Ladies and Gentlemen,
We consider the Joint Strategic Planning Group to be a very important and effective mechanism. The group was created within the framework of the structures ensuring the activity of the High Level Cooperation Council the last session of which took place in Istanbul on 3 December 2012. During this session the President of Russia Vladimir Putin and the Prime Minister of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan summarized the results of the work done in different lines and set tasks for the future. I am glad to mention that all the structures created within the framework of the High Level Cooperation Council work very effectively. As my colleague has said, the next session of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation will be held in Istanbul in the nearest days, and important cultural events – the Festival of Russian Culture and the Public Forum – took place here in Istanbul recently. Three supports – economic, foreign policy and humanitarian – provide a comprehensive approach to the deepening of our partnership with Turkey.
We reviewed many issues during our today’s session: the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, the Palestine-Israel Peace Process, the situation around the Nuclear Program of Iran in Central Asia, APR, Black Sea region. The results of our discussion are to a great extent reflected in the Joint Statement that is already available and will be distributed. We are convinced that close coordination of our activities at the level of foreign policy agencies of Russia and Turkey is quite justified – our positions are close or match in the majority of regional and international issues, and certainly our strategic interests match in what concerns that all the regions having borders with Russia and Turkey live in stability, tranquillity, peace and create conditions for prosperity and development. This is fully applicable to the approaches that are implemented by Moscow and Ankara in respect of Transcaucasia. We will continue this cooperation and search for ways of positive impact on different conflict situations to reduce their number to as small as possible.
I am thankful to my friend and colleague Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu for his traditional hospitality. As he has already mentioned, I invited him to the next meeting in this format to Russia in St Petersburg.
Question: After contacts in Moscow these days, representatives of the internal opposition remarked that they see prospects to start a political dialog with Syrian authorities in the nearest time. Washington and some countries of the region issued another statement yesterday. On that background, messages about resignation of the LAS Secretary General Nabil El-Arabi have appeared. Do you think that such dialog will really be possible soon?
Sergey Lavrov: As to prospects of starting a dialog between the authorities and the opposition, as my colleague has just said, we are committed to the positions formalized in the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012. All the key external players signed under the need to launch such a dialog, so that official authorities and the opposition come to an agreement about the composition and functions of the transitional governing body. If all the members of the Geneva meeting will guide themselves by this in their practical affairs, I think we will overcome obstacles that are artificially created on the way to these negotiations. Such obstacles are placed by individual countries that continue to stake at war “till final victory”, bringing forward the change of the regime in Syria as a precondition, which is absolutely unrealistic. Even if somebody would like to do it, in what way? Let them tell. Russia will certainly not deal with the change of the regime and legitimization of such attempts.
The choice is very simple as before. If stopping the conflict, switching to peaceful life and coordination of escalated democratic reforms are of top priority, we need to make everybody fighting in Syria to stop these actions and to sit at the negotiation table without any preconditions. However, if the change of the regime or, as they say “resignation of Bashar al-Assad” is of top priority, then if there is no objective possibility to do it, new lives of ordinary Syrians will be the price of such geopolitical approach. So those who attempt to insist on preconditions for starting the dialog have to make this choice.
Question (to both ministers): A meeting of the “Friends of Syria Group” will be held in Istanbul this week. Russia criticizes sessions of this structure. Will this meeting, in your opinion, become a contribution to the solution of the Syrian crisis?
Sergey Lavrov (answers after Ahmet Davutoğlu): Russia is not a participant of the “Friends of Syria Group” which, if we look at the factual side of the situation, is a “friends group” of a certain part of the Syrian opposition. We approach the activity of this format from the point of view of purely pragmatically considerations – whether it helps to implement the consensus reached last June or not. According to our estimates, for the time being this format seems to affect the implementation of Geneva agreement negatively rather than positively.
In any situations and conflicts, if a mechanism isolating one adversary or targeted at its isolation is created, we lose the possibility for such dialog and for searching ways for settlement. The same refers to the recent regrettable decision of LAS to provide the place of Syria in this Organization to one part of opposition as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people and to admit that the supply of weapons to the opposition is legitimate. In my opinion, it is evident for everybody that this is inconsistent with international law and the tasks coordinated in Geneva, also by the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey.
