Speech and answers to questions from the mass media by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the joint press conference with Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu summarizing the results of the consultations of the heads of the foreign services and the defence services of Russia and the United States, Washington, 9 August 2013
A two plus two meeting of the Russian and US ministers of foreign affairs and defence was held today. It was held in accordance with the agreements reached during the meeting of President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama on the 17 June on the side-lines of the G8 summit in Lough Erne.
The practice of such meetings is highly in demand. Many years have passed since this mechanism was established and the first meeting was held within the framework of this format. And today both parties shared the understanding that this practice has to become a regular feature. We agree that it is a very good opportunity to discuss the key issues of international security, in which Russia and the United States may actually interact to assist in solving the problems existing in the world. We have reached the understanding with our American colleagues that we will continue to use this mechanism, reviewing any complicated issues emerging in the world based on mutual benefit, mutual respect, equality and developing a common approach to their settlement.
We paid particular attention to the Anti-Ballistic Missile problems. Sergey Shoigu will talk in detail about that. The main thing I have seen and heard during today’s negotiations is that there is an understanding that we need to review this topic in the context of all other aspects, which affect strategic stability in one or another way. The topic of Anti-Ballistic Missiles was discussed in great depth to understand what risks are being created or are not being created for strategic stability, in the comprehensive increase of which we are equally as interested as the Americans.
Another issue we discussed today is interaction in the field of combating Weapons of Mass Destruction proliferation, topical issues of cooperation on outer space problems, including within the framework of the relevant UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. We share a lot of interests and approaches here on how to solve the problems arising in connection with the fact that humans explore outer space more and more and face new phenomena.
As to regional problems, we paid particular attention to Syria. We share the opinion here as well – that despite all the rest we need to attain faster convening of the Geneva-2 conference in accordance with the Russian-American initiative formulated during the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Moscow on the 7 May. We paid special attention to doing everything to advance implementation of the task, which was set at the G8 summit in Lough Erne – to attain that the Syrian government and the opposition combine efforts to eradicate terrorism in the territory of Syria and to expel terrorists from the Syrian Arab Republic. We certainly need an agreement in principle between the political opposition and the Syrian Government on the transitional period, which was agreed within the framework of the Geneva Communiqué adopted in June 2012. Everything must be done on the basis of consent between the government and the delegation of the opposition. We agreed to discuss specific aspects of the preparation for the conference at the next meeting of Russian and American experts, and such meeting will be held at the end of this month.
We also discussed Afghanistan, noted that we both are interested in making this country a smaller challenge from the point of view of terrorism threats, organised crime, the drugs industry. The American colleagues expressed their gratitude for the provision of transit services through the Russian Federation. More than 3.4 thousand runs have been made through Russian territory and more than 265 thousand American military personnel have been transferred on them since the entry into force, in 2009, of the transit agreement between our countries. These numbers are impressive. They show how important it is for us to continue our interaction on this topic, especially in the context of 2014, when the main contingencies will be removed and elections will be organised in Afghanistan. We share the opinion that we need to pay special attention to political settlement, the search for formulas, which will allow the Afghans to determine their fate themselves and to live in a country, where all minorities feel comfortable and safe.
We exchanged opinions on Iran’s Nuclear Programme. Like our American colleagues, we expect faster convening of another meeting of the three plus three group with Iranian representatives. We wish to support the disposition of the new President of Iran, who expressed his readiness to be more open in this area and to search for agreements.
We have close opinions on the situation on the Korean Peninsula as well. Both Russia and the United States advocate for faster creation of conditions for the renewal of six-party talks.
There were separate meetings between the ministers of defence and the ministers of foreign affairs. During my meeting with John Kerry we discussed current issues of bilateral relations, agreed that we have all the conditions in place to move forward. We have many leads, including the whole range of joint statements prepared for signature, and we will continue to move ahead in this direction. Our disposition is very positive, we are happy about it. In general, we think that the current consultations contribute to the approximation of our approaches in a whole range of specific aspects related to strategic stability. They will certainly continue and will be valuable in the efforts to build stability throughout the entire world.
Question: Was the question about the fate of Edward Snowden, because of whom Barack Obama does not come to Moscow, raised? To that end, do you agree to the affirmations of your American colleagues that the parties have almost reached the state of a “cold war” after this refusal?
Sergey Lavrov: Everything Sergey Shoigu and I have said today about our work with John Kerry and Chuck Hagel highlights that there is no “cold war”, on the contrary, we have a very close partnership and very good potential for improvement. Edward Snowden is an anomaly. For example, our colleagues’ photographers “target” the speaker and wait for him to scratch, or sneeze. If one picture of Sergey Lavrov sneezing or scratching is everything that the viewer and the reader have to go on after this press conference, it will give a much distorted picture of events here. Edward Snowden is an episode.
