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Question: The position of Russia concerning the situation around Syria is widely criticized in the West and in the Arab region, and Russian support of B. Assad’s regime is considered to be some kind of response to the events that took place in Libya. What are your comments on this opinion?
S.V. Lavrov: We have a habit to begin with ourselves. First of all, before analyzing the positions of other parties we always want to make sure that our position is right. We are verifying it with very transparent criteria — the principles of International Law, purposes and principles of the UN Charter, which, above all, are based on respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the states, non-interference into their internal affairs, refusal from the threats of solving the international problems by applying force or other non-political methods, except those cases when the decision is taken by the UN Security Council.
If we are criticized due to the fact that together with the People’s Republic of China we have applied veto in the UN Security Council, we state that this was an absolutely deliberate measure. We made this decision not because we want to have revenge upon someone, but because we strive to prevent the violation of the UN Charter principles. We were securing these principles with our veto, while other colleagues wanted to adopt the resolution which interpreted the situation in a distorted unilateral manner and was aimed at punishing the regime and laying ground for its change, as our American colleagues publicly admit. This is not the area of responsibility of the UN Security Council; its purpose lies in providing conditions for peaceful settlement of disputes.
That’s why, unconditionally, when we acknowledge the severe violations of international humanitarian right admitted by B. Assad and his government, as well as violations of his commitments on providing the safety of civilians, we cannot pretend that they are confronting peaceful weaponless protesters, which are just suffering from unmotivated violence. Today the conflict is experiencing a completely different stage. Two well-armed military powers are confronting each other — the forces of the government and Free Syrian Army, which only a short time ago declared that it is ready to “close ranks” with al-Qaeda militants in Syria. This is a very dangerous wake-up call, and we have warned about this, but nevertheless our Western partners, as well as some countries of the region that definitely want to change the regime, prefer to avoid noticing it.
Question: The armed conflict of the governmental forces and the opposition took place after several months from the beginning of the events…
S.V. Lavrov: The first armed conflicts with participation of armed opposition were recorded in April 2011. The military struggle of that party began quite rapidly. The flow of weaponry and other facilities necessary for the opposition in order to continue fighting was also established quickly. I repeat that we denounce any kind of violence. And those that criticise Russia denounce only violence from the side of the regime. This is the point that makes the difference.
Question: How could you characterise the current situation in Syria: is it revolution, civil war or global conspiracy against the regime?
S.V. Lavrov: First of all, it is an armed conflict. This is the qualification that was given by the International Red Cross Committee. The internal armed conflict presumes the existence of governmental forces and so-called “combatants” that are confronting them.
The situation is very sad. Let’s go back to the very beginning. Within the frames of the processes of the Arab Spring a part of citizens of Syria was dissatisfied with its position and spoke out for reforms, for the improvement of its social and economic status, as well as the democratisation of the state. These aspiration are quite reasonable and easy to understand, we very kindly appreciate such wishes and intentions of the peoples of not only Syria, but also other Arab countries. Of course, B. Assad committed a lot of blunders: he came very late to the understanding that reforms are necessary, though later on he made some advances in this direction. It appears that it was not enough. But in order to finalise the reforms and to make them suitable for all citizens of Syria, it is necessary to come to the negotiating table. The Syrians should come to an agreement about their future by themselves.
I don’t think that we are witnessing some external conspiracy. Though, of course, starting from some certain stage of the Syrian crisis, the role of the external forces has become more distinct. The public call to arms addressed to the opposition, the appeals that it should avoid participating in negotiations and continue the armed conflict — all this pours oil to the flame and contradicts to the resolutions adopted in the United Nations Security Council, to the plan of K. Annan and to the Geneva communique.
Question: The military authorities of the USA declared that Turkey and Jordan are interested in establishing a security zone near the border with Syria. In this connection the question of the creation of an air-exclusion zone is arising. What’s your opinion on such initiative?
