Inter-American problems and regional policy
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov remarks and answers to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Amman, April 7, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to sincerely thank our Jordanian friends for their warm welcome and traditional hospitality.
Yesterday and today, my colleague and friend Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi and I held very productive talks.
We have considered all areas of our cooperation in keeping with the fundamental agreements reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and His Majesty King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
We stated our common interest in stepping up our trade and economic relations. We saw a sharp increase in trade last year and it is important to consolidate this trend. So, we assign a special role to the Intergovernmental Commission for the Development of Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, which adopted effective decisions at its session in Moscow last year and is preparing for the next session to be held in Jordan.
We also have a joint interest in developing and energising cultural exchanges and dialogue between religious organisations and unions. We once again expressed gratitude to our Jordanian colleagues for their assistance in opening a mission of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society in Amman in January 2019. This is particularly important, given the great number of pilgrims from Russia seeking to visit the sacred sites every year.
While considering the key regional and international problems, we paid particular attention to the need to intensify the fight against terrorism, to organise this work on a universal basis without double standards, and to cut short attempts to disseminate terrorist and extremist ideology.
We emphasised that there was no alternative to a political settlement in Syria based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and decisions by the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi in January last year. Based on these decisions, work is being completed to form the Constitutional Committee. I hope that quite soon our UN colleagues will be able to start helping the Constitutional Committee, which is due to get down to work in Geneva.
We are also interested in promoting our efforts to bring Syria back to the “Arab fold.” We agree with our Jordanian friends that it should be a two-way street. We will try to help this in every possible way.
We have addressed and considered in detail what our Jordanian friends see as a sensitive issue. I am referring to the need to incentivise Syrian refugees to return to places of their permanent residence. Today, as I understand, there are 1.3 million refugees from Syria in the Kingdom. This is, of course, a very heavy burden that is influencing the socioeconomic situation. This problem must be resolved. We have a common vision that the repatriation should be voluntary and non-discriminatory. We told our interlocutors that the Syrian government was taking measures to create favourable conditions for those who decided to return to their homes. I am referring to water supply, electricity, and elementary social services in healthcare and education.
We talked at length about the Rukban refugee camp, which is a much-discussed subject. The camp is located in the Jordan-Syria border area. We are in favour of this camp being disbanded as soon as possible. The overwhelming majority of the refugees, according to UN representatives who visited the camp, would like to return home, most of them to territories controlled by the Syrian government. It is necessary to stop obstructing their return to freedom. They do not feel free at the camp. The living conditions inside are unbearable. There are many women and children among them. We are ready to consider any steps helping the refugees to leave Rukban. I think the simplest and most effective solution would be for the US to cease its illegal occupation of that territory. We have a Russian-Jordanian operational staff for refugees in Amman, which is considering matters related to the camp’s disbandment. The US periodically takes part in this work. I hope they will use a more constructive approach to solving this very pressing problem as far as Jordan is concerned.
For understandable reasons, we talked at length about prospects for Middle East settlement. We are concerned with the developments in the region and the Palestinian territories. We have no doubt whatsoever about the need to abide by the international legal framework created by the international community in the shape of UN Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative. We see a solution based solely on the two-state option because any other unilateral course of action is doomed to failure.
We are certainly very concerned about the illegitimate and destabilising US decision on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as well as the counterproductive US attempts to invent in secret some “deal of the century” that everyone is talking about but has seen nothing of as yet. The leaked information about this “deal” is causing most profound concern.
We have agreed to continue a close dialogue. We are not parting for a long time. As early as April 16, my colleague and friend will attend the fifth ministerial meeting of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum in Moscow. I’ll be seeing you soon!
Question: What decision will be made on the Rukban refugee camp, given it is so close to the US base in the Al-Tanf area? What is the Americans’ take on it? Will there be coordination between Russia and Jordan in this regard?
Sergey Lavrov: It’s not about Rukban being close to the US base, but, as you know, it’s that the Americans have unilaterally announced the so called 55-km deconfliction zone in the Al-Tanf region. It is not clear how they even justify their actually illegal and occupation-like presence there. The Rukban Camp is located inside this zone, surrounded by a host of illegal armed groups, while the Americans, as I understand it, are cooperating with them and helping them recover. Some time ago, militants made rather frequent forays from the Al-Tanf zone into the territory controlled by the Syrian government.
For a very long time, the Americans generally refused to talk about disbanding the camp, or about the need for refugees to return to their homes, only insisting that humanitarian convoys be sent to the camp from the territory controlled by the Syrian government, facilitated by the UN. But this can mean only one thing – they want to make this situation permanent. When the UN came to Rukban and found that the vast majority of the refugees wanted to go home, the Americans had no arguments left. Now they begin to say that they are ready to discuss the disbandment of the camp, but I have a feeling that they are not being sincere. Apparently, in their understanding, Rukban is a reason to maintain their illegal presence in the south. We will offer a response. As I said, the easiest way would be to end the occupation of this part of Syria, but as a first step, we will insist on the refugees getting the freedom to return. I emphasise again, that’s what most of them want.
Question: Have you discussed any specific initiatives or mechanisms for the return of refugees from Jordan to places of permanent residence in the Syrian regions freed from terrorists, in particular in the southern and southwestern parts bordering Jordan?
Sergey Lavrov: As we said in our opening remarks, we have placed much emphasis on the need to return the refugees, in this case from Jordan, to their homes. To this end, we are vigorously encouraging the Syrian authorities to create and ensure all necessary conditions in the areas where the refugees will return.
According to our data, more than 30,000 areas are ready, with housing, water, electricity and basic social services in place. So we fully support Jordan’s desire to see these people return to their homes as soon as possible.
We also see that Jordan does not share the position of those countries, primarily Western countries, that do not want to provide assistance in creating the conditions for the return of refugees, explaining it by certain changes in the political process, with no criteria clearly formulated. I think this is a gross violation of humanitarian law. People must return to their homes. Making them hostage to political games is wrong.