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SPEECHES, INTERVIEWS, ARTICLES

21.11.2019

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Moscow, November 20, 2019

We have had very good talks with my Bahraini colleague and friend, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, and we have reached agreements on all the issues we discussed.

We expressed satisfaction with our bilateral relations, which are very good and are based on mutual interests and respect for each other’s concerns. We share the opinion that their further development meets the interests of both Moscow and Manama, as President of Russia Vladimir Putin and King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa have pointed out during their meetings.

I would like to say that we gave particular attention to the prospects for our relations in the economy, trade and investment. There is great and as yet untapped potential in these fields. In this context, we discussed our relations in energy, transport, logistics, agriculture, high technology, healthcare and pharmaceutics. We have practical plans, as well as contact between Russian and Bahraini companies in all of these fields. We talked about the plans of Gazprom, Rosgeo, Sberbank and VEB in this connection.

We expressed high appreciation for the operations of the Intergovernmental Russian-Bahraini Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, which held its second meeting in Moscow in April of this year. We talked about preparations for the commission’s regular meeting next year right away.

Both sides are satisfied with the standards of cooperation between the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and Mumtalakat, the sovereign wealth fund of Bahrain. The planned investments in Russia under the 2014 agreements between these two funds have been made. Today we agreed to encourage the RDIF and Mumtalakat to sign a new agreement and allocate additional funds for joint investment projects.

We have support from both sides for more active interparliamentary and inter-regional ties, which are really on the rise, as well as mutual interest in developing cultural and humanitarian contacts. Russian theatre companies, including the Mariinsky Theatre and the Tchaikovsky Opera and Ballet Theatre from Perm toured Bahrain this year.

We pointed out the substantial – by a third – increase in tourist volumes over the past winter/spring season of 2018-2019.

We have agreed to enhance our contractual and legal framework. A number of agreements are being finalised. Mr Minister and I reaffirmed today that we will expedite the agreement for visa-free travel for our citizens.

We discussed coordination on the international arena, including at the UN, and decided to step up our dialogue at the level of foreign services. We have plans to sign, in the near future, a cooperation agreement between the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy and Bahrain’s Diplomatic Institute.

We talked a lot about the Middle East and North Africa today. That region faces many challenges and threats. We have outlined a number of joint steps that will help consolidate the efforts of all countries in the region as well as other organisations that are concerned about reducing tensions and establishing trust and cooperation in the region.

We informed our Bahrain friends about Russia’s actions to assist in the Syrian settlement based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and decisions taken by the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.

We have welcomed the beginning of Constitutional Committee’s deliberations in Geneva. We also talked about additional efforts in the Astana format to help put an end to the terrorist presence in the Idlib province and stabilise the situation on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.

We touched upon matters regarding international assistance to restore the destroyed Syrian infrastructure; this is important for refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes. We met with understanding on the part of the Kingdom of Bahrain here.

We have common positions regarding the situation in the Arab-Israeli peace process, also with due consideration for attempts to revise the current international legal framework of the Middle East peace process. Of course, we are very alarmed by the latest developments; I mean the US position on renouncing all decisions of the international community and mandatory UN Security Council decisions on the need to stop Israel’s settlement activities and to recognise as unjust a situation when territories on the West Bank are occupied by Israel. We are convinced that only direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians aiming to attain a balance of interests in line with the decisions that have already been adopted by the international community can resolve this oldest conflict in the region.

We discussed the situation in the Persian Gulf region in a detailed manner. We agree that military developments in this strategically important region would spell the most negative consequences for regional and global security. We share a common opinion on the need to promote collective approaches involving Persian Gulf countries and their neighbours, as well as external players, including permanent members of the UN Security Council and the Arab League.

I believe that we have had very useful talks. I am grateful to my colleague for the invitation to visit the Kingdom of Bahrain once again, and I am happy to accept it. Hopefully, we will be able to do this next year when our countries will mark the 30th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations.

Question: In the run-up to his visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, President Vladimir Putin emphasised that Russia will do its best to create a proper environment for a productive dialogue between the Gulf countries, relying on its friendly relations with the countries of that region, Iran and Arab countries. Is Moscow taking any concrete steps to this end?

Sergey Lavrov: Russia has been taking the necessary steps to advance its proposals on normalising the situation in the Gulf region for many years now. If everyone had responded positively to our initiative immediately after we came up with it, the situation in the Gulf region would be much more calm, stable and secure today. Back then, not everyone was ready to look into this matter, but, notably, when President Putin advanced his initiative, Bahrain was among the countries that immediately supported it and has remained supportive all these years. We regularly raised this issue during ministerial meetings between Russia and the Gulf Cooperation Council, and at the level of deputy ministers and experts.

I do not rule out the possibility that it is because the time is ripe for this initiative. And the disquieting events unfolding in the region gave a nudge to the doubtful so that they could start discussing this topic seriously. We covered this in detail today. In order to begin practical training (keeping in mind that not everyone at the official level is willing to sit at one table), we supported the initiative advanced by the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. In September, it organised a special scientific conference on the Gulf region security and invited scientists from most of the countries in question.