S.V. Lavrov: To begin with, I would prefer to hear about the position of Turkey and Jordan from Turkish and Jordanian authorities. And I heard the declarations of the USA military representatives. This is not the first time when the concept of security zones and air-exclusion zones is being mentioned. If these zones cover the territory of Syria, it will be a violation of state sovereignty and of the UN Charter. That’s why in order to relieve the fate of the refugees and internally displaced persons it is necessary to come to some agreements. That’s what the special mechanisms and instruments are designed for. These days, V. Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator of the United Nations, made a visit to Damascus and other regions of Syria. The Syrian government gave consent to solve these issues. Finally, there exists the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is ready to render assistance to the refugees in the camps located in the territory of Syria, Jordan and other countries. These time-tested by the international humanitarian right methods should be used to solve the security problems of civilians. And if the reference to the humanitarian crisis is used as a motive to create security zones and air-exclusion zones for military purposes, then this is unacceptable.
Question: However, the USA do not rule out any variants that enable suspending B. Assad from Kpower.
S.V. Lavrov: The USA never rule out any variants.
Question: In this connection do you have concerns that the situation might be developed in circumvention of the UN Security Council?
S.V. Lavrov: The USA has already stated that they will act in circumvention of the UN Security Council. I cannot say that we understand this position. It was said several days after the meeting in Geneva, where the Action Group was created and the large-scale communique was adopted. This document described more precisely the corresponding components of the plan consisting of 6 items that was proposed by K. Annan and adopted by the consensus.
But, when after several days after the Geneva meeting we started to discuss this situation in the UN Security Council, we were ready to adopt the Geneva communique literally, without any exclusions or additions, and our partners turned out to be not unprepared for this. They tried to interpret the document adopted in Geneva as if it allegedly contained some mandate for the overthrow of the regime and for the deprivation of this regime even from the negotiations. And this was not written in the communique. The document clearly says in plain English that all parties need to terminate violence, and both the government and the opposition should announce the names of the negotiators. They should assemble, come to a consensus and establish on its basis a so-called “temporary transitive body” that would include both the representatives from the regime and from the opposition on the ground of the agreement of Syrians themselves.
I consider the claims that “the Geneva communique is dead”, which we hear from Washington and several other capitals, to be quite irresponsible. This is the most important consensus that was reached considering Syria with participation of Western countries (USA and Europe), Russia, China, leading Arab countries and Turkey. The claims that it is a “dead document” mean that someone is eager to find any kind of veil under which it will be possible to declare that peaceful settlement methods are hopeless and it is necessary to apply force. We are deeply worried about this, because this path leads to a massive catastrophe in the region.
Question: Today you have made an appeal that the Action Group should assemble in New York on the level of permanent representatives. What do you mean by this: the attempt to revive what has been achieved in Geneva?
S.V. Lavrov: No one “buried” the Geneva agreements; at least, Russia didn’t. I haven’t also heard European countries, China, Arab representatives or Turkey abandon them. American claims that it is a matter of the past are quite serious, but they are not based on any solid ground. To all intents and purposes, the reality is that the Geneva document contains all components necessary to transfer this conflict into political channel. But it is required that all Syrian parties paid attention to this message and that it was transmitted to them by all external actors. Various external actors have different degree of influence on Syrian parties. It is important that everyone who assembled in Geneva, including, of course, Iran and Saudi Arabia (they were absent there, but we considered that they should have participated in the meeting), transmitted a similar message to all Syrians that are now waging war against each other. If everyone was willing to do this, I’m sure that the situation would have been completely different.
Starting from the previous year, when the mission of the observers of the League of Arab States was deployed and then winded up due to inexplicable reasons, when the UN observer mission was winded up recently and the UN presence is being established in Damascus, when some parties are now trying to “bury alive” the Geneva communique, like it or not, the impression is formed that some of our partners perceive these initiatives as a pretense under which they can prove the political methods to be prospectless and assert that military intervention is legitimate.
We were indeed striving to conduct a meeting on the level of the permanent representatives of all states that were present in Geneva, as well as Iran and Saudi Arabia, today in New York. There we wanted to declare: “We conducted the negotiations in Geneva in an honest and sincere manner, the position which was approved by all of us on the ministerial level still remains in force and we are ready to bring it into life”. The purpose of this meeting is simple. Yesterday the representative of U.S. Department of State declared on its briefing that Washington does not understand what is it all about and what is this meeting dedicated to. The only comment that I could give on this is that everyone perfectly understands the matter, and that the representatives that express the position of the USA should not pretend to be more naive than they really are. At least we have given a clear and unambiguous explanation on what we should do there. If someone wants to avoid such conversation then it either means that they were insincere in Geneva or that they have changed their mind now, and in this case they should declare it unequivocally.
