13 July 2011, 02:00

Exclusive interview of Sergei Lavrov to the Voice of Russia

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Special guest today is the minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergei Lavrov.  First of all we would like to send our condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones in the Volga river tragedy. Thank you, we appreciate this. We wonder how you would comment on the results of the Quartet meeting.

Special guest today is the minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergei Lavrov. 

First of all we would like to send our condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones in the Volga river tragedy.

Thank you, we appreciate this.

We wonder how you would comment on the results of the Quartet meeting.

Well, the Quartet met yesterday in Washington. We discussed the situation which is not very encouraging at the moment because the negotiations have been stuck for almost a year. And we all agreed that we all want the parties to resume the negotiations without any preconditions but of course respecting  the previous agreements and the existing  legal basis accepted internationally -  these basis being the Security Council`s  resolutions, the European initiative, the road map plan, the Madrid principles.

The components of the final deal are all there. But not all these components the parties must agree.

For the time being Israel is mostly preoccupied with its security (which is very much understandable).  The Palestinians are preoccupied with the fact that for many, many decades they could not have their own state as promised by the international community in the middle of last century. So the components of the deal, as I said, are available.

We all understand that the parties would start by discussing specific borders based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps, And the second priority would be Israel`s security. Those two issues are very difficult for obvious reasons but it is also understood that while concentrating on them the parties would not abandon other elements of the final status issues, namely the fate of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees, water resources, and so on. Our discussion yesterday showed that we all want them to start, at the same time we also believe that the Quartet could usefully help the parties to sit down to the negotiation table with a position which we want to negotiate. The elements of this position are almost agreed. We need to find the right language because psychological effect is no less important than the substance sometimes, and this is exactly the case. So we encouraged our experts to continue discussing the language, and we give them instructions on what we want to achieve - the resumption of the negotiations and assuring the parties that the interest of neither of them would be ignored.

Well, the western countries continue their military operation in Libya while maintaining their call for a new Security Council resolution on Syria and supplying Libyan opposition with weapons. As we know, Russia strongly opposes any new resolution on Syria provided the Libyan experience for US air strikes. But critics of Russia say that Russia supports the dictatorship of Gaddafi. What is your stand on that and how would you respond?

Well, I think this is something based on lack of knowledge of the Russian position. When Gaddafi gave orders to his air force to kill civilians on the ground, we were among the first to condemn this, and we joined consensus in the Security Council on the first resolution on Libya (number 1970) which called for immediate cessation of hostilities, which authorized total arms embargo on any supply of weapons to the Libyan territory and which also called for immediate beginning of the political process. And as I said this was a resolution adopted by consensus, including of course the Russian voice.

Then when Gaddafi did not listen to the international community, the second draft was introduced on the basis of the request from the League of Arab States, which wanted the Security Council to authorize a no-fly zone in the Libyan air space and Russia supported this request. And we negotiated the text in the Security Council which did exactly that, namely declaring the no-fly zone over Libya, but we had problems with the way this resolution described the means to achieve this goal, the paragraph which prevented us from voting in favor, gave a carte blanche to everyone to do anything they want to achieve the purpose of this resolution. We wanted to specify it so we could know before the vote who is going to volunteer to implement the authorization of the Security Council, what would be the rules of engagements, given the fact that the task of the operation is to ensure the no-fly zone regime, not to attack the ground targets, including non-military targets.

We wanted to know what would be the limits to the use of force. Unfortunately, co-sponsors rejected our proposal to finalize the negotiations on this paragraph, and they put it to a vote the way it was drafted, which as I said prevented us from supporting the resolution. But since we supported the goal but disagreed with the means we did not use veto and abstained together with China, Germany, India and Brazil.

So now we unfortunately see that our concerns have been grounded because the way the resolution is being implemented goes far beyond the authorization about the no-fly zone,  no-fly zone regime was tried by the Security Council in the past in Iraq and it was interpreted unambiguously in a very clear way that the no-fly zone regime involved too legitimate targets: first, the air force of the country in question, which is in the air space and the second legitimate target when the coalition planes patrolling the no-fly zone are being targeted by the radars and entire aircraft systems of the country in question.

