July 2, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
My Bahraini colleague and I devoted considerable attention to our bilateral ties during these talks. To increase and diversify trade, we supported the convocation of the Intergovernmental Russia-Bahrain Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation as soon as possible.
We supported the continuation of effective cooperation between the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and the Mumtalakat wealth fund of Bahrain.
We are successfully cooperating in countering the coronavirus infection. Our Bahraini friends have registered both Sputnik V and Sputnik Light, which opens up additional opportunities.
We are launching a new area of cooperation. Our memorandum of understanding in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space has entered into force. Experts are working on additional documents that will enhance our contractual legal framework. We discussed specific plans to increase contact between our parliaments, scientific and education ties, and tourist exchanges.
We agreed to continue closely coordinating our positions in the international arena, including at the UN. We have common approaches to the majority of urgent issues that are in the focus of attention of the UN Security Council. One of them is the absence of an alternative to the peaceful political settlement in the Syrian Arab Republic based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254. This settlement implies immediate efforts to resolve humanitarian problems in Syria, which have been caused both by illegal sanctions and the foreign occupation of its natural resources, hydrocarbons and fertile soil. We talked about the need to substantially step up international efforts for the return of refugees to Syria.
We shared information on our recent actions in the Astana format. In cooperation with Turkey and Iran, we are preparing a regular session that will be largely devoted to effective preparations for the meeting of the Constitutional Committee, notably, its Small Body.
We welcome Bahrain’s decision to reopen its Embassy in Damascus. We are ready to continue a close exchange of opinion by our diplomatic missions. Naturally, we consider Syria’s return to the Arab League an important step for the near future.
As regards settlement in the Middle East, we confirmed the inalienable right of the Palestinians to create their own state. This is envisaged in the related resolutions of the Security Council, the UN General Assembly and the Arab Peace Initiative, a crucial document.
To fully settle this protracted conflict in the world arena, it is necessary to resume direct talks between Palestine and Israel as soon as possible. We are not just interested in this but have offered specific proposals on how to move in this direction. We believe the optimal approach would be to involve the efforts of external actors – the Quartet of international mediators, notably, Russia, the EU, the US and the UN – but in cooperation with the Arab League.
On our part, we welcomed normalisation in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC). We are interested in the well-orchestrated efforts by this important mechanism. We want it to speak in unison, in particular, on the issues of establishing collective security in the Gulf area as a whole, with the involvement of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Our friends are interested in our concept of ensuring Gulf security, which we proposed long ago. Considering recent events, we are now working on updating it. We will be able to share it with all interested parties very soon.
I would like to thank my good friend once again for our useful and trust-based talks that are bound to allow us to produce impressive results on many issues.
Question: ISIS has stepped up its military activities recently, and its influence in Iraq and Syria has increased. Does Russia think it poses a serious threat to the region? What is Russia’s stance on this?
In Syria, the Kurds believe that their rights are not guaranteed. What action will Russia take to implement them?
Sergey Lavrov: With regard to the threat posed by ISIS, I do not think it has seriously increased in Iraq and Syria. In both countries, it was possible to thwart any plans for creating a caliphate, which were nurtured by the so-called Islamic State.
We stand strong with the Iraqi government in its efforts to eliminate the remaining isolated terrorist groups. The same can be said about Syria. Being in Syria on an invitation from the legitimate government, we are helping the Syrian security forces and the army to eradicate the remaining hotbeds of terrorism from their territory. After all, in addition to ISIS, there is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its criminal offshoots there.
We believe the countries that have declared the fight against terrorism as the reason for their illegal presence in Syria (as I understand it, the United States recently held a special meeting of the anti-ISIS coalition) should deal primarily with the elimination of this threat rather than occupy significant portions of Syria and illegally exploit its natural resources.