Question: Does Russia intend to come up with any other initiative for the solution of Syrian problem apart from what was planned to do today in the UN Security Council?
S.V. Lavrov: Russia traditionally and consistently follows a very straight line in the settlement of all conflicts — our position is based on the necessity of collective approaches and collective activities on the implementation of these approaches. Such a collective approach was developed in the UN Security Council, when we were adopting the plan of K. Annan and sending the United Nations observer mission to Syria, as well as when we were elaborating details of this plan in all its aspects in Geneva and committed (because the Geneva document includes a commitment) that all external actors would apply pressure on all Syrian parties so that they would implement this plan and these agreements. The purpose of all our activities lies not in announcing some “headline-making” initiatives like air-exclusion zones or security zones. We don’t try to ham it up for the public; instead we are trying to deal with the essence of the conflict. This can be achieved only on collectively approved basis. Such a basis was created in Geneva, and our initiative consists in achieving the implementation of Geneva agreements.
Question: What can L. Brahimi do in the role of K. Annan successor, when the regime of B. Assad refuses to terminate violence?
S.V. Lavrov: All parties are refusing to terminate violence. One of the most important agreements reached within the frames of Geneva communique was that both the governmental forces and the opposition should terminate violence.
Now our Western colleagues are evading this agreement, violating the taken commitments and the position that they expressed. Currently they demand that the government should unilaterally terminate all military activities, withdraw troops and armor from the cities, and only then they will be ready to ask the opposition to stop using military methods.
I have already commented such suggestion of our Western partners. Though it is unthinkable, let’s imagine that the regime would have said: “Ok, we will leave all cities and withdraw all our troops”. Do you think that this would result in opposition laying down arms? The opposition would just get these cities under its control, as it already happened in the autumn last year, when we witnessed the attempt to implement the plan of the League of Arab States. And this is not because we want this or we are giving some advice to B. Assad. It’s just because that from the point of view of any politician and any military operation this is an absolutely unrealistic approach, which lets us understand only one thing: when someone is claiming that unilateral disarmament of the regime is necessary, it is clear that his objective is not calming down the situation and saving the lives of civilians in Syria, but overthrowing the regime in defiance of the principles of the United Nations Charter.
That’s why when we are talking about the tasks that K. Annan successor faces, I state that his mission would be much smaller than the UN observer mission. It will include only several dozens of persons. It is planned that it will include a small contingent of military observers, a small political contingent and a contingent that will aid in implementation of the humanitarian projects, for example, the delivery of humanitarian aid etc. Taking into account the size of this group and the situation in the country where the combat activities are continuing, I doubt that its representatives would be able to leave Damascus and visit other cities frequently. It is obvious that, on the assumption of the circumstances, they will pay the greatest attention to the political process: establishment of contacts that will enable starting the political dialogue.
But the political dialogue will not begin (or, at least, these efforts will not lead to a definitive result), unless the violence is ceased. And this does not depend on L. Brahimi. This does not depend on the observers, which were only overseeing how the parties were fulfilling the truce declared in April this year.
Now we are once again suggesting to declare such truce. But this time it should be declared under the responsibility of the external actors, which possess the influence on both the government and on the armed groups of the opposition. That’s why, if we wish this political process to be successful, it is necessary to collectively and unanimously apply pressure on all opposition groups and force them to cease fire, convince them to announce the names of the negotiators that they’ve appointed as soon as possible, send them to the place which will be suitable for and approved by all the parties and start negotiating about the transitive body, about the future of basic legislation, including the constitution, and discuss the preparation of elections.
Question: With B. Assad being in office?
S.V. Lavrov: It is up to Syrians to decide. As well as in any other state, it is the people who should decide the destiny of its leadership.
Question: What is your opinion on whether being of B. Assad in office is beneficial for the people of Syria after 17 months since the beginning of the events in Syria.
S.V. Lavrov: This question should be addressed to the people of Syria instead. As I have already said, the regime has made a lot of mistakes. But one of the main reasons that aggravated the conflict after the beginning of unarmed at first, and later armed military confrontation, is the following. The ones who demanded the retirement of B. Assad from the very beginning, ignored the interests of the part of the people of Syrian that, as we have to admit, considered and continues to consider him as the guarantor of their rights and security in Syria.