These two legitimate targets have been used in interpreting the resolution on Iraq. The current resolution is being interpreted by NATO which volunteered to implement it in the way which is absolutely without any limits. You mentioned the supply of arms, before that there were instructors from Europe sent to the ground and people even talk about a ground operation. The air strikes themselves go well beyond military targets, some residential quarters were hit and it is a cause of concern because the main goal of the resolution is not to hit the targets with the risk for civilian population, it is exactly the protection of the civilians, who suffer both from Gaddafi forces and forces of the coalition. So I think the recognition that this is not what we all want is gaining ground and just a couple of days ago discussions were renewed on the need for political process.

We support the African Union initiative to start talks between representatives of Tripoli and those of Benghazi transitional national council on the understating that Gaddafi himself of course would not have any place in future Libya and that Gaddafi himself would not participate in those discussions.

We have some encouraging signs that both Tripoli and Benghazi are discussing now specific terms of introducing something like administrative mechanism for preparing for the transition. So we will be only gratified if this succeeds. President Medvedev repeatedly made initiatives on supporting the mediation efforts on the African Union, the UN. He met last week with President Zuma of South Africa in Sochi, and President Zuma presented the African Union plan which is very much about creating these interim negotiating administrative mechanisms which would open the way for full-fledged discussions of the future state of Libya.

What do you think should be the status of Muammar Gaddafi if there are talks between the two?

Well, we agree, as I said, that he must go, he has no place in the new Libya, and the rest is subject to discussion. And first of all it will be for Libyans themselves, I heard the views of Benghazi people expressed informally that they would be prepared to discuss a compromise, whereby Gaddafi would stay at an agreed place, probably in Libya itself, which will be provided with some subsistence. Of course he is under the International Criminal Court verdict, but again we have to think not about formalities but about the future of Libya and of the fastest way to stop the violence. You also mentioned Syria. You know, in any situation we want to promote political process, we want to promote engagement, not isolation. Of course President Assad made some mistakes, but unlike Gaddafi, Assad introduced a series of reforms, he cancelled the state of emergency which had lasted for several decades in Syria, he announced two amnesties of prisoners, he invited the opposition to a national dialogue which started a couple of days ago and should continue, in which many opposition leaders agreed to participate. He also suggested to discuss at this national dialogue some very far reaching reforms –constitutional reform, electoral legislation reform, reform of the legislation of the media, and the opposition should not ignore this. If the opposition believes that they should reject anything coming from Assad and the expectations that the Libyan scenario would be repeated, I believe that it is against the interest of the Syrian people and of many neighboring countries, because Syria is a very special place in the Middle East and it plays a very important role in what happens in Lebanon, what happens with the Kurds in many countries, and what happens in relations between Shia and Sunni of the Arab nation.

Actually, I would like everyone to look on what is going on around Yemen –the situation is no less dire in that country- only to mention the fact that the presidential palace was hit by the shells and president himself was gravely wounded, as well as prime minister, deputy PM, speakers of two chambers of the parliament. But everyone is talking not about condemning one side and supporting another side, but about the dialogue which both the government and the opposition must immediately engage in - this is the unified position of the US, of the EU, Russia, the UN, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and I believe the responsible approach would be to use the same position vis-à-vis what is going on in Syria, encourage people to sit down and talk, don`t create illusion on one side that they can count on the military support of the intern community like it happens in Libya.

We know you are going to meet Hillary Clinton here and you are going to sign a long-awaited child adoptions agreement. And according to the Russian child rights ombudsman, a similar document will be signed with Israel in near future. Can you explain why Russia insisted on that kind of intergovernmental agreement and why did it become important to sign it after decades of living without it?

I think that in any situation which involves citizens of two or more countries it is necessary to protect them as much as you can. And international intergovernmental agreements is a very reliable way to do this. We already signed the agreement on cooperation in the area of adoption with Italy, we are also negotiating one with Israel, and on the basis of the same principles we suggested to the US government to start negotiating a similar treaty. The reason being the absolutely outrageous facts of humiliations and even murder of Russian children adopted in the US, you know about these cases, I think they are almost 20 now, some of them are in court. But bad treatment of kids in some families continues. Please, understand me right- these cases are minimally compared to the entire number of adoptions in the US from Russia and the number of adoptions is more than one hundred thousand.

So those are indeed could be considered as violations of  children`s rights but this does not make it less important because every life is precious and we want to be sure that everything a state can do to protect a child in such situations must be done.

