Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Moscow, October 23, 2017

Wednesday, 25 October 2017 10:27

Ladies and gentlemen,

My colleague, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and I had very productive talks.

We focused mainly on exchanging views concerning the situation in the Middle East and North Africa as well as the international agenda in general, focusing on the need to step up efforts to combat international terrorism. Currently, this fight’s main front is in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. The primary task of all the participants in antiterrorist actions is to degrade as much as possible terrorist groups such as ISIS and Jabhat an-Nusra and minimise, if not reduce to nil, their ability to "crawl into" other regions of the globe. We are convinced that this task is met in full by the initiative advanced by President Putin to form a truly global anti-terrorist coalition which would work as a team based on mutual trust and a common goal without double standards.

We supported the efforts of the Iraqi government not only in the antiterrorist area, where significant progress was made, but also in the context of normalising the situation in the country through an inclusive dialogue with all ethnic and religious groups. From this perspective, we reviewed the results of the referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan on September 25. We reiterated Russia’s position favouring a settlement of all matters between the government of Iraq as well as the leadership of the Kurdish autonomy through constructive and mutually respectful dialogue on the platform of unity and territorial integrity of the Iraqi state.

We noted the availability of a good basis for further development of bilateral cooperation, including political dialogue, trade and economic cooperation, primarily, in the energy sector, as well as military-technical cooperation and education. Mr al-Jaafari expressed his gratitude to Russia for providing an additional number of scholarships for Iraqi citizens wishing to study in Russia.

These and other matters of bilateral relations will be discussed substantively and in detail tomorrow at a meeting between Mr al-Jaafari and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. They co-chair the Russian-Iraqi Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, and Scientific and Technical Cooperation.

Minister al-Jaafari has kindly invited me to visit the capital of Iraq once again. I accept this invitation with pleasure. We will determine the date later.

Question: What is Russia's position on the referendum in Kurdistan? Does Russia plan to expand its economic relations with Kurdistan? A number of diplomatic missions have been closed in Erbil. What are Russia's plans?

Sergey Lavrov: Regarding our assessment of the referendum, I have already briefly mentioned it in my opening remarks. I would like to underscore that we understand the aspirations of the Kurdish people with regard to strengthening their identity and self-awareness.

However, we believe the right course of action would be to realise these aspirations exclusively through dialogue with the government of Iraq, fully taking into account the importance of the Kurdish issue on a regional scale and the need to avoid creating additional sources of instability in the region.

There are various political currents among Iraqi Kurds, and Russia strives to maintain contact with representatives of Iraq's entire political field, including from among the Kurds. We use these contacts to express the aforementioned position.

With regard to our diplomatic mission in Erbil, I saw a story aired by Euronews this morning (the most objective and impartial TV channel in Europe and, perhaps, the world, as they call themselves), which stated that Russia rejected Baghdad’s demands to close its diplomatic mission in Erbil. I was surprised to hear that and asked Minister al-Jafaari today if we had talks about it and if it was true. He assured me that, in this case, the "objective and impartial" Euronews channel fell for someone's provocation and aired outright disinformation. Our Consulate General in Erbil continues to function, as do the general consulates of many other countries. As you may recall, the Consulate General in Erbil is accountable in its daily activities to the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Baghdad, the capital of united Iraq

With regard to our economic cooperation with Iraqi Kurdistan, our companies are interested in it and are planning to expand their activities in Iraq in general and in Iraqi Kurdistan as an integral part of Iraq with a special status.

Question: The other day President Trump said that following the liberation of the Syrian city of Raqqa, the United States will revise its policy towards Syria and support local forces and create conditions for settling the situation in Syria. Do you know anything about this new policy direction?

Sergey Lavrov: We are in touch with our American colleagues on the Syrian issue, including ‘deconfliction’ between our respective military and foreign policy departments. Recently, we have been paying attention to certain strange things occurring in the US-led coalition in Syria. There have been numerous instances where, during the Syrian army's offensive against ISIS positions, more ISIS militants were coming without impediment from the areas controlled by the US-backed opposition to provide additional resistance to the Syrian government army. In particular, there were instances of ISIS gunmen leaving Raqqa en masse at a moment where the US-led coalition was holding this town under siege. There were other episodes where our American colleagues were trying to draw some lines which the Syrian army was not supposed to cross.

I openly asked US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson - we posed this question at different levels through our diplomatic and military channels as well - what goals does the United States pursue in Syria? Each time, we get one and the same answer: the only goal of the United States and the coalition that they cobbled together in Syria is to fight ISIS and see this fight through to a victorious end. So, when we hear about the new US policy, which involves the creation of some local councils in sovereign Syria, questions, of course, start to arise, which we pose to Washington. We expect to receive an honest and clear answer.

Question: What can the Russian leadership do to resolve the conflict between Baghdad and Erbil in order to end the war?

Sergey Lavrov: Frankly, we have not seen any war so far. We hope that there will be no war between the government troops of Iraq and the Kurds. I believe that the parties must make concrete decisions as to whether they will go ahead and establish a direct dialogue themselves, or they need intermediaries to help them do so. We do not want to impose any decisions on them. I have already mentioned today that, in addition to close and very friendly relations with the government of Iraq, we maintain contacts with all the political groups among the Iraqi Kurds. We are sending a message to all of them about the need to look for mutually acceptable agreements. I am convinced that there is every possibility to do so. The Iraqi leadership, the Iraqi state does not reject Kurds, does not declare them outlaws, enemies, or terrorists, nor does it ban their language, traditions, and culture, or destroys their monuments. On the contrary, it invited the Kurds to participate in the bodies of government, and recognises special rights of the Kurdish autonomy within the Iraqi state. So, it seems to me that all the components are in place to agree on how to ensure coexistence within one state in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.

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