We know how complicated is the confessional and ethnical composition of Syria. And those minorities that are finding shelter behind B. Assad and hoping that he will protect their right are also a part of the people of Syria. That’s why it is not for nothing that the Russian party has many times emphasized that before the parameters of the forthcoming Syrian state will be coordinated it is necessary to reach the agreements considering the solid guarantees of the observance of rights of ethnical, religious and other minorities. This was the subject of the contacts of the President of the Russian Federation with B. Obama, European leaders and leaders of the countries of the region. Only after reaching such agreement we can discuss all other details. This the issue of most principal importance.
From the very beginning of the conflict Russia was warning about the inadmissibility of shallow superficial attitude to such a sophisticated problem as the contradictions between the branches of Islam that, apart from other places, was simmering in Syria. It is very dangerous that now we witness the outbreak of this problem. And I have not even mentioned the aggravation of Kurdish problem in recent weeks.
Question: Recently the king of Jordan Abdullah II has warned in his statement against the possible dissipation of Syria and the creation of the Alawite enclave on the part of its territory. Do you share these concerns?
S.V. Lavrov: The dissipation of any state does not bring any good. We experienced it ourselves, though, of course, the reasons were different. It always means the beginning of a very difficult and nervous period, when the parties begin the struggle for influence, resources, power, access to the sea. Russia is sincere when voting in the United Nations Security Council for the resolutions that confirm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. We are not interested in observing how the separatist trend will escalate in Middle East and North Africa. And such trends do exist.
We confirm our commitment to the territorial integrity of Libya, but there remains a lot of problems necessary to solve from the point of view of building a single state. There it will be also necessary to search for agreements, though it is not confessional and ethnic minorities but tribes that are to be negotiated with. These tumultuous events that are based on the objective trend of the desire of peoples to live better gave rise to a large number of problems that were buried deep within during the decades of the rule of authoritarian regimes. And now all this has broken out. If we are speaking about the democratisation of the region, this is probably inevitable. But the commitments and responsibilities of the external actors lie not in trying to achieve some short-term opportunistic objectives despite the aggravation of problems that had been accumulating for decades. They lie in mitigating these issues and helping the people to find peaceful solution of this problems instead of using your elbows and taking up arms.
Question: Some political analysts believe that Russia is apprehensive about the so-called “Sunni Islamism”. Is it true?
S.V. Lavrov: No, not at all. We are apprehensive about the contradictions aggravating within Islam. They might end very badly. Every day we are witnessing the terroristic acts in Iraq and Afghanistan. We understand what is behind them.
Our position lies in helping all Muslims to execute the regulations of the Amman Message that was adopted by the King of Jordan Abdullah II, when in 2005 he assembled under his presidency all most prominent Islamic theologists. The essence of the Message is the following. If you are Muslim regardless of whether you are Sunnite, Shi’ite or someone else, if you believe in Allah, then you must not treat your brothers as your enemies. This refers not only to Islam. We are speaking out for the dialogue between civilizations and densely cooperating with Arab and other Muslim countries in the promotion of moral values in the international affairs.
Generally speaking, all basic leading global religions are based on precisely the same moral values. And it is fact that we obviously lack these moral values in global policy. This refers both to Muslim states, to the countries where the main religion is Christianity, and to the other states.
Question: Is the scenario of “the day after” in Syria discussed in Russia, i.e. the future of Syria after the regime ousts from power, as it is modeled by many Western partners of Russia?
S.V. Lavrov: «The day after»? They are not just modeling or discussing. I have heard that entire research centers are working on this problem in several Western countries. They are already preparing the economic reforms, the reforms of Syrian constitution, police, army and special forces. This is regrettable because it can mean two things. Either these “speculators” think that the people of Syria are not mature enough to solve their problems independently, and are trying to do this work for them, imposing their methods. Or they think that the people of Syria do not have the right to decide their fate themselves. Either they are not mature, or they do not have the right – there is no third option. We would prefer that such speculations were not taken into consideration, and that all external actors would instead help Syrians to sit at the table of negotiations.
Question: But the people of Syria see that the forces of B. Assad do not control the bigger part of the country.
