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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and responses to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Iraq Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Moscow, March 19, 2015

22-03-2015, 20:57

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have held useful and candid talks, which we both believe warrant positive coverage at the news conference.

Our countries enjoy traditionally friendly relations. We are united by similar or even identical approaches to the key issues of the modern world.

We focused particularly on promoting bilateral relations, which have really taken off, especially in trade and the economy. Of particular importance is our continued cooperation in the oil and gas industry, the power industry and the military-technical sphere. Russian economic operators, primarily LUKOIL and Gazprom Neft, as well a number of other companies, are working in Iraq and are contributing substantially to the revenue side of the Iraqi budget.

Trade between our two countries is close to the $2 billion mark. We share the belief that this is far from what we are capable of, and this is just an incentive for us to achieve a significant increase in our cooperation and find its promising forms. As co-chair of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, Mr Al-Jaafari will discuss these issues tomorrow with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, his Russian counterpart.

We have vast experience in developing humanitarian and cultural ties and exchanges in the sphere of education. Iraq makes full use of the scholarships that the Russian Government provides to Iraqi students. We are particularly pleased that the Iraqi diplomats have been taking one-year courses at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry since 2012. Tomorrow, Minister al-Jaafari will visit the academy and deliver a lecture to its students.

Mr Al-Jaafari apprised us in detail of the situation in Iraq, which is effectively countering terrorist attacks. We reaffirmed our solidarity with the leadership of this friendly country and our determination to continue to provide assistance to Baghdad in order to strengthen its defence capability in the face of this threat, ensuring the unity, territorial integrity and non-interference in its internal affairs from the outside.

We reaffirmed our support for the Iraqi leadership’s efforts to promote national dialogue and reconciliation. The Minister stated, and we fully agree with him, that the primary goal of all the countries in that region and their true friends is to combat terrorism.

From this perspective, we exchanged views on the developments in Syria and Yemen. In both cases, stronger anti-terrorism efforts should go hand-in-hand with efforts to achieve sustainable national dialogue.

We share the view that the Palestinian-Israeli settlement causes major concerns. It is important to avoid a complete disruption of the negotiation process. We will do our best to help the sides achieve this goal.

We also exchanged views on the talks on the Iranian nuclear programme. Iraq and Russia are interested in achieving success in that area within the agreed-upon timeframe. We share a common view about the importance of engaging Iran, on an equal footing, in negotiations, in order to address virtually all the problems in the Middle East and North Africa.

Overall, I’m confident that our talks are important for promoting promising joint projects across all areas of our cooperation for the benefit of our nations and peoples, and for joint efforts seeking to strengthen regional stability and security.

Question: Why is Russia not participating in the US-led multinational coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS)?

Sergey Lavrov: As I said, Russia is providing active assistance to Iraq to strengthen its defence capability against the terrorist threat coming from ISIS.

As for the US-led multinational coalition, it has been operating in Iraq with the clear permission of the legitimate government. However, there is no legal framework for delivering coalition strikes at targets in Syria. The coalition leaders have taken an openly politicised stance, saying that cooperation with the Syrian government and armed forces in the fight against ISIS is illegal. I consider this stance as counterproductive and short-sighted.

Only recently, the Syrian government was a perfectly legitimate partner of the international community, including the United States, in the cooperative efforts to liquidate its chemical arsenals, and no one questioned its legitimacy. I believe that terrorism is no lesser threat than the stockpiles of toxic agents.

We are ready to continue cooperating with our foreign partners in the fight against international terrorism based on international law and with the central role of the UN and its Security Council. We propose that a comprehensive analysis of threats, above all the threats of terrorism and extremism, in the Middle East and North Africa, is carried out under the supervision of the UN Security Council to elaborate a common approach based on uniform standards, in order to prevent a paradoxical situation when all countries fight a terrorist group in one case and consider the same group as partners in overthrowing undesirable governments in another case.

I’d like to point to the importance of our material military assistance to our Iraqi friends. We consider this as our practical contribution to the successes in fighting terrorism on the ground, which Mr Ibrahim al-Jaafari has just described for us.

Question: Several days ago Reuters published witness reports about the crash of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing near Donetsk in July 2014, who allegedly saw a surface-to-air missile launched from the area held by the self-defence forces. Will you comment, please? Do you still have complaints about the progress of investigation of that crash?

Sergey Lavrov: We are closely watching everything that can clarify the causes of the catastrophe and find those who are to blame for it. We believe that all facts and versions without exception are considered objectively and professionally. It is inadmissible for anyone to think that they have a monopoly on truth before the investigation is over. Unfortunately, attempts are being made to distort facts and to force their scenarios of the tragedy on others, including for openly sordid purposes. It is possible that people have been misled.

What the respected news agency Reuters has published looks like a plant. Some witnesses say things that sound absurd to professionals, contradicting each other, for example, a “rocket” that “wiggled around,” “some kind of rocket stage (that) separated” and “a huge blue (cloud of) smoke.” Judging by the report, these “witnesses” saw the crash of a plane 25 kilometres from the crash site on a cloudy day. At the same time, our Western colleagues and media disregard numerous witness accounts that are not anonymous but were made on camera, according to which they saw a fighter plane in the sky on that day. A witness who worked at a Ukrainian military airfield said on camera that on that day one of the fighter planes took off on a mission and later landed without one of its missiles. The Ukrainian authorities claim that no flights were performed that day by its military aircraft. No one takes this into account.

We are tired of reminding them about the questions raised by the Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsiya) and the Defence Ministry soon after the crash. It appears that no one intends to answer them, including a question about conversations between the Ukrainian control tower and the pilots of the Malaysian Boeing and other planes that were in the air in the region at the time. And where are the photographs made from satellite and AWACS planes in the area, which the Americans promised to provide? There is no answer to these questions, and frankly, I no longer hope to receive them.

We have been pressing for a careful analysis of all facts and possible scenarios of the accident. We are not doing this to present one of the sides as the “winner”, but to determine the truth. This is our main goal. Unfortunately, it appears that some of our partners are pursuing a different goal – to draw out, or better still, drag out the investigation if not prove that the version which they put forth several days after the accident is the only correct one.

Question: The United States is talking about harsher sanctions against Russia over Kiev’s failure to honour the Minsk Agreements. Do you think a Normandy Four meeting should be held at a high or summit level in the near future?

Sergey Lavrov: The Normandy format is an important mechanism. The United States is not only talking about harsher sanctions but also about the need to send weapons to Ukraine. Paradoxically, the US leadership welcomes the gross violation of the February 12 Minsk Agreements by Kiev. According to Thursday reports about a telephone conversation between US Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko, Biden welcomed the decision made by the Verkhovna Rada on March 17. Washington’s approval of actions that undermine the Minsk Agreements can be interpreted as incitement of Kiev towards a military solution. Moreover, Mr Biden and Mr Poroshenko reportedly discussed US assistance in training and arming Ukraine’s National Guard.

We consider the attempts to derail the implementation of the Minsk Agreements as absolutely unacceptable. We must not allow the Minsk Agreements to meet the same fate as the February 21, 2014 agreement signed between Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition in the presence of the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland, which was trampled underfoot the very next day. We must not allow the Minsk Agreements to meet the same fate as the statement adopted in Geneva on April 17, 2014 by the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine and the United States and EU representatives. In that document, the Ukrainian side pledged to launch a constitutional reform without delay through an inclusive dialogue with all regions and political forces. That pledge was made in April 2014, almost a year ago.

We hope that Germany and France, whose leaders invested their prestige in the February 12 Minsk Agreements, will express their attitude to the actions of the Ukrainian leaders who submitted a bill, which the Verkhovna Rada approved and which actually overturned Kiev’s promise to conduct direct dialogue and seek an agreement with south-eastern Ukraine, including on the issues of elections and the implementation of the law on special status for the region.

Yes, we need to discuss the situation within the Normandy format. I have urged the foreign ministers of Germany and France to take emergency cooperative measures to prevent the situation from running downhill. We are aware of the concerns expressed by the parliaments of Russia, Germany and France. As of now, the Normandy format plans to meet next week at the level of deputy foreign ministers. However, the level can be higher, considering current tensions.


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