Opening Remarks and Answers by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at Press Conference Following Talks with Icelandic Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson, Moscow, November 29, 2011
Ladies and gentlemen,
During the talks with my Icelandic counterpart, we noted the ongoing and productive development of bilateral relations. Political dialogue is intensifying at all levels, the juridical base of cooperation is being strengthened, and sectoral, inter-parliamentary and interregional ties are expanding.
In September 2010, Iceland's President Olafur Grimsson made a visit to Moscow, and in September this year he also took part in the international forum ‘The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue' in Arkhangelsk. Also there Grimsson met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
We note the positive momentum in commercial and economic relations between our countries. Trade grew by more than 80% during the first half of the current year. However, in numerical terms, the volume of trade so far does not correspond to the interests of our two countries – at the end of 2010, it amounted to just more than US$130 million. So we agreed to step up bilateral efforts to increase cooperation in this sphere, including through the mechanism of regular consultations with an emphasis on the innovative component, which the just-signed Modernization Partnership Declaration will facilitate. In line with this document, we agreed to hold an expert meeting involving the business communities of both countries to work out a specific program for projects in various fields.
Of particular interest to us is the energy sector. Russia is interested in Iceland's technological advances in geothermal energy. This will help reduce the energy intensity of GDP, which is totally consistent with Russia's objectives. We are pleased that our bilateral Agreement on Cooperation in this field entered into force this past October.
In addition to energy, we are interested in promoting projects in areas such as advanced technologies in hydrogen energy, pharmaceuticals, information and communications technology and software. Today Mr. Minister is having a meeting with Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Alexander Avdeyev, during which an agreement will be signed on cooperation in this field. We attach great importance to the humanitarian dimension of our relations. Good traditions have evolved here. In 2013, we agreed to properly mark with interesting events the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries.
Russia supported the initiative of Iceland to develop a cooperation agreement on adoption. In the near future we will be ready to start practical work.
We have many interesting projects and ideas in the fields of transport and communications relating to the use of the Northern Sea Route, as well as the initiative of the Icelandic side for laying a fiber-optic submarine cable between the north-east coast of Iceland and the northwestern region of Russia. There is considerable potential in the tourism and fishing industries and with respect to interregional cooperation. Suffice it to say that in 2011 Iceland has already been visited by delegations from St. Petersburg, the Komi Republic, Kaliningrad and Volgograd Regions.
The Arctic is a natural sphere of Russian-Icelandic cooperation. We are interested in revitalizing the work of the Arctic Council. During the conversation we exchanged views on prospects for implementing specific projects in the framework of the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. This line was confirmed in the Declaration on Arctic Cooperation signed today.
High on the agenda of our consultations is the discussion of European and international problems – this concerns relations with the EU, the activities of the Russia-NATO Council, the OSCE agenda, and issues within the UN's purview.
Today, we confirmed the line on further expansion of cooperation between our countries.
Question: Now Europe is actively discussing the topic of the struggle for resources in the Arctic, which causes increased tension and conflict-proneness. How would you, Sergey Viktorovich, comment on this?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I would not say that the topic is being actively discussed in Europe. In some European countries there are politicians who touch on it. As a rule, they are those who lay claim to resources and try to seize what is not theirs.
Decisions about the conduct of affairs in the Arctic are taken by the "Arctic" countries, ie those who are members of the Arctic Council, including Russia and Iceland. In May of this year in Nuuk (Greenland) its regular session was held at the level of Foreign Ministers, which took decisions as to which of the non-regional countries, and under what conditions can join the work of the Arctic Council as observers. Their rights and duties are set out in the relevant documents and presuppose the need to be guided by the decisions taken by the permanent members of the Arctic Council. In line with the consensus reached by the eight participating states of the Organization, any problems should be solved on the basis of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the decisions of the Arctic Council. There are no reasons for drawing NATO into Arctic affairs.
Question: Sergey Viktorovich, how would you describe the UN statement recognizing the actions of the Syrian authorities as "inhumane" and calling for a ban on the sale of arms to Syria? US representatives at the UN are going to take decisive action against Syria. Washington says it is ready to send its flotilla to the country. Do you think that they can start fighting tomorrow?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I will answer the questions in succession. I have not heard an official UN assessment on the question. There are statements of representatives of the Secretariat of the Organization which they are not authorized to make. The position of the UN is expressed by its main bodies – the Security Council and General Assembly – and they did not make such conclusions.
Certainly, the events in Syria worry us. Armed people are treating civilians very severely. But recently, more and more often, this concerns not so much the actions of the authorities, but of the armed groups that provoke disorder. Yesterday on the channel Russia 24 I watched coverage of Homs, with details of the events taking place there and an explanation of their causes. The city is under the control of armed gangs who terrorize the local population. It would be naive to expect from the authorities that they will close their eyes to this and will obey someone else's ultimatums, instead of restoring order there.
We insist that the members of the international community that have an influence on the groups in Syria put pressure on them to end violence. This applies to both the authorities and armed groups that operate in the country and maintain contacts with Western and Arab states. These groups are made up of citizens of other states and supplied with weapons. Therefore, the proposals to ban the supply of any weapons to Syria are dishonest.
We know how the arms embargo was applied in Libya. It was used only in respect of the Libyan army, while the opposition got their arms. France and Qatar publicly spoke of such shipments. There were also open mentions of the work of special forces from several European countries. Having adopted the UN Security Council resolution banning the supply of arms, some nations, in fact, boasted that they were in breach of it. We will treat the call for an embargo on arms supplies to Syria in light of the Libya experience, and the behavior of some of our partners. Right now, the most important thing is to stop acting by means of ultimatums and try to move toward political dialogue.
All states, including those calling for military action against Syria, used an entirely different approach to Yemen. Negotiations lasted several months for a peace plan proposed by the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. In the end, having exercised patience, perseverance, and equal pressure on all stakeholders, the international community has succeeded in having the plan signed and now there is a real chance to stabilize the situation in Yemen. The Syrian problem requires a similar approach.
Ultimatums which some states resort to, including countries of the Arab League, won't solve the problem. We hope that our partners in the LAS, with which we are developing a strategic partnership, will show maximum responsibility for the events in their region. We hope that they will be guided by the interests of stability, security and cooperation, and follow the rules worked out by the Organization to make the necessary decisions.
November 29, 2011