Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Adel al-Jubeir, Riyadh, March 4, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank my colleague and friend, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom Adel al-Jubeir for his hospitality and all our Saudi friends for close cooperation and determination to develop bilateral relations in full accordance with the agreements reached in October 2017 during King Salman’s state visit to Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin and also the agreements reached between the Russian leadership and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his numerous meetings with the Russian President.
We positively assessed the development of our trade and investment cooperation. Trade is growing but we would like to step up its pace. Today we discussed a number of specific steps in this direction, including in the context of preparing for the next meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Russian-Saudi Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation, which is to be held in Moscow in the near future.
We discussed the steps that our respective departments are taking to coordinate large new projects in various fields, including the energy industry, the peaceful use of nuclear energy, industry, agriculture and transport infrastructure.
We agreed to continue coordinating steps in the world oil market in the OPEC + format, which has developed and is operating successfully in many ways thanks to the initiatives of Russia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
We have a shared interest in expanding humanitarian contacts and cultural exchanges and establishing more active and large-scale cooperation in education.
We are grateful to our Saudi friends for their unfailing attention to Russian pilgrims during the Hajj. The number of reservations for pilgrims has grown to 22,500. The attention paid to providing their security undoubtedly deserves our gratitude.
We came to an agreement that Saudi Arabia will take an active part in the work of the Russia – Islamic World Strategic Vision Group, established between Russia and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. This Group holds regular meetings every year. We will welcome Saudi Arabia’s more active involvement in its work.
We also talked about regional matters, of course. We focused on the Middle East and North Africa in light of the priority goals of combating terrorism and the proliferation of the extremist ideology.
We discussed the settlement in Syria, Yemen and other areas in this important region.
We highlighted the need to ensure progress in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement. The situation has reached a stalemate. We believe that it can only be overcome on the basis of UN-approved principles of a peaceful settlement based on a two-state solution. We will do our best to ensure that any steps taken in this sphere are based on UN Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative, which was initiated by the late King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
I am sure that our talks will move relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia forward and will help us achieve the goals set by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and His Majesty the King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Question: How long will it take to finalise the list of members of the Syrian Constitutional Committee?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding our efforts to help the Syrian sides finalise the list of members of the Constitutional Committee, I will point out the obvious: the final say belongs to the Syrian sides – the Government and the opposition. We nearly completed the work we were doing together with our Turkish and Iranian partners to encourage the Syrian Government and opposition to coordinate the list when obstacles that had nothing to do with the task at hand were created by some of our Western colleagues, hindering the approval of the agreements reached by the Syrian Government and opposition at the UN. We take this in our stride, and we will stay on course to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and to help launch the talks that will be conducted by the Syrians themselves.
I am not sure about the timeframe, but work is proceeding apace. I hope we will see its completion very soon.
I would like to use this occasion to express our gratitude to our Saudi friends. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia Adel al-Jubeir has today confirmed the resolve to encourage the Syrian opposition in Saudi Arabia to act constructively to facilitate the political process.
Question: What do you think about the French initiative on amending the Syrian Constitution and holding early elections there?
Sergey Lavrov: It is our understanding, which has been supported by all the main players that can influence the Syrian settlement in any way, that the key priority is establishing the Constitutional Committee. If the countries that tried to slow or hinder this process now have alternative ideas, it is on them. I do not think this will promote the interests of the Syrian people or help launch an inclusive UN-led political process.
Question: Russia has proposed holding Palestinian-Israeli talks in Moscow without any preconditions. Is there any progress towards this or other changes in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement?
Sergey Lavrov: Acting at the request of Israeli authorities we received several years ago, we have come to an agreement with Palestinian authorities on holding a meeting of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Russia without any preliminary conditions. Palestinian leaders are ready for this meeting. Israel has confirmed its interest in such a meeting but is not sure about the timeframe. We are ready to implement this initiative, which is not our initiative but has been proposed by our Israeli colleagues, as soon as both sides coordinate the date.
As for the new elements in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement you have asked about, I regret to say that any new elements can only be described as negative developments. An attempt has been made to invalidate everything we have achieved in this sphere, such as UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, the accords reached in Madrid and Oslo, and, last but not the least, the Arab Peace Initiative.
The Arab Peace Initiative stipulates the settlement of the Palestinian problem through the establishment of two states, Palestine and Israel, living safely and at peace with each other and cooperating with their neighbours. Following that the Arab League countries and member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said they would be ready to fully normalise relations with Israel.
I view this as a principled approach. We actively supported the Arab Peace Initiative, which was proposed by the late King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Today attempts are being made to turn this initiative upside down by first insisting on the normalisation of relations between the Arab countries and Israel and only then looking at what can be done for the Palestinians.
We have noticed that our American colleagues, who are preparing the widely publicised “deal of the century” that is taking too long, reply to direct questions on the matter by saying that they are not trying to undermine the two-state solution. We would like to see the practical implementation of these statements. We’ll see what kind of initiative will eventually be advanced.
We believe – we talked about this with our Saudi friends today – that the Arab Peace Initiative must be preserved in its initial form. Playing fast and loose with the Palestinian problem is unacceptable and contrary to all the agreements reached at the UN and during the previous direct contacts between the sides. A fair settlement of the Palestinian problem is also needed to prevent the growth of radical trends in the Arab street, as they say. It is a very serious matter. I hope that those who are trying to deal with this matter directly are aware of their responsibility for the solution they propose and its potential consequences.
Question: You have said that you discussed Russian-Saudi cooperation in the sphere of nuclear power. Can you speak about it in more detail? Have you reached any agreements?
Sergey Lavrov: Saudi Arabia has a programme for the peaceful use of nuclear energy and has announced tenders for the construction of such facilities. Russian state corporation Rosatom is taking part in these tenders. It acted successfully at the first stage and has been shortlisted for the second stage. I hope that our Saudi friends will appreciate the Russian nuclear companies’ experience and the safety standards of nuclear facilities built by Rosatom around the world.