These are the countries of the region and external actors that could be useful in creating an atmosphere of trust conducive to reaching agreements to reduce tensions and build cooperation bodies. Among these players, we mention the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the senior officials of the League of Arab States, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the EU. I think that such a representative, but fairly compact external support group would be very useful. I want to express my gratitude to my friend for the fact that Bahrain has always supported our approach and recognised its advantages. Today, this support has been reaffirmed.

Question: Russia has repeatedly stated that the rights of the Kurds will be upheld. Are there any ongoing talks with the leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces on this matter? How is it being addressed? Does Russia support a future federal Syria where the Kurds will feel more comfortable and enjoy all their rights?

Sergey Lavrov: Russia supports the legal rights of the Kurds and other Syrian ethnic and religious groups. This is not only our position, but it is in unanimously adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2254 as well. This was reaffirmed in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress decisions in Sochi and the basic documents that have been approved by all members of the Constitutional Committee, which has started in Geneva.

We maintain a dialogue with the Kurds, including representatives of the Syrian Democratic Forces, primarily in the context of implementing the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of October 22 concluded by President Putin and President Erdogan in Sochi, which involves withdrawing the Syrian Democratic Forces and military equipment to 30 kilometres from the Turkish-Syrian border. As you may recall, these agreements were approved by President Assad and the leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces. We were told about this and it was announced publicly as well. In order for this position to materialise into practical actions on the ground, we immediately entered into a dialogue, including with the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The withdrawal of the troops is almost completed. There may be isolated areas where loose ends still need to be tied. Importantly, our Kurdish counterparts from the Syrian Democratic Forces need to act consistently. As I mentioned earlier, they supported the Russian-Turkish Memorandum and stated that they would cooperate, but then our US partners once again changed their approach to their presence in Syria. I won’t even go into the details of what they are doing there. First, they defeated ISIS and left on these grounds. Then, they returned to protect the Kurds. Then, they stopped protecting the Kurds and left again. Then, they remembered the oil and returned again. Following the zigzags of US politics, some leaders in the Syrian Democratic Forces bet on the assumption that the United States would support them indefinitely. This is a wrong choice. I believe that in the interest of ensuring the rights of the Kurds, there is no alternative to embarking on a course of a dialogue with the legitimate Syrian authorities as part of developing the approaches that ensure Syria’s stability and security through the efforts of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, where all ethnic and religious groups in Syria will be reliably protected and whose rights will be reliably guaranteed.

Instead, it has transpired that certain representatives of the Syrian Democratic Forces are hoping that the United States will provide them with quasi-state autonomy in Syria. To back this, the respected US National Interest magazine recently reported that the US Special Envoy for Syria, Joel Rayburn, spoke with the political leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the leaders of the so-called Syrian Democratic Council trying to persuade the Kurds that their armed groups must cooperate with the anti-Assad groups, including the jihadists, and must adhere to the policy of opposing, as they say, the regime since it is in the interests of the United States.

I am not sure how the Kurds responded, but there are signs that some of them are willing to support such an idea, and this is causing concern. If they want to ensure US interests in Syria based on fairly vague and illegitimate promises, it is up to them.

I am convinced that the rights of the Kurds - and we always advocate for their rights along with the rights of other ethnic and religious groups - can only be upheld through a candid and open dialogue with the central Syrian authorities as part of the political process.

With regard to whether this political process will lead Syria to become a federal state, this question is not for me, but the Syrians who must decide on the future of the country themselves in full accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. The agreements that will be reached, in particular and primarily during the Constitutional Committee meetings in Geneva, by and between the Syrians themselves, must be accepted and respected by the international community.

Question: The Turkish side has said yet again that militants from the terrorist group, The Syrian Democratic Forces, are not pulling out of the border area between Turkey and Syria. After the United States said they would remain in Syria because of oil, the militants engaged in a dialogue with the Americans. Yesterday, Turkish Presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin commented on this situation. He has called on Russia and the United States to deliver on the promise to have the militants withdraw from the Turkish-Syrian border. Please, comment on Turkey’s statements. 

Sergey Lavrov:  I hope you have kept an eye on how Russian officials have commented on this matter, as well as other aspects of the situation in Syria. Yesterday, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov gave a comprehensive statement on this, which describes our view of the specific facts on the ground. The fact is that Kurdish armed units have pulled out [of the area]. Some small groups might still remain there but this is only natural. This work will be followed through on. The fact that everything is being done in keeping with the memorandum that was approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is borne out by the ongoing regular patrols throughout a 10-kilometre zone that are carried out jointly by Russian military police and their Turkish colleagues, as agreed on in Sochi on October 22.    

Yesterday, after the Russian Defence Ministry made this statement in response to Ankara’s allegations regarding the failure to deliver on the Sochi agreements, spokespeople for the Turkish Government assured Russian Ambassador to Turkey Alexei Yerkhov that this was a misunderstanding and nobody in Ankara cast doubt on the work that was being carried out by Russia and neither my colleague and friend Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, nor Ibrahim Kalin talked about the need to resume Operation Peace Spring.   

As for the agreement between Ankara and Washington, the Americans are taking steps to prevent the Kurds and Damask from engaging in dialogue while our position is quite different as we believe that only through a dialogue like this can the issue of safeguarding the Kurds’ rights and that of safeguarding the legitimate interests of the Turkish Republic be resolved.

 




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