Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and replies to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif, Moscow, January 26, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
The talks with Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif were fact-based and trustful. We have worked with each other for quite some time. This helps in resolving many issues that must be reviewed and implemented under the agreements between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Iran Hassan Rouhani. They regularly communicate and discuss the entire range of bilateral relations, as well as current regional and international issues. Today, these issues were reviewed in detail, including our cooperation in trade, the economy, energy, agricultural, transport and industrial areas.
We spoke about cooperation in building new units at the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant. We welcomed the efforts of our colleagues from the economic bloc of our governments to develop our comprehensive partnership.
We praised our humanitarian and interregional ties and noted our cooperation in countering the COVID-19 coronavirus. Our relevant agencies keep in contact. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) takes part in this cooperation on Russia’s behalf. Our Iranian friends reported that the fund’s partners in Tehran are ready to complete the consultations that will allow us to develop practical cooperation.
We signed the intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in ensuring information security. It opens opportunities for us to coordinate our actions related to the growing importance of problems in cyberspace and the increasing impact on international relations and the situation in individual countries.
We discussed in detail the situation around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme. Our positions are identical. We are interested in its complete preservation. We are convinced that the way to this goal lies exclusively through the consistent, all-round implementation of the provisions of this major document by all involved parties in strict compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2231. We hope the current efforts will produce a result and lead to the preservation of the JCPOA and that the US will resume full implementation of the said resolution. In turn, this will create conditions for observing the requirements of the nuclear deal by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The joint ministerial statement on the JCPOA (adopted on December 21, 2020) by the countries that remain parties to the plan shows how to move towards this goal.
We paid special attention to the Nagorno-Karabakh situation with account for the Russian efforts that made it possible to achieve a complete ceasefire on November 9, 2020.
We also spoke about the agreements reached on January 11, 2021 at the meeting of the presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia. These agreements provide for cooperation in unblocking all economic, transport and other ties in the South Caucasus with the participation of the region’s countries, including Iran. We are convinced that these efforts will make it possible to finally settle the remaining political problems in the Nagorno-Karabakh situation in terms of justice and in the interests of the people of Azerbaijan and Armenia and all of their neighbours.
We coordinated our approaches to the Syrian settlement. The Astana format is working and confirming its relevance. We discussed the preparations for a regular meeting of the Astana format that is scheduled for Sochi next February. We spoke about the regular session of the Small Body of the Constitutional Committee, which started its work yesterday. Russia, Iran and our Turkish partners in the Astana format are following these talks. We want these talks in the Constitutional Committee to be held strictly in accordance with their negotiated agenda.
We also reviewed other global and regional issues, including the situation in the Persian Gulf area, Yemen and Afghanistan. We emphasised the need to prevent the Palestinian problem from being buried indefinitely. Russia and Iran intend to closely coordinate their positions on all of these issues, including in the UN.
I believe our talks were very useful. I would like to sincerely thank the Foreign Minister of Iran and his entire delegation for the practical cooperation.
Question (translated from Farsi): What do you think about Russia-Iran relations in the context of the current world situation, in part, the change of the US administration?
Sergey Lavrov: These are relations between friendly and close countries that are neighbours in the Caspian Sea area. We cooperate in numerous formats in addition to our bilateral agenda. We are developing our relations in the interests of the two states and our nations. In building our plans, we do not look back at any third party.
Naturally, the world situation is affecting our relations to the extent to which some of our Western colleagues are trying to limit our opportunities to develop mutually beneficial cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation. In our opinion, these are illegal attempts to abuse unilateral restrictions that are at variance with international law, and impart exterritorial character to their national laws. Under the circumstances, we have chosen forms of trade, economic and investment cooperation that will not depend on the whims of anyone who violates international law.
As for the current status in international life, including the change of the administration in Washington, we have heard many statements by the Joseph Biden team on foreign policy plans. One of them was the announcement of the new President’s intention to fully observe the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme.
If this takes place, we will only welcome it. The leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation have emphasised more than once that all signatories to the JCPOA approved by the UN Security Council must resume the fulfilment of their commitments. If this happens (and we believe we will achieve this result), relations between our countries will only benefit because they will be spared the illegitimate and illegal unilateral sanctions of the US and many other countries.
Question (retranslated from Farsi): Iran took five steps to reduce its obligations under the JCPOA and announced that it had begun to enrich uranium metal, which is seen by many experts as a step towards developing weapons-grade plutonium. Is Iran ready to return to compliance with the JCPOA if the United States and other European participants in the JCPOA act accordingly? How will the IAEA international experts be admitted then?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Mohammad Javad Zarif): As we have said more than once (and reiterated during the talks today), we are concerned that Iran was forced not to comply with its voluntary obligations under the JCPOA. We are aware that systematic long-term non-compliance, even violation by the Trump administration, of its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which approved the JCPOA, lies at the root of the problem. The current situation is based not only on the systematic violation of this resolution by the United States itself, but also on the fact that Washington told other countries not to comply with it in the part that ensured unhindered trade and economic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. We understand that this lies at the root of the problem. We have worked persistently and continue to work with the European participants in the JCPOA, who clearly were unwilling to “fall out” with the United States. Many in the United States and elsewhere wanted to tighten the noose of sanctions on Iran.
