Statements and speeches by Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Ayman Safadi, Moscow, February 19, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
The minister and I have held productive, concrete and result-oriented talks, during which we focused on the bilateral agenda, and importantly, regional and international affairs.
With regard to the bilateral agenda, we focused on the need to act on the agreements reached at the most recent meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, which was held in Amman in November 2019.
Our regional ties are expanding. The leaders of Chechnya and Adygea visited Jordan in late 2019.
Our traditionally extensive people-to-people contacts are expanding. On a separate note, I would like to convey our gratitude to the Jordanian leaders and personally King Abdullah II for their unvarying attention to the needs of pilgrims from Russia.
We are on the same page with our Jordanian colleagues when it comes to resolving crises in the Middle East and North Africa. Above all, we share the need to respect the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the countries in the region and to promote an inclusive national dialogue with the participation of all ethnic, religious and political forces of each state, be it Syria, Iraq, or Libya.
Regarding the Syrian settlement, we appreciate Jordan’s contribution, as an observer, to the Astana format. Like our Jordanian friends, we believe there is no alternative to total eradication of the terrorist threat emanating from Syria and other countries in the region.
We focused on creating proper conditions for the return of the refugees, of which there are many in Jordan. Largely thanks to the decisions that are being worked out as part of the Russian-Jordanian operational headquarters for the return of Syrian refugees that was created a few years ago in the Jordanian capital, we have had real successes, albeit on a limited basis so far.
Today, we discussed Jordan’s initiatives to carry out specific projects to restore the civilian infrastructure in southern Syria and to create other conditions for the return of the refugees from Jordan. We are supportive of these projects.
Representatives of the United Nations and the United States join, from time to time, in the activities of the Amman-based Russian-Jordanian operational headquarters for the return of Syrian refugees. We urge our foreign partners to establish close coordination of efforts and to remove political or any other artificial obstacles that interfere with providing humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians, including in the interest of having the refugees return to their homes.
We are on the same page regarding the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which we covered extensively today as well. Russia and Jordan have traditionally been committed to the existing international legal framework for resolving this conflict, including UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
Today, we emphasised the fact that the attempts to resolve the conflict based on the fait accompli policy or using unilateral actions benefitting one of the parties to the conflict are counterproductive, which is corroborated by the vast majority of the countries’ response to the so-called deal to the century, which our US colleagues came up with.
A dialogue and concerted efforts of all the parties involved are needed to resolve this issue. In this regard, we supported the decisions taken at a meeting of the League of Arab States (LAS) in Cairo in early February, which included a proposal to make a transition to an internationally-sponsored multilateral negotiating process. We are prepared for this. We believe the quartet of international mediators with the participation of the LAS could serve as a basis for such a multilateral process.
Of course, we appreciate Jordan’s desire to help find a solution to the Palestinian issue. We note, in particular, that its role is important since King Abdullah II is the custodian of holy Muslim sites in Jerusalem.
In any case, it so happened that now that the “deal of the century” was put forward by the United States, the Palestinian issue came to the forefront of international politics, even though it had remained on the back burner until recently. So, you always need to be aware of the upside and to take advantage of an increased focus on the unacceptability of a deadlock in this matter, and to try to mobilise the international community to help find a solution that will be acceptable to both parties.
We welcomed the steps that have been taken in Iraq to overcome the domestic political crisis. Forming a new government as a result of a dialogue involving all political forces and ethnic and religious groups of that country was an important step forward. We will continue to support our Iraqi friends as they move towards stabilising the situation. Of course, any outside interference in this matter is unacceptable.
Avoiding external interference in domestic affairs is important for the efforts to create proper conditions for a settlement in Libya as well. We share the belief that this crisis can be overcome exclusively through an all-Libyan national dialogue. Everyone who, in one way or another, has an influence on various political and other forces in Libya should encourage them to sit down and talk. The first steps in this direction have been made, but additional difficulties have arisen again.
We, in Russia, are convinced that to ensure a steady Libyan settlement, it is necessary for the external players to avoid coming up with mixed and competing initiatives and to concentrate on aligning the actions so as to encourage the Libyan parties to start a dialogue based on the UN Security Council resolutions.
All in all, the talks confirmed the significant and promising potential of our bilateral partnership and coordinating our efforts in the international arena.