S.V. Lavrov: But at the same time the Syrians can see that the troops of B. Assad are controlling a very big part of the country. This is really true. The country is in the state of internal armed conflict.
I have already given an example of what do the people that are writing the scenario of the reforms in Syria want. They want B. Assad to withdraw his troops in a unilateral manner. No one can manage to persuade him to do this. No one. It is obvious that the governmental forces, seeing that their opponents categorically refuse to negotiate ceasefire, understanding that they are demanded of unilateral disarmament which means capitulation, have decided to fight till the end. What else could we expect from them? Probably, this is precisely the thing that the provocateurs wanted them to do. It gives those who would like to use the force of arms the reason to say: “You can see that they are not surrendering and the United Nations Security Council is doing nothing”.
Question: Now Damascus is performing air strikes on peaceful civilians, using the weapons and machines bought from Russia. Does the Russian party intend to continue supplying arms to Syria?
S.V. Lavrov: Honestly speaking, you are referring to the armament purchased from the Soviet Union. We have already more than once repeated that we have fulfilled old contracts. We are not concluding new contracts yet.
Question: Several days ago more than 130 countries except Russia, China and some countries of Latin America denounced the regime of B. Assad on the General Assembly of the United Nations. Is Russia disturbed by the prospect of being in political isolation, as many political analysts predict?
S.V. Lavrov: To begin with, Russia and China have many times denounced the regime of B. Assad. The case is about the resolution which included unilateral demands. It did not admit an obvious fact that not only the regime is waging war, that people are also dying by the hands of the opposition. It did not mention that, according to the information recently provided by the international humanitarian institutions, the armed opposition, as well as the regime, is committing crimes against humanity. Due to the reason that the authors of the resolution did not want to admit these facts, we had to vote against. Russia is condemning both the regime and the opposition for the violations that lie at their door.
As far as the apprehension for the position of Russia in the world, it is rather difficult to call it isolation. I can give numerous examples when one country is voting against at the General Assembly and at the United Nations Security Council and all the other countries are voting for. This refers to the settlement in the Middle East, embargo against Cuba and many other issues. No one is even thinking about any kind of isolation. These are the positions. But I repeat that our votes, including applying the right of veto in the Security Council, is neither a fancy nor some kind of ideological prejudice against anybody. It is our principal position to protect the principles of the UN Charter.
You have mentioned the term “revolution”. The United Nations Security Council does not deal with revolutions. When our colleagues from the Syrian National Council were making a visit to Moscow (B. Ghallioun arrived in November 2011, and A. Seyda arrived in July 2012), they said: “Syria is in the state of revolution”. But if it is revolution, then it is beyond the scope of jurisdiction of the United Nations Security Council. It participates in peaceful settlement of disputes and applies measures to those parties that violate the peaceful process. In this case both parties are violators.
We don’t feel that we are isolated. All representatives of the opposition are making visits to us, we are maintaining normal dialogue with both the internal and the external opposition. A very short time ago the representatives of Syrian National Coordination Committee made a visit to Russia. Their positions are very close to ours: they insist on the termination of violence by all the parties, liberation of all political prisoners and the people kidnapped by both the government and the opposition, delivery of humanitarian aid, beginning of political dialogue that will be both intra-Syrian and pan-Syrian.
I do not know any Arab country that was pretending now that Russia is in the state of isolation. Virtually all our Arab colleagues confirm their interest in the further development of cooperation with Russia, in the deepening of interaction in the fields of economy and external policy. We felt the direct interest of Egypt and Tunisia, where the parties of religious orientation came into power, as well as Libya, where the liberals are entering the office at the current stage. I’m not quite saying that they are interested in unfreezing our relations. It is more like that they do not want to abandon them.
Question: The public discontent builds among the Arab citizens that were for many years thinking that USSR, and then Russia is supporting not regimes, but peoples.
S.V. Lavrov: It depends on how strongly are we represented in mass-media. I believe that those who are watching Russian television channels, which are conducting broadcasts from Syria, receive quite a different impression from those that do not possess this opportunity.
Question: So the matter lies just in mass-media?
