Question: Russian President V.Putin has met with the US President B.Obama, it was a much anticipated meeting. Do you know if they agreed to work as part of one coalition?
S.Lavrov: Well, they didn't discuss coalitions in the classical sense of the word. What they did discuss was the possibilities for the United States and Russia to cooperate closely on the most burning issues of today: Syria, first of all, and there we all agreed that our common goal is to defeat ISIL, not to allow ISIL to establish the Caliphate, which they are planning to have on huge territories. They already established themselves on big chunks of Iraqi and Syrian territories, introducing their inhuman rules and laws. Both Russia and the United States are absolutely determined not to allow them to succeed. We presented our view and President V.Putin explained that we believe that we have to be pragmatic and reasonable and rational. If this is the case then all those who detest ISIL, who fight ISIL must coordinate.
We understand fully that there is an American-led coalition of some 60 countries, which was established and organized not exactly in line with international law, because the coalition announced its right to strike ISIL on the territories of Iraq and Syria. They received the consent of the Iraqi government, they never talked to the government of Syria and they never came to the Security Council. We believe that had they done so, had they come to the Security Council, had they engaged not only Iraqi government but also the Syrian leadership, we could have much more efficient group of countries, much more efficient bases for promoting our common goal of not allowing the terrorists to succeed in this key region of the world. At the same time, we have strong relationship with both governments of Iraq and Syria. We have long started supplying them with necessary weapons and equipment to increase their ability to fight terrorists. Both governments of Iraq and Syria received this assistance from us. We sent our military specialists to help use this equipment and we believe that all those who fight on the ground against the terrorists groups ISIL and others must be coordinated not necessarily under single command - this is not realistic, we believe (and President V.Putin made it very clear to President B.Obama when they met) but coordinating the actual action on the ground and actual action from the air. Because the coalition only engages in airstrikes and those who are functional and active on the ground against ISIL and Jabhat Al-Nusra and the like they are the armies of Syria and Iraq, the Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq. We would welcome the patriotic Syrian opposition who is on the ground to join this coordinated effort.
As a first step we cooperated with the governments of Iraqis, Syrians and Iran. We established what we call information center in Baghdad, which will be used to exchange information available to the countries, to the Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Russians, which might and must, I think, help to be more efficient in fighting the terrorists on the ground. We offered the United States and the coalition led by United States to harmonize the efforts and to make sure that whatever airstrikes they contemplate against terrorist targets on the ground could be coordinated with the efforts of the ground forces.
I believe that President B.Obama heard what President V.Putin had to say. It was a very constructive discussion. We did not agree on any specific steps, but what they did agree was to continue our cooperation, discussions between the foreign ministries, between the ministries of defense in order to identify ways and means, specific ways and means, which could make our common goal more achievable.
Question: When we hear U.S. officials’ statements it sounds like they are OK with Russia doing the fighting, but not with Russia’s helping B.Assad do the fighting. Do you think it’s possible to effectively fight ISIL without helping the B.Assad government?
S.Lavrov: Actually this was one of the key topics of the discussion. The Americans are very concerned that Russia’s helping B.Assad fight ISIL would mean strengthening the regime which they believe does not have any future. We explained our position, we don’t have any attachments to anyone in the region, but we do have very strong feeling that we cannot allow the state of Syria fail. Because the alternative – if we look at this now – is ISIL, Caliphate and we would forget about the Syria we know now - Syria which has been home for Muslims both Shia and Sunni, home for Christians, for Druses, Armenians, Syria which has always been multiethnic, multiconfessional – cradle of this dialogue of civilizations, cradle of coexistence of civilizations.
So our position is that priority number one at this stage is not allowing terrorists to ruin the Middle East as we know it, to ruin the Middle East which gave birth to three great religions and at the same time to make sure that whatever political reforms are necessary must be promoted, but promoted in the way which would not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, the mistakes of Libya, when outside intervention with the purpose of democratization of these countries turned out to be an invitation for chaos, an invitation for huge dangerous, risking the disappearance of these countries and splitting these countries into three-four-five smaller enclaves.
The Americans confirmed that it was absolutely their position that the territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty of Syria, Iraq and all other countries in the region is their priority and on this basis we can cooperate. In other words to put it short, you know, fighting terrorism and parallel with this promoting political reform not imposing from outside, but encouraging the Syrians themselves, the government and all groups of the opposition to start political process, to start discussing what the future of their country should be. When they reach mutual consent, as required by the Geneva communique of three years ago (in June 2012 we adopted Geneva communique which called for political process in Syria, political transition to be based on mutual consent between the government and the opposition), then I believe we will achieve the goal and we would make sure that the people themselves would determine their future.
Question: A good part of President Putin’s speech was about how it’s a mistake to try to undermine the credibility of the United Nations. Who do you think undermines that credibility and why?
S.Lavrov: Whenever people act bypassing the United Nations, whenever they try to use force not asking the Security Council to consider a special situation and to issue necessary mandate, people undermine the United Nations’ authority. This is something, which happened in Iraq, happened in Libya, it happened in Yugoslavia before, and in all these cases, these countries did not benefit: Yugoslavia collapsed, Iraq is in crisis, and there is a danger that Iraq might also split, and we do everything to support the current Iraqi government, the efforts to promote national dialogue to rectify the mistakes made during the American invasion twelve years ago when they just dismantled all the structures of the state based on the Sunnis, based on the Ba'ath party. Now the Americans themselves try to play this situation back. They are trying now to bring Sunnis back into the government structures, whom they themselves 12 years ago have thrown away from the state institutions. And we also believe that these mistakes must not be forgotten. We don't want just to remind every day that they were wrong on that occasion, but we want our partners to draw lessons from the past mistakes, for these mistakes not to be repeated.
In Syria, we are convinced it's only dialogue, led by the Syrians themselves, dialogue with the participation of all Syrian groups - the government and all opposition structures, which could resolve this situation, which would make sure that all those who live in Syria - Sunnis, Alawites, Druses, Armenians, Christians, of course, - that they must reach a deal on how their state should continue to exist, a deal, which would guarantee safety for all these ethnic and religious groups. And as soon as this deal would be reached then the issue of who is going to be in the government, who is going to be president, how the elections would be organized, this would be second. The main thing is to guarantee for all those who live in Syria that they are treated as equals and that they are safe and comfortable.