24 julio 200417:48

INTERVIEW GRANTED BY THE RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SERGEY LAVROV TO THE EGYPTIAN NEWSPAPER AL-AHRAM PUBLISHED ON JULY 23, 2004

1687-24-07-2004

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Unofficial translation from Russian

Question: Mr. Minister, how much is your experience of working with the United Nations helping you in your work as Foreign Minister?

Answer: Professionally it was a very useful experience because the UN is a universal organization covering the whole world and practically the whole spectrum of international problems. To me, the experience of work in the UN Security Council is particularly important because it has to take decisions on the most acute international security issues quickly, sometimes within hours. Work at the UN gives you a very full idea of the main trends of world development, helps to see the problems and tasks of your own country in the broad international perspective. All this, of course, is helping me in my current job, especially since for Russia cooperation with the UN and strengthening of its role in world affairs is a foreign policy priority.

Question: What are the main directions of Russian foreign policy today?

Answer: Our diplomacy continues the course charted in the Russian Foreign Policy Concept. It is based on ensuring the country's national interests through active participation in international processes as an equal, responsible and predictable member of the world community. We intend to uphold our interests by peaceful means, through dialogue and constructive interaction with other states and international structures. The Russian foreign policy is diversified, oriented as it is toward a balanced development of relations with the countries of the West and East, North and South.

As for our main priorities today, they have been formulated by President Putin of the Russian Federation in his recent Address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. These are above all the deepening of integration processes in the CIS, continued integration of the Russian economy in the world economy, including securing favorable terms for joining the WTO, protection of the legitimate rights and interests of our citizens and Russian business abroad. Invariably focal to us are the issues of the development of international cooperation in fighting the global challenges and threats of the 21st century, such as terrorism, drug trafficking and the spread of the WMD. Needless to say, work to prevent and settle regional crises and conflicts is a priority for us. On the whole our line will consist in seeking a solution to world problems on a collective basis taking into account the interests of all states and in strict compliance with international law.

Question: Cooperation with the CIS countries is traditionally named among Moscow's policy priorities. How effective is that cooperation, in your opinion? How would Russia like to see the cooperation among countries in the post-Soviet space?

Answer: The strengthening of relations with the CIS countries remains an undoubted foreign policy priority of Russia. Tens of millions of our countrymen live in the space of the Commonwealth. Our vital interests in the field of economy, defense and security are concentrated there.

At present, due to the dynamic development of the Russian economy, our country objectively plays the role of an attraction center, a kind of locomotive of integration processes. At the same time we approach these processes pragmatically and are ready to pursue them with those countries which are genuinely prepared for integration. Of late, a number of new integration associations comprising some Commonwealth member states have sprung up in the CIS space. Thus, the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) that comprises Byelorussia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzia, Russia and Tajikistan is a free trade zone without exceptions and work is under way to create a customs union. The single economic space of the four economically most developed CIS countries -- Russia, Byelorussia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine (SES) -- is being formed. We believe that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which includes, along with Russia and China, the Central Asian states, has a big future.

Russia and our CIS partners share their interest in jointly counteracting such challenges and threats as international terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and drug trafficking. A CIS Anti-Terrorist Center (ATC) has been set up. The Collective Security Treaty Organization, comprising Armenia, Byelorussia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzia, Russia and Tajikistan is emerging as an effective instrument of ensuring security in the Eurasian space.

On the whole the processes of integration within the CIS have good prospects. For they rely on the centuries-old experience of cooperation and close communication among the peoples of our countries.

Question: How do you assess NATO expansion to the East? What are the possible consequences of that process?

Answer: We consider, as before, that the expansion of the Alliance provides no answer to any of the real challenges confronting the world community today. This is the inertia of old approaches. At the same time realizing that Russia does not pose a threat to NATO nor does NATO pose a threat to Russia, we do not perceive the expansion of the Alliance as an obstacle to building up cooperation, especially within the Russia-NATO Council (RNC) and to progress towards a genuine collective model of European security.

We will do all we can to ensure that our relations with the Alliance develop on an equal basis in a positive and mutually beneficial manner. We confirmed this position at the recent RNC meeting in Istanbul. Of course, we expect that the NATO countries will properly take into account the legitimate security interests of Russia.

Question: What in your opinion should be done for the role of the UN in world politics to grow and become the key role?

Answer: The UN, owing to its representative character and universal competence, is vested with indisputable legitimacy in solving military-political, social-economic and humanitarian problems on a world and regional scale on behalf of all the states. The new character of modern threats calls for a collective response based on international law. The UN provides optimum conditions for that. Of course, it must also change and march in step with the times.