Consequences of the Syrian crisis are certainly horrible: these are human sufferings, the humanitarian crisis, that bear heavily on Turkey and neighbouring countries of Syria. But if stake is made at a military solution, the horrors listed by my colleague and friend will multiply along with the distribution and influence of terrorists in this region. Unfortunately, there are advocates of a military solution among the opposition and authorities in Damascus as well. We are trying to make the government of Syria to fulfil its promises and guide itself by the requirement of the Geneva Communiqué for staring a dialog.
In the question addressed to Ahmet Davutoğlu a reporter from “Russia Today” TV-channel mentioned that units of Al-Qaeda started to appear in Turkey. I am not surprised, if it is so. Because organizations directly affiliated to Al-Qaeda and receiving orders from Ayman al-Zawahiri, in particular Djebhat an-Nusra movement listed as a terrorist organization in the USA, are fighting at the side of the opposition against the government. We need to be aware that the higher stake is made at the isolation of the regime of Bashar al-Assad and a military solution, the more we will feel these threats.
As to the forthcoming meeting of the “Friends of Syria Group” in Istanbul, I expect that reason, pragmatism and basic interests of the Syrian people will prevail. Some key participants of this format assured me that they will search ways for trying to launch a dialog. I hope a lot that, first, this will be done and, second, and it will be crowned with success.
Question (to both ministers): Your joint statement expresses support for the idea of holding a Conference on creation of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East (WMDFZ). Meanwhile, the Conference was held neither in December 2012 nor this April. Who is guilty? What are chances to conduct the forum in the nearest months?
Sergey Lavrov (answers the first): As to the Conference on WMDFZ, it is regretful that the decision made about its convocation was not fulfilled. Russia is not guilty in the situation that has created, because as one of the three countries-co-founders of the Conference (along with the United Kingdom and the USA) we actively worked with all countries of the region that had to become its participants, convincing them to coordinate a specific date as soon as possible. For different reasons, some of our co-founding partners were not at all enthusiastic, referring to some political events taking place in the region and, in their opinion, not contributing to creating conditions for such forum. We consider such state of affairs to be unacceptable. In 2010 through a consensus a decision was made to hold the Conference on WMDFZ in 2012.
Just yesterday I met my colleague from Finland Erkki Tuomioja, and we discussed this topic, because the Deputy Secretary of State at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland Yaako Laajava is a coordinator of convocation of this Conference. Finnish colleagues assured us that together with three countries co-founders they will actively work on the coordination of a specific date not to postpone this issue endlessly.
I explained all potential participants of this Conference many times – because we need that all countries of the region are represented at this event – that it is not a one time event, on which we have to immediately announce the creation of the zone. It is a complex issue requiring consideration of legal interests of security of different countries of the Middle East. The Conference will become just the beginning of negotiations that may last long. But the main thing is that the dialog process will be launched. It is always better than to brood some fears, doubts and to build your practical actions on them. Therefore, we will try to achieve convocation of such an important event.
Question (to both ministers): The topic of natural gas is of a particular interest to Turkey. Information has appeared that it can be transported through Turkey to Israel. This was already discussed during the negotiations. You have also said that you reviewed the issue of Cyprus settlement. What is the attitude of Russia to the appeals of the Turkish party about this topic? They say that 40% from 70 million Euro in the banks of Cyprus belong to the Russia Federation. How was the discussion of the problems of Cyprus in general?
Sergey Lavrov (answers the first): I have not understood to the end what you are interested in – money or settlement? As to the Cyprus settlement as such, we are still committed to the basic decisions that were adopted by the UN Security Council, we support the good offices mission of the UN Secretary-General and the stabilizing role of armed forced of the Organization in Cyprus – these are mechanisms that are targeted to the achievement of a mutually acceptable settlement based on already agreed principles and approaches. Unfortunately, in conditions of severe financial and economic crisis that is currently observed on Cyprus, they will hardly get down to the renewal of negotiations as soon as possible. But we will do everything to have the situation under supervision of the international community, taking into account the role played by the UN in this process. We will try to achieve maximum fast creation of conditions for the renewal of negotiations.
As to hydrocarbons and everything related to it not only in the East Mediterranean, but also in any other regions of the world, we presume that we need to strictly adhere to the provisions of international law, primarily the Convention on the Law Of the Sea of 1982. It clearly states everything and we need to guide ourselves by this. Specifically in respect of Cyprus, I am convinced that any prospecting for natural resources must envisage an agreement that each and all Cypriots gain from it. I am convinced that this is not impossible.