S.V. Lavrov: The public opinion is formed by mass-media and politicians. When the mass-media are claiming that a Russian general was killed in Syria, and later it turns out that it is a vulgar lie, it is by no means an unimportant part of the picture. A piece of news about the death of the general and the fact that he was B. Assad’s companion was blared out very widely. And they’ve admitted the fact that this is a lie very shyly and quietly, so that only a few people heard this. The same thing is now happening around the so-called interview of the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Middle East, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia M.L. Bogdanov. I have not even heard about the newspaper called Al Watan. M.L. Bogdanov did not contact them. He deliberately listened the audio record published on the site of the edition. In this record we can hear how the man is answering to his own questions. It is a typical newspaper hoax.
We are familiar with the episodes when during the Caucasian war in the August of 2008 the CNN channel displayed the Georgian tanks seizing the Ossetian city of Tskhinval and running over the women and children. However, the subtitles claimed that it were Russian armed forces that were entering the Georgian city of Gori. Not long ago we could see that some television channels were demonstrating the ten-years-old events that took place in Iraq, and at the same time they claimed that it was the atrocities of the B. Assad regime aimed against the Syrian civilians.
Much depends on the mass-media. When the citizens are saying that Russia has always been supporting peoples instead of regimes, they are absolutely right. We take care about the people of Syria. The position that we are promoting, including the necessity of implementation of all the agreements reached by all the participants of the Geneva meeting, is determined by our intention to terminate the bloodshed immediately and reduce the number of victims. The ones that demand the Syrian opposition to fight till the bitter end are including into their appeal an “additional price” of hundreds and thousands lives of Syrians from both parties. This is what makes the difference.
We do not express any support to the regime in our position. We were condemning and criticising it, demanding it to adopt the peaceful initiative of the League of Arab States, plan of K. Annan, the United Nations Observer Mission and the Geneva communique. No matter how we treat the actions of K. Annan, he has fulfilled all these requirements. He has even appointed the negotiator, according to the requests of all the participants of the Geneva meeting. However, all the similar demands to the opposition are still being ignored.
I have to pose a question: “What kind of dialogue is this?” Indeed, the President of Syria is ready for the dialogue because he is pressed from all sides and he is suffering from the sanctions. However, in Geneva, when everyone sincerely demanded the consent for dialogue from both the government and the opposition, he said: “Here is my negotiator”.
I’d rather not follow such propagandistic stereotypes. The peoples and leadership of the Arab countries understand very simple things.
First of all, Russia has supported them in the Arab Spring, we have encouraged their aspirations.
Secondly, we are now approving the processes that are taking place in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya with the sole purpose that everything there settled down as soon as possible. The political reforms there have already been adopted, the free elections have taken place, and the people have started to breathe more freely. The situation with economy is worse, because both Egypt and Tunisia are suffering from the decrease in the number of tourists etc. We hope that as soon as the political disturbance completely settles down, the economy will start to grow. We are ready to cooperate in this field. We share a lot of completed and planned commercial, economic and investment projects with all these countries.
Thirdly, when the Arab Spring calms down, when the new epoch of democratic society and elections begins, everyone will come to understand that all the aspirations have been implemented and that now the only thing necessary to make life better is hard work; but the problems existing in this region, for example, the Middle East settlement, will not disappear. Everyone perfectly understands that Russia will never take any kind of biased position on these issues, and that Russia will prove itself to be very useful in many different aspects.
Question: What measures is Russia going to take after the failure of the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme that took place in Istanbul and Moscow?
S.V. Lavrov: This is how the character of discussion is being set. Your first question was about what is to be done after the failure of K. Annan’s plan. Now you are asking about what is to be done after the failure of negotiations in Istanbul and Moscow.
We do not consider these negotiations to be failed. That ones that claim the to be failed are just intending to provoke hysteria. This is not right. Any kind of context of confrontation is counterproductive in this issue. In Istanbul and in Moscow, as well as in succeeding contacts we have achieved rather small but still noticeable progress, because all the parties have expressed their approaches as distinctly and thoroughly as they have never done before. Moreover, the approaches was expressed not in a declaratory manner, but with reference to particular components of the problem: percentage of uranium enrichment, suspension of uranium enrichment, measures that are going to be taken in substitution etc. We were working on the basis of the principles of mutuality and division into stages, which means that we need a roadmap describing the actions that Iran should undertake, as well as the steps to accommodate Iran if it follows this path. We are advancing in this direction. Besides from explicit statement of positions each party has explained its views on the solution of problems, including the ones connected with enrichment of uranium up to a specified percentage. The is not the end of this path, and currently the most important thing is to understand that the negotiations are the only way to settle the problem of Iranian nuclear programme. Though the progress is slow, we are still making overtures for the solution of this problem. It will not be fast, and a long path is lying ahead of us. The existing discrepancies between Iran and the members of the six (P5+1) are very serious. But they are not more serious than the discrepancies in Palestinian-Israeli or Arab-Israeli settlement, then the contradictions considering the issue of Western Sahara or the problems of the creation of zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. That’s why I don’t see any reasons why it should be the Iranian nuclear problem that is defined as the only one that will definitely “break out” and that admits of no delay.