We explained our arguments long ago, President Vladimir Putin, representatives of Russia’s Federal Migration Service talked about it. We acted in strict compliance with our laws and international law. We could not have acted otherwise, especially taking into account that we have no extradition agreement with the Americans, because the United States have been refusing to conclude one for many years. However, the topic of Edward Snowden was mentioned today as a fly-by. It is an unpleasant episode, and we understand that a lot of emotion is concentrated around this topic. However, it should not and cannot disrupt our common interests, which match in many points: in our fight against new challenges and threats, in the matter of securing strategic stability. On the basis of the results of today’s meeting, I do not see any reasons to suggest that our relations have been thrown backwards. The summit was postponed, despite the fact that the press is writing that it was cancelled. The American party postponed the summit. I am convinced that the invitation President Barack Obama has will be used.
Question (to both ministers): Based on the results of these negotiations, can you say anything about the change in the level of trust between Russia and the United States, if we view military and technical cooperation (the plans for 2014) and the prospects of foreign policy contacts (also for 2014).
Sergey Lavrov (answers first): I will reply briefly. We have long lasting relations with US Secretary of State John Kerry. These relations were already trustworthy, full of mutual respect and professional even when he was a senator. I presume that we have the required level of trust. Today’s meeting confirmed this. Sergey Shoigu will add his own contemplations, because trust is especially valuable in the military field.
Question (translation from English): President Barack Obama says that Russia slipped into the Cold War mentality. Relations drew to a deadlock because of that. How would you comment that the September trip to Russia was considered to be a waste of time? The case of Edward Snowden evidently affects Russian-American relations. May be it would be better to turn him over to improve the situation?
Sergey Lavrov (translation from English): We must carry out all the legal obligations we have undertaken. The actions we undertook in respect of Edward Snowden are determined by the laws of the Russian Federation, as well as our international obligations.
By the way, today during my informal talk with John Kerry, I reminded him that there is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, which was actively discussed and promoted by the United States. This document states that freedom of information is absolutely necessary, but must be limited in special cases like health care (and something else), as well as for the purposes of ensuring national security. When this Covenant was ratified by the United States, they made an official statement, which is part of the package of ratification documents, stating that the United States do not admit any limitation of the freedom of expression, including the limits related to state security considerations.
As I have already said, Edward Snowden was not the main topic of our negotiations; he was mentioned as an existing fact. The issues on the agenda, which are very interesting to both our countries and the entire world, were the main topic of our agenda. It is not reasonable to affirm that this specific case is a sufficient cause to doubt the relations between Russia and the United States.
When John Kerry became a Secretary of State, and we met for the first time in his current position, we discussed the general issues regarding the development of our relations. I remember very well what he said when we were saying goodbye. He said, well, I believe we can make a difference in Russian-American relations, let us act as adults. And that is what we are trying to do, because, if small incidents become an impediment to everything else, I think it will be a very wrong policy.
Many Russian nationals were wrongfully detained by the United States in third countries in violation of the Consular agreement between our countries. There are dozens of such people. We focus our attention on each of these cases, but we never say that we will not discuss Afghanistan, Anti-Ballistic Missiles or something else with you until you do as we ask. Life is much more complicated than presenting a specific case as “make or break”.
Question (translation from English): Is there any hope after today’s negotiations that Geneva-2 will take place? You have been discussing this issue with John Kerry for a long time, but the hope for this conference is still very weak. Did you manage to achieve any progress on this topic?
Sergey Lavrov (translation from English): Russia has implemented the obligations undertaken by it – the Syrian Arab Republic’s government stated unambiguously that it is ready to send a delegation without any preconditions, as well as to work on the implementation of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012. We are still waiting for the same from the opposition.
John Kerry assured me that the opposition would be persuaded to come to Geneva-2 without any preconditions on the basis of reaching an agreement with the government in accordance with the Geneva Communiqué.
Question (translation from English): How did the refusal of President Barack Obama to visit Russia affect the course of today’s negotiations?
Sergey Lavrov (translation from English): This news has not had any negative effect. I wish to correct you: you are talking about cancelling, while the statement talks about postponing to a later time, which was confirmed during our two plus two meeting.
We have prepared a whole package of documents for consideration by our presidents, including the general basic agreement on bilateral relations, the statement aimed at giving impulse to the development of trade and economic links. A meeting of representatives from business circles was envisaged during the visit of Barack Obama. A statement about combating drug traffic, the agreement on further activity of national centres for the reduction of the nuclear threat, the agreement on cooperation in scientific research in the nuclear and energy areas, as well as several agreements, which will be presented to the presidents, including the report of the Presidential Commission and all of its twenty odd work groups, were prepared.
I would also like to remind you that during the meeting of the presidents on the G8 summit in Lough Erne, as well as during their meeting in Las Cabos in 2012, President Vladimir Putin proposed to draw more attention to the issues of nationals – the interactions of civil communities, including the way to a visa-free regime. We expected and are still expecting a decision to start negotiations on the topic of a visa-free regime to be taken during the next meeting of the presidents.
Thus, the agenda is vast, which was confirmed at the two plus two meeting. We pay attention to specific issues rather than those issues which some people would like to make headlines in the mass media.