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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov, Baku, July 12, 2016

Mr Mammadyarov,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

During our discussion last evening and this morning we reviewed the spectrum of bilateral, regional and international issues. Let me highlight the long and frank conversation we had yesterday with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, which mostly focused on the objectives we all face regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As my colleague and friend Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov has said, this discussion was quite helpful. It will help us move forward along the lines outlined by the presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia during their June 20 meeting in St Petersburg.

Today we stated that our relations are that of a genuine partnership and are based on traditional friendship, good neighbourly relations, equality and mutual respect. Russia appreciates the consistency of Azerbaijan’s leaders in strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia in all areas.

Our two countries maintain intensive top and high-level political dialogue; and cooperation in all sectors continues to develop.

We agreed that enhancing trade and economic cooperation requires special attention at this point, given the negative trends in the global economy. Russia expects the upcoming meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation to be supplemented by direct contact between the business communities in Russia and Azerbaijan. The foreign ministries of the two countries will support these efforts in every possible way.

Much has been said about our cooperation in the humanitarian sphere. The developments in this area are really encouraging. Russian universities operate branches in Azerbaijan, while the University of Azerbaijan is about to open a branch in Derbent. We welcome the establishment of the Association of Higher Education Institutions by Russia and Azerbaijan, a new and promising format.

We discussed regional developments. Today and tomorrow, the capital of Kazakhstan will host a meeting of the Caspian Five foreign ministers. We share with our Azerbaijani friends the idea that our common aim is to ensure the success of the upcoming Fifth Caspian Summit in Astana, which follows up on the Fourth Caspian Summit that took place in Astrakhan in September 2014. We hope that the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea will receive final approval at the summit.

We now have a new regional cooperation framework formed by Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran. The foreign ministers of the three countries met in April to prepare a summit meeting of the presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran. This meeting will be held in the near future.

We exchanged views on how our representatives cooperate in international organisations, including the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and other platforms.

I believe this visit to be quite useful. I would like to convey my sincere gratitude to our Azerbaijani hosts for the traditional warm welcome and hospitality.

Question (addressed to both ministers): How might the fact that Russia and Turkey are beginning to return to normal relations affect Russia’s cooperation with Azerbaijan?

Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Elmar Mammadyarov): I fully agree with the assessment that Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov has just offered. Let me tell you right away that our relations with Azerbaijan have an intrinsic value and do not depend on the business climate or economic situation. The leaders of Azerbaijan have adopted the same approach. Strategic relations between Moscow and Baku have never been affected by momentary considerations.

Of course, the fewer problems there are in the region, the better it will be for Russia and Azerbaijan. In this context, when efforts to bring Russia’s relations with Turkey back to normal got underway after the publicised letter the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent to President of Russia Vladimir Putin and their telephone conversation, we continued to work on the ministerial level by holding a meeting between foreign ministers in Sochi on the sidelines of the meeting of the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation’s Council of Foreign Ministers. There is no doubt that this will have a positive effect on the overall situation in the region. We also hope that it will make us more efficient in finding joint approaches to overcoming the Syrian crisis where, as you know, Russia’s stance has little in common with that of Turkey. I had an honest discussion with my Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in Sochi on July 1, and hope that fewer things will be left unsaid in our relations with our Turkish partners. We will try to be more open when it comes to agreeing on implementing UN Security Council and ISSG resolutions. These instruments set forth principles that everyone agreed upon, and they should be fulfilled.

Question: It has been reported that US Secretary of State John Kerry will come to Moscow late this week. Can we expect a breakthrough on the Syrian issue as a result of this visit, such as a lasting ceasefire throughout Syria and closer coordination with Washington?

Sergey Lavrov: We will discuss this with Mr Kerry, who will come to Moscow on July 14, and we will hold talks on the afternoon of July 14 and in the morning on July 15. What we want is full compliance with the ceasefire in keeping with the provisions of the UN Security Council resolutions, which say that the ceasefire regime does not include ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist organisations that have been designated as such by the Security Council.

The problem with the implementation of these agreements is that Jabhat al-Nusra has been changing its colour. It is creating groups under different names that are allegedly not connected to al-Nusra throughout Syria but primarily around Aleppo. These groups proclaim a willingness to join the ceasefire agreement, whereas in fact they are acting hand in glove with al-Nusra terrorists.

I would like to point to an organisation called Jaish al-Fatah, in which Jabhat al-Nusra plays the leading role. Jaish al-Fatah has many combat units that are directly connected with al-Nusra, and these units must be attacked and cannot be part of the ceasefire regime.

We have been discussing this with our American partners since January. They promised that all units that cooperate with Washington would withdraw from the al-Nusra positions. This has not been done to this day. These units are being used as the reason the Syrian army should not fire on the positions held by al-Nusra and the allied groups that are described as normal and civilized opposition groups. This will be one of the main issues at the upcoming talks with Mr Kerry, because the United States committed itself. We’ll see what comes of it.

Another issue on the agenda of the talks is the political process. It is alarming that the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Mr Staffan de Mistura has been neglecting his duties of late. He has not convened the planned round of the intra-Syrian talks and has made public statements according to which Russia and the US should come to terms on a political settlement in Syria before the UN convenes the next round of the intra-Syrian consultations. This is the wrong approach. The resolution says clearly that the Syrians themselves must decide the future of their country. They can do this only if they sit down at the negotiating table, look each other in the eye and make their proposals. Of course, the external parties, including Russia and the United States as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group, can and should influence this process, urging the conflicting sides to act constructively and search for compromise. But Russia and the US must not replace the intra-Syrian dialogue. I see this as a very dangerous sign being sent to an irreconcilable opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, which has been advancing ultimatums on deadlines and demanded that Bashar al-Assad step down. This is not helping the settlement process.

I will be working with US Secretary of State John Kerry to coordinate a common position, which must be based on the perfectly clear and unambiguous principles of the UN Security Council resolutions. It is from this standpoint that we will try to influence Mr Staffan de Mistura to faithfully do his duties.

Question (addressed to both ministers): What is the current situation at the Nagorno-Karabakh talks following the meeting of the presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia in St Petersburg? What issues are being discussed?

Sergey Lavrov: Briefly, we cannot make public the details of the ideas discussed at the meetings of the [three] presidents or foreign ministers. At their June 20 meeting in St Petersburg, the three presidents agreed to act very carefully so as to nurture hope for a solution. The three presidents have agreed that they would only make general comments and would not provide any details. I suggest that we do the same, not because we are hiding anything, but because it is an ethical approach in any negotiation process. However, my colleague and friend, Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov, and I have said that we have reason to believe that this time we have come much closer to the possibility of success than ever before.


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Letter to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph, published on 24 November 2016

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