Speaking of ISIS threats in the region, it is important not to lose sight of Afghanistan, where ISIS is concentrating its forces. They are doing so using the way too drawn-out process of preparation for the actual peace talks. Those in the ruling circles of Afghanistan who are trying in every possible way to drag this process out even more should think about the consequences of their actions for their homeland. Given the irresponsible behaviour of some officials in Kabul and the hasty withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan without much to show for the effort, the ISIS group is spreading across territories, primarily in northern Afghanistan right on the borders of our allies.
We are holding consultations through bilateral channels and within the CSTO in order to reliably protect our neighbours in Central Asia from this direct and very serious threat.
We are trying to talk sense into the political circles about the need to stop dragging out the negotiating process and reaching agreements on forming a transitional government. We are doing this, among other things, as part of the expanded troika that includes Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan.
We are also familiar with the issue of the Kurds and their concern that the government does not want to take their interests into account. Throughout the crisis, especially with the dispatch of our military contingent to Syria at the request of the legitimate government, we encouraged, including in our contacts on the ground, direct meetings between the Kurds and Damascus so that they can agree on how to live together in one country. All the more so since neighbouring Iraq is a good example of peaceful coexistence in one country. When I was in Baghdad and Erbil in 2019, I called on my interlocutors to share this positive experience with the Syrian Kurds.
We are in touch with Kurdish organisations and let them know our position. Most importantly, they must be independent and interested in addressing all the issues with the central government.
When President Trump announced that all US troops would leave Syria, the Kurdish leaders immediately started asking us to help them “build bridges” with Damascus. Several days later, Washington changed its mind and said they were staying. Our Kurdish colleagues lost interest in our meetings. They thought the Americans would decide everything for them again. We are ready to promote meetings and consultations, but for this there must be consistency in the positions of the parties.
Finally, there are many Syrian Kurd groups, which the Americans are clearly encouraging to engage in separatism. I hope those Kurds who seek normal relations with Damascus understand the provocative nature and great danger of these games.
Question: Before proceeding to the final stage of international talks on the JCPOA, a number of participants in the process asked for additional time before they return to the talks. What are the obstacles on the way to a final solution? Do you expect the new Iranian government to help the talks?
Sergey Lavrov: The assessments of the JCPOA offered by the parties to the negotiations over the past few months, since they have been underway, show significant progress. We have managed to agree on many points, but not all.
Regarding the reasons that prevent us from quickly concluding this agreement, the key reason is as follows: the United States unilaterally withdrew from the agreement and thereby grossly violated the UN Security Council resolution, so Washington’s return to the JCPOA presupposes a full and unconditional renewal of the requirements for the United States in the JCPOA and UN Security Council Resolution 2231. This is obvious not only in and of itself, but also if we take into account an additional factor which is the fact that the President Biden-led Democrats are now in the White House. He was vice-president in the Barack Obama administration when it signed everything that is included in the JCPOA and the UN Security Council resolution.
Iran complied in full with everything that it promised to deliver and continued to fulfill these obligations prior to the US withdrawal, and even after it. Only a while later, Tehran began to suspend acting on some of them, stating that as soon as the JCPOA was restored in a full and inviolable form, it would immediately resume compliance with its obligations under this document in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
In my opinion, an honest approach would be to restore everything that had been signed and unanimously approved by the UN Security Council. But our Western partners in these talks are trying to take advantage of this situation in every possible way in order to change the JCPOA in retrospect and impose new obligations on Iran not only in the context of the JCPOA itself, but also on completely unrelated matters. Our position is straightforward: resume 100-percent compliance with the JCPOA and UN Security Council Resolution 2231. Let’s discuss everything that is beyond that and has nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear programme separately and additionally, but first, resume JCPOA in full.
The additional concerns that the West is putting forward for Iran, including its missile programme, problems in regional affairs, and many other things, can be discussed at a forum, which we propose convening. I’m talking about promoting the collective security concept in the Gulf, which, clearly, should be a reciprocal effort. All the concerns that the Arab countries, Iran and other prospective participants may have should be part of an agenda in an equal and mutually respectful discussion at this forum.