Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the State of Kuwait Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah, Kuwait City, March 6, 2019
Minister, my dear friend, ladies and gentlemen,
This morning, there was an audience with His Highness the Emir of the State of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, during which we touched upon bilateral cooperation and regional issues.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the State of Kuwait Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah and I had very good and extensive talks, and reviewed in more detail the implementation of the agreements in principle reached during the visit of His Highness Emir Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah to the Russian Federation in 2015.
We reiterated our mutual commitment to strengthen our friendly relations across all areas. We focused particularly on upcoming contacts between our economic departments. Today, the sixth meeting of the Intergovernmental Russia-Kuwait Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation is taking place in Kuwait, the participants of which will review ways to expand trade and investment.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Kuwaiti Investment Agency are developing joint projects, of which there are already several dozen, totaling nearly $200 million. Russian companies, such as Gazprom, Novatek, Zarubezhneft and Inter RAO-Engineering have specific plans, some of which are already being implemented in cooperation with our Kuwaiti partners. We strongly support such relations.
It is gratifying to know that our military relations are strong as well. Kuwait participates in the annual international Army-2018 defence industry forums. Kuwait is a traditional participant in the Tank Biathlon event hosted by the Russian Defence Ministry. This improves contacts between our militaries, including in such sporting "battles."
Cultural and educational contacts, performance group tours and film festivals are quite popular. We will continue to cooperate in these areas. Last year, Russian Cinema Week took place here in Kuwait. An art exhibition will open here next month. Both countries are interested in enriching our relations with such formats.
We support the promotion of interaction between our parliaments. Soon, the Speaker of the National Assembly of Kuwait, Marzouq Al-Ghanim, will visit Russia at the invitation of the Speaker of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Valentina Matviyenko.
With regard to contacts between our respective foreign ministries, they have traditionally been extensive and trust-based and remain so, and cover the entire range of matters that are important for the region and international relations. We pay special attention to interaction with the State of Kuwait in the UN Security Council, where it is now a non-permanent member. We agreed to conduct additional expert consultations on the UNSC agenda.
We enjoy overlapping or very close views on current international issues. We paid special attention to the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, including Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq. We see eye to eye on the need to settle all conflicts exclusively by political and peaceful means in strict accordance with the norms of international law through inclusive national dialogue.
We stressed the need to resume as soon as possible direct Palestinian-Israeli talks as part of the existing international legal framework, which includes resolutions of the UN Security Council, the UNGA and the Arab Peace Initiative. We are committed to these principles. We believe it is extremely important to uphold them in our further efforts to achieve a Palestinian-Israeli settlement.
We also agreed on the need to help the Palestinians restore unity in their ranks, which, we hope, we did by hosting the third intra-Palestinian meeting with the participation of the 12 most prominent Palestinian groups held in Moscow last month.
We touched upon the situation in the Persian Gulf in view of the long-standing Russian proposal to establish dialogue, strengthen trust and increase security with the participation of all littoral countries. This includes the GCC countries and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Of course, we are interested in promoting a constructive and unifying agenda in this region that would involve all countries of the region in joint efforts.
In closing, I would like to thank our Kuwaiti friends for the atmosphere of geniality and hospitality that we felt immediately upon our arrival in this beautiful country.
Question: At yesterday’s meeting with representatives of Syria's High Negotiations Committee (HNC) you said that Moscow and Riyadh have reached an understanding on all the main issues of Syrian settlement. Does that mean there has been progress on disputed issues? How far is the Syrian opposition that took part in yesterday’s meeting from starting direct negotiations with Damascus?
Sergey Lavrov: In Riyadh I had a very detailed discussion on Syria with Saudi representatives, primarily Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Adel Al-Jubeir. This issue was also covered at an audience with His Majesty King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
When we say that our positions on Syrian settlement coincide, we mean the following. First, Saudi Arabia, like the Russian Federation and many other responsible countries, is working rigorously for the eradication of the terrorist threat on Syrian territory and regards this task a priority. Second, like Russia, Saudi Arabia considers it important not only to send humanitarian relief to Syria but also to provide assistance by creating conditions for the return of refugees. I’m referring to elementary living conditions, electricity and water supply and basic social and educational services. Many countries, above all in the West, believe that this assistance is excessive and insist on making it conditional on the progress in political talks. We are convinced that the aim of creating these basic conditions for the return of refugees is strictly humanitarian. We heard the same opinion in Riyadh yesterday. Third, like Russia, Saudi Arabia deems it necessary to establish a Constitutional Committee as soon as possible and stop looking for excuses for artificially dragging out this work.
As for the Syrian opposition with which we held talks at the airport before our departure for Kuwait, conversation with its leader Nasr al-Hariri, who heads the HNC, was fairly constructive. We urged their representatives to act in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which determines intra-Syrian dialogue as the main road to settlement.
As for the question of how far the Syrian opposition is from starting direct talks with Damascus, I can say the following. The Constitutional Committee, the formation of which is being completed, includes 50 representatives of the Syrian Government and the same number of members of the Syrian opposition. Our interlocutors yesterday took a direct part in forming the Committee’s opposition bloc. So their interests will be duly represented.
