Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions following talks with Foreign Minister of North Korea Ri Yong-ho Pyongyang, May 31, 2018

Thursday, 31 May 2018 15:07

Ladies and gentlemen,

We held talks with Foreign Minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Ri Yong-ho on the deepening of our cooperation in the context of bilateral relations and interaction on the international stage. We held detailed discussions on the implementation of the agreements that have been coordinated in March at a regular meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, as well as the agreements reached in April this year, when Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho paid a visit to Russia. We pointed out practical opportunities for expanding our trade and economic ties within the framework of UN Security Council decisions.

We emphasised our close and fruitful cooperation in the humanitarian sphere, culture and education. We are preparing three agreements on cooperation between our universities. We maintain contacts in the area of promoting the study of Russian in North Korea, where Russian language Olympiads are held every year. We have a large programme of cultural, research and sports events to be held in the second half of this year. We have started implementing it within the framework of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries.

We expressed our appreciation of our North Korean friends’ attention to the upkeep of the graves of Soviet servicemen who fell fighting for the freedom and independence of Korea.

Our discussions on foreign policy issues focused on the situation on the Korean Peninsula and around it. We welcome the contacts between North Korea and South Korea and between North Korea and the United States, which have been developing rapidly over the past few months, as well as the Pyongyang-Seoul summits and the planned summit meeting between the leaders of North Korea and the United States. We attach great importance to adopting a judicious approach to these contacts without any rash actions or attempts to rush this process, which needs careful consideration and coordination of all elements of a package decision. This will allow us not only to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula but also to bring lasting peace and stability to the whole of Northeast Asia.

We urge all the countries involved to bear in mind their responsibility for preventing this fragile process from being derailed. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a participant of the six-party talks and a good neighbour of North Korea, Russia is ready to contribute to these efforts. Our North Korean friends welcome this attitude.

We discussed certain steps that can be made towards this, including the old idea of launching trilateral projects between the two Korean states and Russia to link their railway networks and to build a gas pipeline as well as energy projects. The desire to re-unite the railway systems expressed by the leaders of North Korea and South Korea at their meeting in Panmunjom has given a new lease on life to these trilateral cooperation initiatives.

I would like to say once again that Russia and North Korea hold a common view on the need to take an extremely careful attitude to the current development of contacts and the nascent normalisation of relations between the two Korean states and between North Korea and the United States, and to resist the temptation to demand everything at once. We know that this is an extremely complicated problem and that the goal of denuclearisation is inseparably connected with the eventual restoration of peace, stability and a system of interaction, cooperation and equal and indivisible security in Northeast Asia. 

Question: You have completed the talks. Clearly, this is a sensitive matter. My question will be about the guarantees the United States could provide to North Korea regarding disarmament. Did you feel that North Korea trusts these promises to any degree? After all, we all know what their promises are worth, judging by the Iranian deal. Will these promises make it until the next president or Trump’s next temper tantrum?

Sergey Lavrov: I am confident that North Korea is fully aware of the recent past, and will determine its position taking into consideration all these factors. I believe that it would be inappropriate for me to enquire about specific thoughts or attitudes North Korea intends to adopt in its talks with the United States. Preparatory expert consultations are underway. We do not believe we have any right to interfere in this process. However, when these agreements are submitted for review to the international community, it is possible that the UN Security Council will be called upon to support some undertakings. Russia will support specific arrangements that will meet the interests of all the parties involved, including the DPRK. I cannot say whether and to what extent the guarantees that will be provided will satisfy Pyongyang. It is up to North Korean leadership to decide what guarantees can be viewed as satisfactory.

Question: On May 25, the Speaker of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Valentina Matviyenko, said in an interview with TASS news agency that she was scheduled to visit DPRK. This year we mark 70 years since the establishment of DPRK. It can be argued that her visit would have an even bigger impact if it was timed to coincide with the September celebrations. What can you say about it?

Sergey Lavrov: Our North Korean friends confirmed today that they were looking forward to Valentina Matviyenko’s visit in the near future. It is up to the parliaments of the two countries to agree on the timeframe for the visit.

Question: Is there any question of easing sanctions against DPRK and reviving economic projects, such as the construction of a Trans-Korean Railway, in light of the recent developments?

Sergey Lavrov: I have already mentioned the railway project. The Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK and the President of the Republic of Korea supported this initiative. The project to join railways was always related to cooperation with Russia, since the Trans-Korean Railway could be linked to the Trans-Siberian Railway, providing a direct link to Europe. This transit route would be interesting for many.

As for sanctions, it is obvious that when discussing ways to resolve the nuclear issue and all other problems the Korean Peninsula currently faces, we assume that a complete resolution cannot be achieved until all the sanctions are lifted. It is up to the negotiators to make this happen, but in any case it would be impossible to achieve this in a single round. The same applies to denuclearisation. For this reason, this should be a step-by-step process with reciprocal moves at each of the stages.

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