The US government for quite some time was quite reluctant to enter negotiations explaining that here in the US those issues are within the competence of the states, not the federal authorities, but I was very gratified when eventually we persuaded our partners to sit down and look at this situation and we agreed a treaty which protects Russian kids, which ensures the mechanisms to monitor how they are doing in the families in the US, who adopted them, and which also makes sure there will be no so-called independent adoptions, all adoptions would be made through a competent authority, to be designed by the US, the federal government and the states, which would be responsible for checking whether the candidates who adopt a Russian child are psychologically stable and which would also be responsible for making sure that there is an access of the Russian government to a kid if need be. This is all part of the agreement, and I believe it is a fair deal.

Let`s talk about Russia-NATO decision to postpone issue of the European missile defense to the next summit in Chicago. Moscow says that ignoring Russia`s concerns on the European defense system could hurt the Russia-NATO ties and possible lead to a new arms race. Do you think it is possible still to reach an agreement with NATO on this issue?

First of all, we did not postpone any decision to any particular date, we have not even agreed to have a NATO-Russia summit next year in Chicago. Our NATO partners were mentioning this as a date when it could be possible to meet but the formal invitation was not issued, and I cannot even think at this moment that we would be ready to reply immediately, for one reason - it is not some artificial deadlines, it`s the substance of the agreement on missile defense, on anything else on this matter which must take precedent.

And on missile defense as far as substance is concerned. In July 2009 when President Obama visited Moscow they issued with President Medvedev a joint statement on missile defense, saying that they want their teams to work together to develop a common vision of missile defense, based on common analysis of threats, common design to respond to those threats, and then common effort to establish technical and military means to be ready for potential threat. And the talks started between Russia and the US. Then after the Lisbon summit last year similar exercise began in Russia-NATO Council and these discussions continue on both tracks, bilateral and with NATO, but the problem is that parallel with those discussions that have not reached results yet facts on the ground are being created on the basis of American national design of missile defense which was not accepted by us as a reasonable way to respond to what is perceived as a purpose of the entire system.

So at the moment we want to stick to the original agreement, that we need to have a joint understanding of why we need this missile defense system, where threats are coming from. If it is from outside the Euro-Atlantic area as the Americans tell us, why don`t we discuss criteria which would guarantee that it is exactly the way it would be constructed and that there would be no parts of the system which would compromise, which would create risks for the strategic stability and for the potential in the strategic stability area namely strategic arsenals of the participants of the system. So we not only say as we did in Lisbon that we do not represent a threat to each other and we are partners but we also translate this statement into practical arrangements on missile defense. Actually it relates also to a broader issue of indivisibility of security in the 1990s in NATO-Russia Council, in Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the presidents and prime ministers endorsed several statements saying that security is indivisible and no country in Euro-Atlantic region would increase its own security at the expense of security of any other country in this region.

It is a political declaration, a political commitment but unfortunately it did not work in practical terms, despite the promises to the contrary NATO was expanded in the absence of the Warsaw Treaty.

Despite the commitments to the contrary, military infrastructure was created on the territory of new NATO members, all this was, solemnly proclaimed as our common position as the political commitment but those commitments have not been respected. So we believe and President Medvedev three years ago suggested to do this in the form of the European security treaty that those commitments must acquire legal force, that they must be implemented in practice, and the situation with missile defense is exactly about indivisibility of security.

We either have  the Euro-Atlantic community united against common threats as the design of the US as being presented but without any practical translation into real life or we will create more and more dividing lines in Europe and we will create in Europe zones with different security level.

So we need- first- guarantees that no participant of this European missile defense will feel that its security is at risk and that the discussions on the criteria to make sure this is the case that the future missile defense system would be created to protect all of us from threats coming outside, that such criteria geographically, in military terms, technically should be discussed and agreed.

We are not pessimistic about the entire exercise though the latest developments certainly do not make us happy, we continue the talks, we did so in Sochi when NATO-Russia Council held its meeting and Pr Medvedev talked to the participants and we will be discussing this tomorrow with the US and there will be continued discussions between the two military.

You know, it`s been mentioned that Moscow will submit a claim next year to the UN to expand its Arctic shelf borders. Other nations including the US have also increased their activities in the region, and it is described by some analysts as a new re-division of the Arctic. How do you see the role of Russia in this process and does it need to increase its military presence there as the US and Canada do?   May the future of the Arctic be resolved peacefully?