Question: We heard from Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu that President of Russia Vladimir Putin might meet with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan if the Moscow talks on Idlib did not produce results. Meanwhile, speaking in Parliament, President Erdogan just said that he was not satisfied with the results of the Moscow talks, that starting military operations in Idlib is just a matter of time, that the region will not be left to the regime and its associates and that this is the final warning. Turkey has said all this. What do you think about the Moscow talks? Will there be a summit meeting? Will this be a bilateral meeting or an Astana format summit? A couple of hours ago, Iran said it would take place soon.
Sergey Lavrov: As for the Russia-Turkey talks in Moscow yesterday and the day before, the sides did not reach a final agreement on how to implement the terms on Idlib negotiated by President Putin and President Erdogan. We did not propose any new requirements. We believe it is necessary to carry out everything our leaders agreed to. Let me recall that the key agreement on Idlib was the disengagement of the armed opposition that cooperates with Turkey from the terrorists. According to the agreements, terrorists are in no way included in the ceasefire regime, the cessation of hostilities. The disengagement of militants and terrorists, the wards of our Turkish friends, by the deadline fixed in the September 2018 Sochi memorandum was not carried out even after a year. Meanwhile, provocations from the Idlib zone and the shelling of Syrian armed forces positions, civilian facilities and the Russian Khmeimim base have continued.
At their second meeting last autumn, President Putin and President Erdogan agreed to create a demilitarized strip within the Idlib de-escalation zone. This 15-20 km wide area was supposed to be free of all militants and weapons to keep the militants and terrorists from shelling positions beyond the Idlib zone in blatant violation of the agreements reached by the two presidents. This buffer strip along the entire perimeter of the Idlib zone has not yet been established. Moreover, Syrian army positions and civilian facilities are being shelled and attempts to attack our Khmeimim air base continue. Naturally, confirming their commitment to the initial agreements on Idlib, including the truce agreement, Syrian armed forces are responding to these unacceptable provocations. We support their position.
Since the terrorists, and militants that are collaborating with them, are resisting moving back from the perimeter of the de-escalation zone and they are continuing their provocative actions, they are being pushed away from this perimeter as far as possible from the targets they are trying to attack. These Syrian troop actions are a response to the glaring violation of the agreements on Idlib.
Contrary to some assessments, I would like to emphasise that the Syrian troops are pushing the militants and terrorists back on Syrian territory, thereby restoring the control of the lawful Syrian Government over their own lands. While pushing back these thugs that refuse to observe the truce, Syrian troops have already reached the M-4 and M-5 roads. Ensuring traffic on these roads was also a specific part of the two presidents’ agreements on Idlib, which hadn’t been accomplished until recently.
I am talking about this in such detail because judging by the coverage of the situation in Idlib, you might think that nobody remembers what was agreed on in September 2018 – October 2019. Hysterical comments by some Western analysts may suggest the impression that at one time Russia and Turkey agreed to simply “freeze” the situation there, not to deal with the terrorists and let them do what they want, shelling everything around them from the so-called “de-escalation zone.” This is not true. Nobody has ever promised the terrorists that they won’t be touched in the Idlib zone. Read the agreements of President Putin and President Erdogan and everything will fall into place.
Naturally, we will continue reviewing the situation with our Turkish colleagues and ways to implement what was agreed on. Importantly, it is necessary to implement the agreements in order to produce results rather than restore the initial situation of a year and a half ago. We will work at this at all levels, including the top level. Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov mentioned this in his comments yesterday. I haven’t yet heard about preparations for the presidents’ meeting.
Question (to both ministers, retranslated from Arabic): Much was said today about the situation in Idlib and Aleppo. What do you think about the situation in other parts of Syria, notably in the area of the Rukban camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border where armed opposition groups are deployed?
Sergey Lavrov (adds after Ayman Safadi): We were trying to help the Syrians in Rukban to return home but US-controlled brigands used them as human shields. We involved the UN in our efforts. Several attempts to send humanitarian convoys there were made but these criminals did not always allow them to reach those who wanted to be helped. We suspected that the contents of these convoys were used to support the militants. Eventually, the UN gradually reduced its effort there for security reasons. In general, for over a year we have had the impression that Rukban is preserved in its current form to provide the United States with an excuse to maintain its illegal presence on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.
A stable settlement of the Syrian crisis implies the withdrawal of all armed contingents that are there illegally, as is required by UN Security Council Resolution 2254 that emphasises the need to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.