Question: During your visits to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, will you propose any Russian initiatives for overcoming the crisis in the Gulf considering that Kuwait is a mediator there? Do you know any details of the US “deal of the century” on the Middle East? We would like to hear more details about it.
Sergey Lavrov: We would also like to hear more details about this deal because the rumours and speculations circulating at the moment sound very alarming. If what we hear from our friends who heard something from the Americans is the truth, the deal is about erasing everything that was done to build the foundations of Palestinian-Israeli settlement and for the formation of the state of Palestine that would have territorial integrity and sovereignty and would safely live side by side with Israel and all other neighbours. Another source of concern are attacks on the Arab Peace Initiative, which was set forth by Saudi Arabia and supported by all members of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. It envisaged the normalisation of relations between the Arab world and the State of Israel after a two-state approach to the Palestinian issue is carried out. It is rumoured that this pattern is about to be abandoned. It will be possible to judge about this deal only after Washington makes its proposal public. I hope that US representatives who are involved in drafting this initiative will listen to the signals send to them by the region’s countries, Security Council members and all UN member states.
As for the current visits to the region’s countries – we started in Qatar, then went to Saudi Arabia, now we are in Kuwait and will fly to the UAE in the evening – this is a regular cycle of our consultations. We visit each other in turn and exchange our views, assessments and forecasts on the developments in the region that worry the countries located there and affect the general international situation, including the work of the UN.
Naturally, we discussed the situation in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Russia does not have any initiatives as regards this issue. We support long-term efforts of Kuwait and other countries that favour the unity of the Council. This is in the interests of each of these countries, the Council itself, as well as the Russian Federation because we have a stable format of ministerial dialogue with that organisation. We have not met in this lineup for a fairly long time. Today the Minister and I discussed the expediency of holding such a ministerial forum in the foreseeable future.
Question: Did you raise the question at the talks about Russian citizen Maria Lazareva who was detained in Kuwait?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, we discussed this question. Naturally, we are worried about the fate of any Russian citizen who is in a predicament. We expressed the hope that during the review of her case under the legislation of Kuwait, all her legal rights will be guaranteed, including those stemming from international conventions signed by Kuwait. I voiced this request and it seemed to me that it was heard.
Question: Could you comment on the statement by the Russian Defence Ministry that residents of the Rukban camp are being prevented from returning home by tough resistence from the US? Has Russia-US cooperation on the Syrian file stopped and has there been any progress in ending the crisis in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: We still have contacts with the US on Syria. Contact through the military, that is, the deconfliction channel is fairly useful. We also communicate on broader issues, which is also useful considering that the US is illegally but still de facto present in Syria and is implementing some of its plans there that are not always transparent. So when we have an opportunity to ask them direct questions on their real goals, this is always important for our own understanding of what is going on.
As for the Rukban camp, it is located within the 55-kilometre Al-Tanf security zone that the Americans established illegally and unilaterally. Certain things are taking place there: the American special forces are consolidating their positions in the area while extremist militants are taking a break and replenishing their supplies nearby, under their cover. The Rukban refugee camp is located on the same territory.
We have long supported the Syrian government’s appeals for this camp to be disbanded, allowing the refugees and internally displaced persons to return home. In response, we were told that this is a complicated task for the time being and that first, it is necessary to provide them with food and water and all essentials in the Rukban camp. For this reason, with our support, the Syrian government organised a humanitarian convoy but the militants did not let it pass into the Al-Tanf zone, saying that they themselves would give humanitarian aid to the refugees in need. It is impossible to take their word for it. When Western countries and UN officials asked us to send a second convoy via the Syrian government we demanded that it be accompanied by UN officials and representatives of the Syrian Red Crescent Society. We wanted them to monitor how this aid is distributed and to whom. Following the second humanitarian convoy, a poll of the refugees was held and 95 percent of them said they wanted to return home on their own free will. The Syrian government announced that it is actively facilitating the construction of facilities for the returning refugees. The Russian military who work in Syria arranged, alongside the Syrian government, the creation of two humanitarian corridors to enable refugees to leave this horrible camp on specially-provided buses. The camp is notorious for its anti-sanitary conditions and lack of food. Now the US has started declaring that it won’t let the refugees leave the camp.
When they insisted on the humanitarian convoy we asked them: “And who provides all the necessities for your military who are on the same territory?” It turned out that they were supplied from abroad – Iraq and Jordan. If they are so concerned about the civilians who are in a very difficult situation in the Rukban camp, they could no doubt supply them with basic necessities from abroad, bypassing the bandits that control a large part of the Al-Tanf zone. The Americans were reluctant to do this though, and they insisted on humanitarian convoys from Damascus alone and kept the refugees in the camp as hostages. This gives rise to the unpleasant thought that the Americans need this camp in order to justify their illegal presence there. This, and other matters, confirm the suspicion of many experts that the Americans are going to establish a quasi-state on the Eastern Bank of the Euphrates River and do not want these territories to go back under the control of the legitimate Syrian authorities.
We will, as the Russian Defence Ministry firmly put it, insist that people should no longer be kept in this camp against their will.