Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Mohammad Haneef Atmar, Moscow, February 26, 2021
We had useful, substantive talks with Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA) Mohammad Haneef Atmar.
Russia considers Afghanistan an important partner. We consistently advocate the development of the IRA as a peaceful, independent and neutral state, free of terrorism and narcotic drugs. We discussed in detail the status of bilateral relations, including trade and economic ties. We agreed to arrange a regular meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission, which has not met for quite a long time.
We paid great attention to the continuation of the projects that are being carried out with Russia’s participation: the training of Afghan national personnel in civilian, military, police and diplomatic professions and humanitarian assistance (including the efforts to counter the coronavirus pandemic).
Russia reaffirmed its position of principle on all-round assistance to create conditions for intra-Afghan national reconciliation. We will continue these efforts both in our contacts with the parties and as part of the so-called expanded Threesome – Russia, the US and China – with Pakistan’s involvement. We are ready to resume the work of the Moscow format, which includes all key states of the region and the US, at any time. We reaffirmed the importance of the US-Taliban agreement signed in Doha in February 2020 and approved by a UN Security Council resolution.
We are concerned that the situation in Afghanistan remains unstable and tensions are growing despite the launch of the intra-Afghan negotiations. We have a common view that ISIS is a serious factor in the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan. ISIS wants to enhance its influence, including in the northern provinces of Afghanistan, with a view to turning it into a bridgehead for expansion into Central Asia.
We expressed concern over the persistent problem of the production and smuggling of narcotic drugs, which fuels terrorist groups. Unfortunately, Afghanistan remains a major exporter of opiates, accounting for 90 percent of the world market. We would like to see more resolute and effective efforts by the Afghan authorities against this threat. We will continue to help strengthen the potential of Afghan relevant agencies via both bilateral channels and the expansion of the joint Russia-Japan project under the aegis of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. This project has been carried out for several years now.
On behalf of the Afghan leaders, Mr Atmar conveyed assurances of their unwavering commitment to the further promotion of our cooperation in all areas. We confirmed that Moscow fully shares this approach.
Question: What is Russia’s role in achieving national reconciliation in Afghanistan?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Mohammad Haneef Atmar): I have already mentioned our commitment to promoting national reconciliation in Afghanistan, by harnessing the efforts made by many parties to build a foundation for direct talks in order to make sure they are a success. So far, unfortunately, the Doha round has been stalling and it has not even been able to draft a meaningful agenda.
Today, Mr Atmar spoke positively about the importance of the Moscow format. Indeed, we are interested in resuming it if and when all parties are ready to do so. We and many other participants believe it is the best option currently, since it unites all countries of the region and involves the United States.
We will continue our contacts with the key external players, which include the United States, China, Pakistan, India, Iran, and the Central Asian countries. These contacts should help ensure the success of direct and inclusive intra-Afghan talks. This is the only way to go.
Question: Several rounds of talks took place in Moscow with the participation of the Taliban. Are you satisfied with the preliminary results? Were there any consultations with Haneef Atmar on this matter?
Sergey Lavrov: We maintain regular contacts with all Afghan parties, including the government and the Taliban. Today, we shared what was discussed during these meetings with our partners from Kabul (as we always do).
The “message” to the Taliban is not a secret. It’s about the need to avoid escalation on the ground, to respect the already agreed upon terms and conditions for holding direct intra-Afghan talks, and not to put forward any new preliminary requirements, which is mandatory for both parties participating in the negotiating process. Of course, all parties, including the Taliban, must respect the UN Security Council resolutions.
Question: What do you think about last night’s US air strikes on the pro-Iranian formations in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq? Did the Americans inform Moscow about this through military channels? How will this affect the situation in the region and cooperation with the new US administration on Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: Our military were notified of this four or five minutes before the strike. Even if we talk about de-conflicting, which is customary in relations between Russian and US military personnel, this kind of notification, when a strike is literally in the process of happening, doesn’t do much. This concerns the military side of the matter. But in no case should it be considered in isolation from the fact that the United States’ presence in Syria is illegal and breaks every norm of international law, including the UN Security Council resolutions on the Syrian settlement.
We have repeatedly expressed concern over the US actions in Syria, including in the Al-Tanf area on the border with Iraq and on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria. They continue to play the separatism card and block, using pressure on other countries, all supplies (even humanitarian aid, let alone the equipment or materials needed to rebuild the economy) in the areas controlled by the Syrian government. In every possible way, they encourage and force their allies to invest in the regions that are not controlled by Damascus. At the same time, they illegally use Syrian hydrocarbon resources.
Recently, we have been receiving information from various sources (we cannot confirm them yet, and we want to ask the Americans directly) that they are allegedly in the process of making a decision never to leave Syria and even to break up that country.
We have communication channels to keep in touch with the Americans. The military are using de-conflicting. They are there. This is real. We need de-conflicting to avoid collisions. However, we believe it’s important to resume political and diplomatic contacts. We hope that the new US administration will soon form its teams to deal with these matters. It is important for us to understand how Washington will be building its strategy on the ground and in the region, since the United States is voting for resolutions confirming the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity.