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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia Edward Nalbandian, Moscow, February 22, 2017

16-03-2017, 16:42

Good afternoon,
The talks with my colleague, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia Edward Nalbandian, were constructive, substantive and detailed.
We discussed almost the entire range of bilateral issues. We reviewed the implementation of the agreements on coordinating our efforts at international organisations.
We opened an exhibition of archives dedicated to the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. This is the first step in a series of events devoted to this anniversary. These documents will mark their 25thanniversary on April 3. 
Our relations have been fairly dynamic and progressive over the past years. Important agreements have been signed in the trade, economic and investment spheres. A recent visit to Moscow by Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan gave additional impetus to our cooperation in the material sphere. We are preparing the next meeting of the presidents of Russia and Armenia. The interaction between legislative bodies is going strong as well.
Russia is Armenia’s leading foreign trade partner. Despite the volatile global economy, our trade volume remained fairly high at over $1 billion last year. The accumulated Russian investments make up about 40 percent of all foreign investments in Armenia. Major joint projects in the energy, telecommunications and banking spheres are underway.
We have reviewed the progress in implementing the Russian-Armenian programme of long-term economic cooperation to 2020.
We enjoy busy cultural and educational ties. In 2016, we held the large-scale events: Days of Russia in Armenia, Russian Film Week, Days of Moscow and St Petersburg, and Days of the Russian Word. The second Russian-Armenian youth forum, Shared Vision of the Future, was held in Yerevan in October of last year.
We are convinced that contacts between people will continue to contribute to our relations. I am pleased that amendments to the Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Republic of Armenia on reciprocal visa-free travel for Russian citizens and citizens of the Republic of Armenia, under which Russian citizens will be able to visit Armenia using their internal passports, shall come into force tomorrow.
We consider Yerevan our key partner in the CIS space, an active participant in all ongoing integration processes. We will continue to cooperate within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union, the CSTO, and the CIS. We agreed upon concrete steps to promote our cooperation and coordination at the UN, the OSCE, the BSEC, the Council of Europe and other multilateral formats.
We exchanged views on the situation in the Trans-Caucasus, including the current state of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. Russia is in favour of continuing to look for mutually acceptable solutions to this conflict in full conformity with the documents signed in recent years with the participation of the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and leaders of the three countries co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group, namely, Russia, the United States and France.
In general, I’m convinced that the talks will contribute to the further development of our friendly allied relations.
Question: The process to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh issue has stalled. It is obvious to us that this stems from the counterproductive position taken by Azerbaijan. It prefers to blame the negotiators. In particular, the OSCE Minsk Group is accused of inaction and there are attempts to change the negotiating format, shifting it to the parliamentary level. Do you believe a change of format can accelerate the resolution of the Karabakh issue?
Sergey Lavrov: If we are genuinely committed to the fundamental agreements on the need to look for mutually acceptable solutions, I am convinced that there is no alternative to the present format with the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs. The Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders have repeatedly endorsed it in the documents that they have signed or jointly adopted. All OSCE members, too, have consistently advocated for the “troika” to maintain its leading role.
The co-chairs are not being inactive. I cannot describe what is going on within the “troika” framework as inaction. In the trilateral documents that have been regularly distributed as official OSCE documents, the co-chairs have endorsed the acceleration and intensification of the negotiating process. The most recent such document, which was adopted on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, stresses the unacceptability of the use of force to settle particular situations, including the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, the unacceptability of bellicose rhetoric and the need for the full implementation of the agreements reached at summit meetings with the participation of the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents in Vienna and St Petersburg, with the participation of President Vladimir Putin as well. These documents are transparent. They state in no uncertain terms that it is necessary to work in this format, in keeping with the principles that were coordinated by the parties with support from the co-chairs.
Question: How are the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs going to implement the agreements that were just mentioned if Azerbaijan effectively refuses to comply with them?
Could you comment on Azerbaijan’s attempts to close the OSCE office in Yerevan?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the ongoing discussions at the OSCE about the organisation’s office in Yerevan, we are not indifferent to its fate. Generally, we have always embraced the principle whereby country bureaus and offices open at the request of the relevant member state. In this case, we particularly care because this bureau is headed by a Russian national.
As for the concrete programmes that are run by a particular office in a particular country, naturally, these programmes should be in keeping with OSCE principles and should raise no doubts or suspicions. In this particular case, our Azerbaijani colleagues had some questions. First, under the German chairmanship and then, this year, the Austrian chairmanship work was done to address these questions. It seems to me that the recent proposals that were prepared by the Austrian chairmanship resolve all emerging problems. I hope that it can be revisited in the near future and that it will help overcome the present situation, which is not very good for the OSCE.
Regarding the way the co-chairs plan to implement the existing agreements, they have no other option except political and diplomatic means. We will continue with our French and US partners to facilitate efforts to provide optimal conditions for constructive negotiations, which would defuse the emotionally charged atmosphere around the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and consider the proposals on ways of resolving this conflict at the negotiating table – proposals that, as you know, were put forward by Russia and endorsed by the US and French co-chairs.
Question: Could you comment on US President Donald Trump’s remarks regarding the need to create security zones in Syria, which, according to him, should be paid for by the Gulf countries?
Sergey Lavrov: We touched on this topic during my meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Bonn on February 16 on the sidelines of the G20 ministerial meeting. Mr Tillerson said this concept is being finalised. We await further clarification. We believe that such initiatives should take into account the situation on the ground in Syria, where many players are at work, so to speak, with their ground forces, as well as in the Syrian airspace. Naturally, our position is that any such initiatives regarding Syria’s territory should be coordinated with the Syrian government. Otherwise it will be difficult to implement these steps.
We also believe that the initiative on security zones, which was proposed by our US colleagues, was brought about by the need to ensure that the people who temporarily left their homes could be safe somewhere and not be exposed to risks as they set out on a journey with unpredictable consequences. Perhaps this initiative is also aimed at providing conditions to stem the flow of migrants, which is a growing source of concern to European countries and the United States. Having outlined our vision, we are awaiting clarification from Washington. Generally, we are willing to consider other proposals regarding our cooperation in Syria. As such, we hope that – as President Trump and the White House spokesperson both said – the United States is interested in cooperating with us on the resolution of the Syrian crisis. Of course, this includes a relentless fight against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, as well as the political process.
Question: Tomorrow, a meeting will take place in Geneva, to which, as we know, some representatives of the opposition were not invited: the Hmeymim movement and the Kurds. In your opinion, is this an impediment to the settlement in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: As you know, our initiative on the Astana platform was designed to stimulate our UN colleagues to implement their mandate more energetically. Tomorrow, talks under UN auspices will resume in Geneva, prompted, among other things, by the Astana meetings. We ensured a generally constructive and acceptable approach towards the composition of participants. Groups that were formed at the Cairo, Moscow and Riyadh meetings will be represented there, as will be armed opposition groups that participated in the Astana meetings and signed ceasefire agreements with the Syrian government.
True, the lineup of Geneva meeting participants could have been broader. You mentioned the Kurds. We consistently advocate for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions and the across-the-board representation of the opposition. This cannot be ensured without the Kurds. We realise that there are certain difficulties in the positions of particular outside players. Nevertheless, I don’t think that the present lineup at the Geneva talks will be a serious impediment to the Syria peace process. There are plenty of far more serious impediments there. Still, this is a step in the right direction. Of course, at subsequent stages, it will be impossible to do without the representation of the whole range of the opposition, including the Syrian Kurds.
Question: Did you discuss cooperation with Russia and any concrete steps in the Syrian peace process, possibly including the liberation of Raqqa, during your telephone conversation with your US counterpart, Rex Tillerson?
Sergey Lavrov: We did not discuss Syria or any other specific issues. We spoke about that in Bonn on February 16. Yesterday, the US Secretary of State called solely to offer his personal condolences over Vitaly Churkin’s tragic death. He made some very warm remarks, in the spirit of the condolences that came from President Donald Trump.
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