Russia, being fully aware of its responsibility as a founding state of the UN and a permanent member of its Security Council and now also Chair of the UN Security Council's Counterterrorism Committee, seeks to make a tangible contribution to asserting the Organization's central coordinating role in world affairs. We appreciate our partners at the UN, above all Egypt, which are helping us to successfully promote the Russian initiative on forming a global system to counteract modern challenges and threats under the UN aegis. Russia vigorously supports the efforts, as part of that initiative of the High Level Group on Threats, Challenges and Change created by Kofi Annan, a group of which Yevgeny Primakov is a member.

Question: What, in your view, are the chances of a strategic partnership between Russia and the Islamic world countries?

Answer: Our line for broader cooperation with the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) flows naturally from the essence of the diversified Russian foreign policy and the very nature of our multinational and multiconfessional state. The political dialogue between Russia and the OIC launched at President Putin's initiative in August 2003 is gaining momentum. The session of OIC foreign ministers in Istanbul, in which a Russian Foreign Minister took part for the first time, as well as negotiations with the Organization's ministerial delegation in Moscow at the end of May this year revealed the coincidence of our positions on the most topical international problems.

Russia and the OIC countries have a broad field of common interests, especially as regards opposing the attempts to foment interethnic and interconfessional conflicts. I am convinced that our states can do much to prevent a split of the world along religious and civilizational lines.

Question: One of Russia's main partners in the Muslim world is Iran. How does Moscow see the prospects of further cooperation with Teheran?

Answer: We highly value the state and prospects of Russian-Iranian relations. Iran is our neighbor and traditional partner. Our countries are interested in developing a political dialogue and cooperation in various fields. This was highlighted by the recent official visit to Russia of my Iranian counterpart Kamal Harrazi. We have agreed to deepen trade and economic ties, including implementation of the agreement on the North-South international transport corridor, the expansion of cooperation in the fuel and energy and aviation fields. A program of developing long-term trade and economic, industrial and scientific-technical cooperation between Russia and Iran for ten years whereby the parties intend in the future to implement projects worth about 10 billion dollars is being prepared for signing.

As for nuclear energy, Russia supports the right of Iran as a member state of NPT to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and intends to continue cooperation with Iran in that field. At the same time the prospects and scale of such partnership are determined with due account of Teheran's compliance with its obligations vis-a-vis the IAEA. Furthermore, the development of such cooperation depends on the solution of the issue of the return to Russia of the spent nuclear fuel from the Bushehr nuclear plant currently under construction.

Question: What is Russia's position with regard to the so-called "broader Middle East" project initiated by the US and Israel?

Answer: During his visit to Moscow at the end of May this year President Hosni Mubarrak of Egypt and President Putin discussed the issue of reforms in the Arab world and the BME initiative. They stated their common opinion to the effect that the reforms must proceed from the Arab states themselves, and the program of their implementation must be conditional on the desire of each country and must correspond to its characteristics -- in the first place religious, national and cultural. Russia is interested in a stable and progressive social-economic development of the Middle East and North African countries. We support the aspirations of the countries in the region for modernization and the solution of the accumulated problems. But I would like to stress once again that the conduct of the reforms should be the business above all of the countries in the region themselves.

This was our assumption in the course of the discussions during the June summit of the G-8 on Sea Island which considered ways of establishing partnership for progress and a common future with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. The task of the G-8 is to provide all possible help to these countries in accordance with their wishes. The leaders of the G-8 also gave priority to the problem of the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the situation in Sudan.

Question: Russia is traditionally a co-sponsor of the Middle East settlement process and is a member of the Quartet of international mediators. Does Moscow intend to assume a more active role in resolving Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

Answer: Russia was and is a steadfast supporter of collective, coordinated efforts in the search for peace in the Middle East. And we do not hide our own interests in the region -- political, economic, trade and cultural-historical. The optimum format for assisting a just Middle East settlement, is, in our view, the Quartet of international mediators comprising Russia, the US, the EU and UN, established with our active participation. Moscow is playing a vigorous and constructive role within the Quartet. It's important that Russia is consistently seeking the implementation of schemes that have not been thought up by us, but are consensus decisions of the world community approved, among others, by the conflicting parties themselves. A good example in point is the "road map" for Palestinian-Israeli settlement. Following its approval, the document became part of international law at Russia's initiative under UN Security Council Resolution 1515. We have made a tangible contribution to very important and timely decisions of the Quartet ministerial meeting in New York on May 4 this year and the G-8 summit on Sea Island. They do not just confirm the known international-legal framework of Israeli-Palestinian settlement, but clearly place all the accents regarding Sharon's initiative of unilateral dissociation. It was said with the utmost clarity that the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza is not the end, but the beginning of the movement that must fit into the framework of the "road map". We intend to build up our participation in the efforts to resolve the conflict. Much remains to be done. The liberation of occupied Palestinian territories must be organized, must take into account the interests of the social and economic state of the Gaza Strip and must be agreed with the Palestinians. Together with the other members of the Quartet Russia will work vigorously toward that end. In this connection with highly praise the actions of Egypt and intend to strengthen our interaction.

