Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to media questions on the sidelines of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress Sochi, January 30, 2018

Tuesday, 30 January 2018 16:28

Question: Are we seeing the development of a new union of the opposition forces represented by Randa Kassis, Qadri Jamil, Haytham Manna and Ahmad Jarba, a union that is quite different from the radical opposition groups that have refused to attend the congress and staged a show of protest in Sochi Airport?

Sergey Lavrov: What we are attending today is a remarkable event that is the most significant thing that has taken place during  the seven years of the Syrian conflict. Initially, there were meetings between representatives of the Syrian Government and the opposition. At first, only the external opposition attended these meetings. But then there was a breakthrough in Astana, where the delegations from the Syrian Government and the armed opposition came for negotiations. Before that, they were not represented in Geneva. Thanks to a direct dialogue between those who fought each other on the ground, we have created de-escalation zones, as you know. Whatever their drawbacks, they have helped to seriously reduce the level of violence in the country. Everyone has admitted this, including the UN Security Council.

The Syrian National Dialogue Congress has a much more ambitious goal than the Astana process, let alone the Geneva talks, which only the external opposition is attending, as I already said. In Sochi, we have rallied official Syrian representatives, such as MPs, members of the ruling party and independent delegates, as well as representatives of the internal and external Syrian opposition as well as tribes, which play a major role in the Syrian society.

Of course, nobody expected that delegates from absolutely all the Syrian groups, both those that are loyal to the Government and neutral or independent opposition groups, would come to Sochi. There is nothing tragic about two or three groups refusing to attend. This is only the beginning of a UN-led process that is designed to launch the practical implementation of Resolution 2254, primarily a dialogue about the crucial question, that is, what country Syrians want Syria to be. There must be public agreement and consensus on this question. It is this dialogue that we are launching at this congress.

Congress participants have approved a statement that sets out the main principles of Syria’s future government. There is nothing revolutionary about them. They are based on the key provisions of international law, such as respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Syria, as well as for the rights of all ethnic and religious groups, plus an inclusive political process, which will involve everyone and will allow Syrians to determine their own future without any foreign interference. It has been also decided to create a Constitutional Committee of the delegates who have been elected today, as well as delegates from the groups that did not attend the congress, for a number of reasons. This result – the establishment of the Constitutional Committee – will be forwarded to the UN in keeping with Resolution 2254. This new agency, the Constitutional Committee for the drafting of the Syrian constitution, will be based in Geneva.

We hope that the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, whom the congress participants have urged to facilitate the work of the Constitutional Committee, will organise the committee’s operation in full compliance with his authority under UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We look forward to receiving practical proposals from him as soon as possible. 

Question: How would you evaluate the “Kremlin report?” Will Russia respond?

Sergey Lavrov: the President and the Prime Minister have already commented on this. When I saw the names included in the report on television screens, I was surprised, among other things, by the following circumstance. The instruction to draft the list was contained back in the August 2017 act. They have spent 5 months familiarising themselves with the directories with the names of the Government members and employees of the President’s Executive Office. This could have been done much faster.

Question: The French foreign minister has said that the political process should be based in Geneva, not Sochi. We know that the US has recently suggested the “paper of the Five.” Isn’t it a spoke in the wheel? Will the Geneva process advance? It is clear that certain partners intend to hinder the process.

Sergey Lavrov: Where our Congress is concerned, it has resolutely called for Geneva to get a second wind. Or the first wind, if you will, because up till now the work there has just somehow muddled through. This shows very strong support for Geneva and, of course, the UN role based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which means that any steps should be subject to reciprocal agreement by the Syrian Government and the opposition. There should be no doubts or apprehensions here. Nothing can be done without the Government’s consent, or for that matter without the opposition’s consent.

As for the comments we hear coming out of Paris, Washington and some other capitals, that our Congress is being held with its visor raised: It is attended by UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, observers we have invited from all permanent member states of the UN Security Council, from all Syria’s neighbouring countries and from other Arab states, as well as Kazakhstan as the host of the Astana process.

You have mentioned the document presented by the five states that assembled in Washington and later on in Paris. They came up with certain ideas and put them down on paper. I would even say that these private activities, as I see it, are at variance with the Geneva process, because this was a meeting of five handpicked countries, with the organisers failing to invite the key players involved in the Syrian settlement, let alone the Syrian parties, which were not present there. No one even thought about them. Neither did they invite Turkey, Iran and Russia as the guarantors of the Astana process that was welcomed by everyone. It even seems to me that these private gatherings are what can hinder the Geneva process, because some may get the illusion that these get-togethers are a quicker way to reach an agreement rather than holding meetings with the participation of all parties concerned without exception.

We have taken the latter path. Yes, it is much more difficult to come to terms, when opposing sides and not like-minded people as in Washington and Paris are sitting down at the negotiating table. But agreements reached by the opposing sides are much more durable and long-term than what like-minded states decide in their narrow circle on behalf of the Syrian people.

At the same time, let me stress once again that we have invited to the Congress representatives of all the permanent members of the UN Security Council and many other states as well. We are grateful to the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Kazakhstan for sending their special representatives to this event. Our Western partners have limited themselves to sending junior diplomats from their embassies in the Russian Federation. Well, as they say, at least we made an effort.

We are ready for dialogue in any format and at any level. The most important thing is that we reverently observe the fundamental principle of UN Security Council Resolution 2254: Only the Syrians themselves shall decide the fate of their country. We have aimed this Congress precisely at the creation of conditions for this. I think that this first and very important step has been generally a success. Now we will expect the UN to produce results based on agreements reached here. For our part, we will be facilitating this in every way.

The initiative for the Congress has come from the three guarantor countries – Russia, Iran and Turkey. We met with our colleagues earlier today. We have confirmed that we will do our best to promote the Congress results, when the UN asks for them, and will help Mr Staffan de Mistura and his team to reach agreements with the participation of all the Syrian sides.

Question: Is yet another Congress possible?

Sergey Lavrov: We are not trying to look ahead right now. We have agreed today that the Congress results will be handed over to the United Nations in the hope that they will incentivise the Geneva process. Mr Staffan de Mistura has all the powers under UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Today the Congress has voiced support for these powers and asked him to get down to work on the constitution in a proactive manner.

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