Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint press conference with John Kerry following their talks in Moscow

Thursday, 17 December 2015 11:27

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, we had important and extensive talks as the working visit by the US delegation to Moscow draws to an end. We started with talks at the Foreign Ministry and continued here, in the Kremlin, where we met with President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation.

The morning, afternoon and evening talks were concise and meaningful. We focused on the need to move forward with the Syria settlement, while stepping up our counter-terrorism efforts. ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist groups are a threat to all of us and for all of humankind in general. Today, we reaffirmed our commitment to eradicating this evil.

We have confirmed the arrangements between the respective military authorities of the Russian Federation and the United States, as well as agreements related to the US-led coalition to fight ISIS. We have also agreed on a number of practical steps that could help us better coordinate our concurrent operations and make them more efficient.

We had a detailed discussion on the Syrian settlement. The arrangements reached at the Vienna meetings and based upon the June 30, 2012 Geneva Communique have been confirmed. We agreed to continue efforts to draw a single list of terrorist groups building on the substantial progress that has already been made in this area, and to assist the UN in forming a representative delegation of the Syrian opposition that would be ready to negotiate with the Syrian Government in a constructive manner and under the principles approved by the International Syria Support Group.

We agreed to continue working on the terrorist issue and organising talks between the Syrian Government and the opposition. At this stage, we came to the conclusion on the need to confirm the agreements that were reached in Vienna on October 30 and November 14 by adopting a UN Security Council resolution to this effect. In this context, we support the idea of convening a regular ministerial meeting of the International Syria Support Group in New York this Friday, December 18. We hope that this meeting will result in the submission of a draft resolution to the UN Security Council reaffirming all the principles enshrined in the Vienna documents of October 30 and November 14. This is what I had to say about today’s discussions related to Syria.

We have also exchanged views regarding the Ukraine settlement. Building on the principled agreements between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Barack Obama, Russia and the US reaffirm their support for the Minsk agreements and the Normandy format, and will use the possibilities they have to make sure that the Minsk Agreements are fully implemented. There is an understanding of how this can be achieved most effectively. We expect to stay in touch with our US colleagues.

Question: What do you think about the coalition announced by Saudi Arabia? What progress has been made on compiling a list of terrorist groups and the organisations that will represent the Syrian opposition?

Sergey Lavrov: We have learned about the coalition that is being formed by the Saudi Arabia, if I’m not mistaken, from the media, just as you have. We expect to receive more detailed information from those who initiated this process. We would also like to learn more about yesterday’s discussions in Paris. US Secretary of State John Kerry shared with us some information about this meeting. Representatives of a number of countries met in the French capital to exchange views on the developments in Syria and the objectives facing all those willing to achieve a settlement.

Of course, it is our belief that everyone should contribute to the fight against terrorism and promote the political process. That said, we would prefer the collective action that took shape in Vienna, bringing together all key players that have an influence over the warring parties in Syria in one way or another. This format has been approved by a recent UN Security Council resolution. The process is coordinated by Jordan and includes efforts to compile a list of terrorist organisations. Our Jordanian colleagues have already received the information they needed from all members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) on what groups the respective countries view as terrorist organisations. Jordan is currently sharing this information with all ISSG members. Efforts are underway in this respect. It is already clear that everyone regards ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra as terrorist groups. This means that there will be no talks with them, and they won’t be part of the ceasefire once the political process takes off the ground and the prerequisites for a ceasefire are in place. There are a number of other organisations which most members of the Vienna Group believe to be terrorist organisations. We expect the list to be completed at our next meeting that will hopefully take place this Friday in New York.

We will also continue working to secure UN assistance in the formation of an opposition delegation for talks with the Syrian Government. Under the Vienna documents, all members of the ISSG are encouraged to assist the UN in forming this delegation. A meeting that was held in Riyadh several days ago has contributed to these efforts. Not all of the opposition groups were present, but as I said, it is only a stage in the efforts coordinated by the UN. The UN conclusions take note of the opposition groups’ meetings that took place in Moscow, Cairo and Astana this past year, including the recent meetings of the internal opposition in Damascus and of the Kurdish militia in Al-Hasakah. UN experts will sum up and analyse this information. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will submit his recommendations as to the makeup of the opposition delegation, which must be representative and include delegates from all the opposition groups that are willing to hold constructive talks with the Syrian Government based on the Geneva Communique.

I’d like to emphasise that the Syrian people’s right to decide their future remains the key principle in these talks. This principle was secured in the 2012 Geneva Communique and clearly reaffirmed in the Vienna documents that were approved this autumn.

Regarding our desire to act in keeping with a uniform collective approach and in a format of inclusivity, I’d like to be clear about the following. We have met today not as representatives of Russia and the US, disregarding the other ISSG members, but rather as the Group’s co-chairs who have not done anything in secret or decided anything that should be kept secret from the other members of the Group, created as a result of the Vienna process. We have agreed to initiate the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution that will formalise all the achievements that have been reached in Vienna in this inclusive format and with the involvement of all ISSG members. I believe that only an approach based on collective work and joint efforts can be successful.

Question (addressed to US Secretary of State John Kerry): Mr Kerry, you and Mr Lavrov spoke about the need to find common ground. Have you progressed towards settling the most contentious issues, including the list of terrorist groups and opposition forces? I know that you have decided to set aside your differences over President Bashar al-Assad. Last week, the opposition demanded that Mr al-Assad step down at the beginning of the political process. Is it possible to start talks on this basis?

Sergey Lavrov (speaking after John Kerry): I’d like to say that I share the opinion of Mr Kerry. The mandate to form the opposition delegation and to assist it in drafting a platform for its talks with the Syrian Government was issued to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr Staffan de Mistura. The meeting in Saudi Arabia has contributed to UN efforts, which are based on the Geneva Communique and two Vienna documents, which, as I said, clearly state that the Syrian people will decide the future of Syria in talks between the Syrian Government and all the opposition groups based on mutual accord.

Question: According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the intensification of Russian air strikes is worsening humanitarian crisis in northern Syria. Can you comment, please?

Sergey Lavrov: I believe you are referring to a recent report according to which the Russian air operations in Syria are supposedly deepening the misery of civilians. But these statements have not been backed up by any reference materials or facts. We requested that the UN Secretariat provide this information. When they were unable to do this, we then asked the UN Secretariat to be more careful when making such statements and to provide assessments that are based on facts and cite sources of information. Since then no accusatory statements have been made.

December 15, 2015

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