Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at joint press conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Salahuddin Rabbani, Moscow, February 7, 2017

Wednesday, 08 February 2017 16:49

Ladies and gentlemen,

The talks with my colleague, Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Salahuddin Rabbani, were businesslike, substantive and friendly.

Afghanistan is Russia’s long-standing and close partner. Today, we reaffirmed our mutual interest in enhancing our cooperation in the political, military-technical, socioeconomic and humanitarian spheres. We focused particularly on improving the legal framework. We have several intergovernmental and interdepartmental agreements in the works. We agreed to speed up their approval.

The Russian side confirmed its willingness to continue to provide assistance to Afghanistan in terms of military equipment supplies and maintenance. We have the necessary capabilities and agreements in place. We will assist in training Afghanistan’s specialists in military and civilian trades. We agreed to look for additional opportunities to expand the participation of Russian companies in projects focusing on restoring and expanding Afghan infrastructure. A number of projects are already underway, such as restoration of the Naghlu hydroelectric power plant.

We discussed in detail the promotion of the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan. We have a shared understanding of the need to step up the relevant efforts. In this context, we confirmed our invitation to our Afghan colleagues to participate in the next meeting on the Afghan settlement, which is scheduled to be held in Moscow in mid-February with the participation of Russia, Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, and India. We hope all our partners will be represented at a high level. Most of them have already confirmed their participation.

We reaffirmed our support for expanding our cooperation to promote the Afghan settlement within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, keeping in mind that India and Pakistan will join it as full members this year, and that Kabul filed a similar application for full membership in 2015, which Russia supports. We continue working to have this application approved by all SCO members.

We discussed further steps to get Afghanistan involved in practical work conducted by the SCO institutions at this stage, in particular, the Regional Anti- Terrorist Structure. This is particularly important in the context of the current unprecedented surge in international terrorism, the Taliban's attempts to hold a dialogue on terms that are not completely acceptable for our Afghan colleagues, and in a situation where ISIS is trying to establish itself in Afghanistan, including its northern regions.

We reaffirmed our mutual position that the Taliban movement should engage in constructive dialogue based on the criteria laid down in the UN Security Council resolutions and supported by the government of Afghanistan.

Speaking of anti-terrorist efforts and helping the Afghan government in its efforts to stabilise the situation in that country, we also noted the possibility and the desirability of resuming the work of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group right away as Afghanistan  has observer status.

I think our talks were productive in general. We agreed to maintain contacts, including holding regular meetings between our respective foreign ministries’ officials at the level of deputy ministers and department directors. We will continue our personal contacts as well.

I am grateful to Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Salahuddin Rabbani for the invitation to visit Kabul.

Question: What’s your take on our cooperation with Afghanistan in fighting international terrorism? What are the prospects?

Sergey Lavrov: In our opening statements, my colleague and I mentioned the importance of anti-terrorism cooperation as a major issue of the international agenda in the sphere of security and a critical component of our bilateral relations. We have an intergovernmental agreement on providing military-technical assistance to Afghanistan, which formalised a practice that has been in existence for many years. It helps improve the fighting capacity of the Afghan security forces and the Afghan National Army. The legal framework has been improved, and the agreement came into force in November 2016. We continue to supply arms and ammunition to the aforementioned Afghan entities. We have established close contacts between our respective special services and intelligence agencies. There are information exchanges related to identifying and eliminating terrorist groups and making efforts to combat them more effective.

Regarding the regional dimension of fighting terrorism, Afghanistan, as I mentioned earlier, is interested in participating in the SCO Regional Antiterrorist Structure as an observer. There are no obstacles to it becoming a full member of this mechanism. We welcome it.

Question: Prior to the crisis in relations, Russia and the United States actively collaborated in Afghanistan. Is it possible to resume cooperation now that the new US administration has moved into the White House?

Sergey Lavrov: Afghanistan was not the only area of our cooperation which was badly hurt by specific policies of the Obama administration. We had a working group on Afghanistan, I believe, one in 21 that have been formed under the Presidential Commission. They worked fairly well and helped establish regular contacts, which was productive. Unfortunately, when the Obama administration decided to make things hard for us for reasons that have nothing to do with combating terrorism or the ways that normal states conduct themselves in interactions with each other, it froze the activities of the Presidential Commission and those of all 20-plus working groups. Of course, we still maintained certain contacts, including on Afghanistan, but they were already sporadic. There were no regular meetings nor any trust.

Now that Donald Trump, during the election campaign and after he took office, has confirmed that his priority issue in international affairs is to fight ISIS and the terrorist threat in general, I am convinced that we will establish a better partnership which will not be burdened by circumstances that are beside the point, as was the case under the previous administration. As soon as Washington has proper bodies formed in the State Department, the White House and other US departments (this process is already underway), which will deal with fighting terrorism and Afghan issues, I am confident that our contacts will improve to benefit everyone, including our friends in Afghanistan.

Question: Will Russia and the United States meet prior to a meeting in Geneva on the Syrian peace settlement?

Sergey Lavrov: With regard to Syria, despite the failure of the Obama administration to honour the agreement that was so painstakingly crafted in September 2016, and which opened the way to actual coordination on fighting terrorism in Syria between Russia and the US-led coalition – despite the fact that this agreement, I repeat, did not enter into force due to the refusal of the Americans and divisions within the White House, working-level contacts, including in Geneva, continued. That is because the International Syria Support Group created and co-chaired by Russia and the United States, even though it hasn’t met at the ministerial level for quite a while, continues to operate in the form of two target subgroups on monitoring the ceasefire and humanitarian affairs. Meetings of the two mechanisms – on the ceasefire and humanitarian affairs – take place every week at the level of permanent representative offices of the corresponding countries at the UN offices in Geneva. Russian and US diplomats have maintained contacts within these mechanisms. By the way, prior to each of these weekly meeting, Russian and US diplomats, as well as UN officials, meet to coordinate the upcoming discussion.

The Geneva meetings are attended by our US colleagues at the level of career diplomats. Whether they stay there remains to be seen, but as soon as the administration forms new bodies to work on the Syrian track, I am convinced that our contacts will be resumed at the political level and be held no less often than before at least. I can say this with confidence, because the new administration said ISIS is the main threat, which needs to be fought jointly. This fully coincides with our position.

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