Question: How do you assess the present situation in Iraq? Does Russia have any concrete proposals on normalizing the situation in Iraq?

Answer: The situation in Iraq remains extremely complicated. Criminal or terrorist groups committed to destabilizing the situation remain active in the country often under the cover of patriotic rhetoric. Lack of normal security conditions is a brake on the work of peaceful development of Iraq and reconstruction of the social and economic infrastructure.

We are convinced that these alarming trends can only be reversed by energetically moving forward the political process aimed at restoring the full state sovereignty and forming in a democratic way permanent legitimate national bodies of power. Political stabilization, in turn, will create the necessary climate for establishing broad international economic assistance to Iraq.

This approach is contained in UN Security Council Resolution 1546 to which Russia contributed in a most active way. It is important that this document opens the way for a more active UN contribution to post-crisis disposition in Iraq, in particular, further advance of the political process and revival of the economy. Mobilization of international assistance to the efforts of the new Iraqi leadership in this area could be aided by an international conference on Iraq, an idea proposed by Russia. We think that the relevance of such a conference will become still greater after the end of occupation when the Iraqi people is in dire need of achieving national harmony, in support for its efforts at peaceful development of the country by neighboring states and the international community as a whole.

At the same time it is clear that the prospects of full normalization in Iraq are determined above all by how effectively the country's new authorities will act, to what extent they manage by their practical steps to earn the confidence of the population making them feel that the occupation is really coming to an end and the country is obtaining independence.

Russia, for its part, is ready to give every kind of assistance, including as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to the efforts of the Iraqi people in creating a new statehood and peaceful development of the country.

Question: What are the prospects of cooperation between Russia and the Arab countries in general and Egypt in particular?

Answer: Of late, our relations with the Arab world have been more and more dynamic. The Russian-Arab political dialogue is developing actively, trade and economic ties are being established, exchanges in the field of education, science and culture are broadening.

It is a measure of our intensive relations with the Arab countries that during the past nine months the top leaders of four Arab states have visited Moscow. A series of new Russian-Arab contacts at various levels are due to take place in the near future. Such exchange of visits, naturally, offers good opportunities for a thorough discussion of various aspects of bilateral relations and determining the general directions of further development of bilateral cooperation. We are convinced that we have good prospects for the development of many-sided mutually beneficial partnership with our Arab friends and partners in the most diverse spheres.

As for our relations with Egypt, they traditionally occupied a special place in the Russian Middle East policy. For decades we have been linked with that Arab country by feelings of mutual sympathy and respect, solid and mutually beneficial cooperation and a readiness to move along the path of deepening it. All these ideas were confirmed during the recent official visit to Moscow by President Hosni Mubarak.

It can safely be said that links with Egypt have good, and most importantly, real prospects.

Question: What should be done to step up the existing and develop new areas of cooperation between Egypt and Russia in the field of politics, as well as in trade-economic, scientific-technical and cultural fields?

Answer: During the above-mentioned visit by President Mubarak to Moscow both sides noted that trade-economic, scientific-technical, cultural and other ties between Russia and Egypt should be elevated to the level of political dialogue which can be said to be "in excellent health." That task must be solved in particular by stepping up an exchange of delegations in all areas and at all levels, by more active use of the significant opportunities of the private sector in Russia and in Egypt, by broadening the direct contacts between the regions of our country and their partners in Egypt. By the way, the business forum chaired by president of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Yevgeni Primakov timed for the visit to Moscow by Hosni Mubarak and attended by leading representatives of Russian and Egyptian business circles marked a first step along this path. Examples of cooperation between the regions of Russia and Egypt today are not far to seek: thousands of Russian-made VAZ-2107 cars assembled at local Egyptian plants run in the streets of Cairo and other ARE cities. In the future they may be joined by other Russian models of cars and trucks.

Equally important is the fact that contacts between Russian and Egyptian scientific, education and cultural workers are becoming more lively. Among the issues discussed are the opening in Egypt of the branches of Russian universities, research institutions, joint projects in various fields of research, archaeology, Egyptology, etc. The hugely successful Week of Russian Culture held in Cairo and Alexandria in December 2003 is one more proof of the attraction our countries feel for each other. Let me add that it is hardly accidental that last year Egypt was visited by more than half a million of our citizens from all parts of Russia.

To sum up, let me stress again that Russia and Egypt must move actively and through joint efforts toward deepening the relations of friendship and mutual cooperation, using the immense and diverse potential that the peoples of our countries have.

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