Well, first of there is no such thing as redesigning of the Arctic landscape and redesigning the legal regime of the Arctic. The five coastal states, the Arctic Five so to say, back in 2008 agreed during their meeting that there is no single problem in the region that cannot be resolved on the basis of existing law, this law being the international Convention of 1982.

Then this position was endorsed by the entire Arctic Council which is composed by eight Arctic states and you now the fact that this is really the case was demonstrated by the signature and entry into force of the Russian-Norwegian agreement on de-limitation in the Barents Sea area.

There is no single issue in the area that would require any military presence of the non-regional actors, be it countries or organizations. The Arctic Five, Russia, the US, Canada, Norway and Denmark are perfectly capable of maintaining the necessary level of security, the freedom of shipping and safety of the shipping and we are open to other countries who want to cooperate but on the basis of the rules of the game established by the Arctic countries.

We met last May in Greenland, in the city of Nuuk, as the Arctic Council ministerial meeting and we adopted the first pan-Arctic legally binding agreement on search and rescue and instructed our experts to draft a Treaty on how you fight oil spills. We also endorsed the rules for observers who want to participate in the work of the Arctic Council which provide for them to be parties to projects like exploration of oil and gas, transportation of oil, gas and other commodities through the Northern Sea route, participation in scientific research and many other activities.

But I would like to emphasize once again that there’s no problem requiring any military involvement in the Arctic. Everything must be and should be on the basis of the international convention of the law of the sea and it’s a common position of the members of the Arctic Council, including Russia and the US.

How would you describe Russian-US relations right now?

Well, they are certainly on the rise and the Obama administration when it announced the reset of our relations clearly recognized in my view that the policy of the previous administration was leading us to some very unnecessary confrontational situations.

I want to be understood right, both President Putin when he was president and Dmitry Medvedev when he became the leader of Russia they had very good personal relations with President Bush but somehow the chemistry from the top didn’t translate into some cooperative efforts on the lower levels, on the contrary on the lower levels, we felt some confrontational attitude, unnecessary and artificial irritators and when the Democrats came to the White House the situation changed.

We have much more developed and elaborate system of cooperation which is not based only on very good personal relations between the two presidents. It is also structured and systemic. Testimony to that is a successful launching and functioning of the presidential commission which was created under the two presidents with the Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister of Russia being coordinators of twenty working groups now.

Last two groups were created on innovations and legal issues. All of them have produced some very meaningful results and the groups cover any imaginable area of our cooperation, economy, military, environment, social issues, human rights etc.

The new approach of the new Administration to American-Russian relations also helped us to conclude very important START Treaty and 1,2,3 agreement on cooperation and peaceful usage of nuclear energy was eventually ratified by the Congress and it’s beneficial not only for bilateral relations between Russians and Americans but also for our joint cooperation in third countries.

So, there are achievements which are not negligible but there are challenges ahead. What we want it to concentrate on projects that would promote joint ventures in innovation and modernization area and quite a number of American companies are coming to Russia. We also want to take decisions jointly the positive effect of which will be felt by the citizens of the countries, you mentioned the adoption agreement, I think, this is one of them.

I would also mentioned an agreement reached to facilitate the visa regimes, so that Russian and American businessmen and tourists could receive long-term visas, multiple visas and save time for visiting each other. And also official travel would be liberalized and brought to the multiple visa basis.

And when Vice President Biden was in Moscow in spring, the Russian side suggested to have a more ambitious goal to move towards a visa-free regime. We negotiate this regime with the EU, we already have such regime with almost 100 countries, including Israel by the way, and we see no reason why we should not put this goal as an immediate task to start working on with the US. Two-three years ago this would be unthinkable even to mention that we might have a visa-free regime but now I think it is very realistic.

Of course, we have differences, any two big countries would have something on which they do not see eye to eye - I mentioned missile defense, there are some other things, but the main feature of this particular period of the Russian-American relations is that we do not make too much fuzz out of these differences but we concentrate of course on where we can agree, where we can achieve result but we also discuss in a open friendly manner the things on which we differ, and I am sure that this approach is the only way to proceed. We would not ever agree on each and every coma in our positions but as we concentrate on the things which still divide us, we reduce the list of such items, we add to the positive agenda and this is the way to proceed.

Our special guest in the Voice of Russia in Washington was Russia`s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.  Mr. Lavrov, thank you very much.

Thank you! I congratulate the VOR on the opening of this studio here in Washington and I wish you good luck. I am sure that your work here would help the Americans to know more about Russia.

Thank you so much.

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