Question: For several states, for example, for Israel, it is one of the crucial problems.
S.V. Lavrov: We are holding conversations with our Israeli partners. Recently we had a regular telephone conversation with our colleague A. Lieberman. We will never believe that the military force can provide a sustainable long-term solution for this problem.
In my opinion, the main problem in this region is that Iran is not a full-fledged participant of the negotiations. Of course, Israel, USA and the majority of countries of the Persian Gulf have a lot of claims to Iran. But if those claims are used to demand the complete isolation of Iran and forbid it to participate, for example, in the events dedicated to the problems of security in this region, then we are just losing an additional method of influencing the situation. It is important for us that all those who have an influence on the development of events were participating in the negotiation process and were not left in isolation.
Question: But how can we invite Iran if it has recently threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz?
S.V. Lavrov: It was the decision of the Parliament. Several days after this decision the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran A. Salekhi declared that this position is unrealistic. That’s why I don’t think that this statement might lead to any serious consequences. This gives yet another proof that it is necessary to avoid unnecessary aggressive rhetoric. We are regularly hearing the other party threatening to bomb out Iran, because it does not deserve a place among the group of civilised states. This is the manifestation of this very downward spiral and vicious circle that won’t do any good. Question: How do you assess the relations between Russia and the countries of the Persian Gulf? Does the situation in Syria have an impact on them?
S.V. Lavrov: Yes, it has some influence, but we maintain good relations with both the separate countries of the region and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Persian Gulf. Our first meeting on the ministerial level in this format took place in the beginning of November 2011. We created the basis for strategic dialogue. The second meeting is going to take place in Russia, and we are discussing the dates now. At first we were planning to hold it in June, but the schedules of the ministers did not match. Two weeks ago I was talking with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia S. Faisal. We have made an arrangement that approximately in autumn we will find the possibility to conduct such meeting in Moscow. As far as our discrepancies considering the situation in Syria are concerned, in general we share the same purposes. Our main objective is to establish peace and tranquillity in Syria, improve the lives of the people of Syria.
Question: But though the majority of countries do not want B. Assad to be in office after all these events, Russia still approves him.
S.V. Lavrov: That’s why the population of the Arab countries assumes such an attitude to Russia. You should not speak like that. You have said it in such a manner as if you took in with mother’s milk that the majority of countries do not want B. Assad to be in office, and Russia still approves him. It was some kind of Freudian slip dictated by your subconscious. But this is not true at all. But it makes no difference to us who will hold the office in Syria. The main thing is that these authorities should be freely elected by the people of Syria, without external interference. All the other issues should be decided by Syrians themselves. We will understand any choice.
I remind you that in March this year we had a meeting with several Arab states of the Persian Gulf and League of Arab States in general. As a result of the meeting we have elaborated five principles that we have publicly declared with my colleague from Qatar sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. The first principle lies in the termination of violence, free delivery of humanitarian aid at each and every place, inadmissibility of foreign interference, the necessity of achieving the state when Syrians will be able to independently decide their own future.
After this meeting, when I am hearing my colleagues, including the sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, appealing for invasion and intervention into Syria, I cannot understand what was the reason of his approval of our agreement on the inadmissibility of external intervention. That’s why we are trying to be consistent. From time to time our partners radically change their position, but, unfortunately, it is not always that sometimes can be done with it.
Question: In recent times the Western and Arab mass-media are calling you “Mister No”. In due time it was how they called A.A. Gromyko. Does it irritate you?
S.V. Lavrov: Not at all, I haven’t even heard about it. If there are no violations of international right, then I’m proud to be “Mister No”.