We have heard many times that former US President Donald Trump was the first among his numerous predecessors in office not to start a war. Many people in the Trump administration and abroad wanted to use the US withdrawal from the JCPOA to provoke Iran and start another war in response, and thereby prevent the Trump administration from becoming such an exception. Perhaps, there are still many people who are willing to do so now. We are doing our best to ensure that, based on the statements by President Biden and his staff about their willingness to return to the JCPOA, all of us, including Iran, the EU and the People's Republic of China, find concrete ways to have all JCPOA participants fulfill their obligations in full. By doing so, we would return this greatest achievement in nonproliferation to the “treasure trove” of international diplomacy and knock the trump cards out of the hands of those who wanted to push this situation to the limit and bring it to a “hot” stage. Russia will do whatever it takes to prevent such a scenario from materialising. I’m sure this meets the interests of Iran, all countries in the region and, ultimately, Europe and the entire West, including the United States.
Question (retranslated from Farsi): You said that Russia wants to create balanced relations in the Gulf countries, and the United States is hampering the implementation of this idea. Does Russia have specific proposals in this regard?
Sergey Lavrov: I have never said that the United States is getting in the way of Russia’s initiatives. We have been discussing them in detail for a long time now. Almost 20 years ago, we put forward proposals to develop the Security Concept in the Gulf. Since then, we have not only repeated this, but we have been following the developments in the region and the rest of the world and we are doing our best to update our approaches and make them relevant.
In 2019, an updated Gulf Security Concept was presented. A scientific conference was held with the participation of all countries which we believe must be involved in this process. In October 2020, when Russia chaired the UN Security Council, a special debate was held on this subject. Despite all the differences, it revealed an obvious interest not only in continuing this conversation, but in ensuring that it has a concrete result, primarily in the sphere of confidence-building and the establishment of neighbourly relations like they did in Europe in the 1980s.
We are open to discussing other states’ ideas. China has come up with similar initiatives. Iran put forward the Hormuz Peace Initiative, which implies holding meetings and a dialogue format between the Gulf countries. Qatar and Kuwait have come up with similar ideas over the years.
If we go back to Russia’s proposals aimed at ensuring Gulf security, in the autumn of 2020, President Putin proposed holding a summit in a videoconference format (due to coronavirus restrictions) between the leaders of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, Iran and Germany. This offer remains on the table. We are also willing to join any process that pursues the above goal: peace, security, stability and neighbourliness in the Gulf with the support of all neighbouring states.
Importantly, some countries are tempted to link progress in regional security with restoring the JCPOA. We are not. On the contrary, we are convinced that the JCPOA must be reinstated in full without any preliminary conditions.
Question: The President of the Russian Federation called the Nagorno-Karabakh situation the main event of 2020. The Nagorno-Karabakh settlement has become part of Russia’s daily agenda. Does this mean that Nagorno-Karabakh will become one of the main strategic priorities in Russia’s foreign policy for this year and many years ahead? What has been done to unblock transport and economic connections? Do you think this was the best option for moving towards peace in Nagorno-Karabakh? To what extent are Iran and other countries in the region willing to engage in multilateral cooperation?
Sergey Lavrov: It is too simplistic to say that Russia considered Nagorno-Karabakh a priority only in 2020. We have paid very close attention to a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement for many years, if not decades. An unbiased analysis shows that of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group that includes Russia, France and the US, we have been the most consistent initiators of different ideas in the framework of the agreed-upon common principles, which would allow the sides to reach a settlement.
Several years ago, we had an opportunity to reach an agreement that could have helped save hundreds and even thousands of lives in Azerbaijan and Armenia. It was supposed to be based on the Russian proposals supported by the other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Unfortunately, this did not work at that time. Now we are facing a real situation on the ground that was achieved as a result of the mediation by President of Russia Vladimir Putin, his talks for many hours with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan. This agreement is embodied in the Statement of November 9, 2020. Apart from the complete cessation of all hostilities, it includes the solutions on the ground, most of which fit in into the principles that were formulated at one time by Russia and the other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
In many respects, the situation follows these principles, but this has taken place at the cost of an enormous human toll. This must be a lesson for the future for all participants in similar conflicts.
We are not going to ignore the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. This was confirmed by the trilateral summit that took place in Moscow on January 11 of this year with the participation of President of Russia Vladimir Putin, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan. At this summit, they decided to create a mechanism that would implement their agreement on unblocking the economic ties, transport communications, and the economic and humanitarian life in the region as a whole.
You asked me whether the three countries will face challenges on the road to peace. If you have in mind Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, they are not the only ones that are interested in a calm, peaceful life and prosperity in the region. Iran, Turkey and Georgia (I mention Georgia as well, as part of the South Caucasus) have the same interests. In general, initiatives are being made to motivate the three republics of the South Caucasus to build their relations with the participation of their neighbours – Russia, Iran and Turkey – in the context of the new reality where there is no war and all parties agree to lift the embargos and other restrictions on normal life in this important part of the world.
There is no doubt that the Islamic Republic of Iran is interested in joining all of these projects. Russia will also take a direct part in the efforts envisioned by the agreements on unblocking economic and transport connections. There are specific ideas in this context. There is a trilateral mechanism at the deputy prime minister level that plans to hold their first meeting very soon.
In addition to Russia, Iran and Turkey, many countries, including several European states, are willing to join the efforts to restore the economy in Nagorno-Karabakh and around it. I think this intention can only be welcomed. The bottom line is that all external participants must realise that now it is important to create, strengthen, and make reliable and durable the economic foundation of future life in the South Caucasus.