The opening speech by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, S.V. Lavrov, at the opening of the International Conference on Syria, Montreux (Switzerland), 22nd January 2014

Lavrov3

Dear Mr. President,

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Colleagues,

The entire world community is focusing on this opening of the International Conference on Syria, which confers what I would describe as special historical responsibility on those attending it.

First of all, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of those who contributed to the convocation of this forum: The United Nations Organisation, its Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Special Representative L. Brahimi and his predecessor K. Annan. I would like to express special gratitude to the government of Switzerland for the excellent organisation of the Conference, and the most favourable conditions for its preparation.

We express our gratitude to all the countries and organisations – the League of Arab States (LAS), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the European Union – for having supported the common initiative of Russia and the USA in the holding of Geneva-2 toward a political settlement of the Syrian crisis. Having worked in close contact with the US Secretary of State all this time, I know well enough how much was done by John (J. Kerry) personally to make today’s meeting possible despite numerous real and imaginary problems.

Our common task is to achieve an end to the tragic conflict in Syria which continues to cause incalculable disasters and sufferings to the Syrian people and destroy this ancient land. We cannot let a shock wave strike the neighbouring countries i.e. the whole Middle East region during what is the hardest period in its history.

Russia supports the aspirations of the Arab peoples for a better life, sustainable development and prosperity. We are sure that the escalated reformations can be effective only if implemented by peaceful and non-violent means: through national dialogue relying on the internal evolution of the communities. Attempts to force upon the countries of the Middle East and North Africa the recipes of reforms from outside, or to stage social engineering experiments, derail the process of political and economic modernisation. One does not have to look too far to see examples. We once again appeal to all the external players to strictly observe the basic principles of international law, including respect for State sovereignty, non-interference in States’ internal affairs, and peaceful settlement of disputes.

From the very beginning of the Syrian crisis, Russia consistently proceeded from the assumption that it could not be settled by force, and could only be overcome by mutual consent of the Syrian parties themselves. This approach provided the basis for the Geneva Communiquй (dated 30th June 2012), which was unanimously approved by the UN Security Council in its Resolution 2118; although it would be approved as an international legal framework to achieve peace in Syria much later.

I am sure all of us want Syria to remain a sovereign, territorially integral, secular State where the rights of all confessional and ethnic groups are protected.

It is on this basis that we start the dialogue between the Syrian parties today. They will have to agree on the specific parameters for the implementation of the Geneva Communiquй and a sequence of steps that would allow the Syrian people to determine their future on their own.

We expect that all the external players will encourage the Syrians to achieve consensus, abstain and prevent the parties from attempts to predetermine the final arrangements from other steps capable of wrecking the negotiation process.

Both the Geneva Communiquй and the Resolution of the UN Security Council 2118 emphasise that all the groups of the Syrian community should be given a chance to participate in the national dialogue. However, no patriotically-minded opposition groups acting inside Syria and showing active interest in participation in the Geneva-2 are involved in the process yet. I believe this situation can be improved by enabling them to join the negotiations, even if not from the very first day. We hope that our partners in the LAS understand this task from the beginning.

Part of this task is a necessity to get Iran fully involved in our joint efforts toward the implementation of the Geneva Communiquй without trying to interpret it in one specific way or another. The whole point of this document is that issues concerning the future of Syria should be settled by mutual consent between the government and the opposition.

The threat that Syria could transform into the centre of international terrorism is what has become the biggest problem. There are extremists from all over the world, who create chaos, destroy the cultural and demographic patterns which have existed for centuries, and create an atmosphere of intolerance which is total anathema to the people of Syria. It is deeply disturbing that more and more Christians have started leaving the land which has been their home for almost two thousand years – after all, they used to live in peace and harmony side by side next to their Arab and other brothers. When it comes to renewed consideration of the Syrian crisis, the intra-Islamic contradictions have become more and more dangerous. However, they cannot be allowed to prevail. Russia values its friendly relations with the Arab States and all the Muslim states, and is interested in the integrity of the Islamic world and wants it to achieve a worthy equitable position as one of the most important foundations of the emerging polycentric system of international relations. This guides us in the development of our partnership with the LAS, OIC, and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG).

We call on the Conference participants to do everything to help the Syrian government and the opposition join forces in order to eradicate terrorism. I should remind you that the leaders of the Group of Eight called for the same in the Final Communiquй of the Summit in Lough Erne in June 2013.

The progress with the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, is of great help as far as the proceedings of the Conference are concerned. We would like to mention the co-operation of the Syrian government with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UNO. The successful completion of this process, as well as the implementation of arrangements on Iran’s Nuclear Program, will make a real contribution in the advancement of the achievement of the objective of creating an area free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

We support the escalation of efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria that would also contribute to the strengthening of trust between the parties in the negotiations. There is no doubt that this will require day-to-day work both with the government and with various armed opposition groups. However, it is obvious that humanitarian issues, as well as other aspects of the situation in Syria, should not be regarded in a speculative sense and that they should not be used as leverage for making false demands and undermining political dialogue.

The inter-Syrian negotiations will not be simple or quick. There are many who claim to welcome Geneva-2 but who in fact do not want it to succeed. Yet, at the same time, the Conference offers a chance to achieve peace in Syria – even if is not a hundred per cent chance, it is still a real chance. If it is put into practice, it will not only become a blessing for the non-hostile Syrian people, it will also promote the general improvement of the situation in the region and the international atmosphere as a whole, strengthening the principles of honest and equal partnership in the world affairs.

Russia is ready for such work.

Thank you for attention.