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Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank our friends from Kazakhstan for their warmth and hospitality.
The talks with Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Kairat Abdrakhmanov took place in a trusting atmosphere and were very substantive, making it possible to coordinate an array of approaches on topical issues of the international and regional agenda. In fact, these productive joint efforts are in keeping with the Treaty on Neighbourliness and Alliance in the 21st Century between our two countries that was signed in 2013 on President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev’s initiative and that envisions, among other things, not simply a coordinated but harmonised foreign policy course.
We marked an upcoming notable date – 25 years since diplomatic relations were established. This year we have successfully carried out an array of activities dedicated to this anniversary. We do have something to contribute to our strategic partnership and alliance. We have put in place a sound legal basis with over 350 interstate and intergovernmental documents.
We are actively developing our economic cooperation. Russia and Kazakhstan have emerged as a significant factor in the integration of the Eurasian region. We agreed to intensify our efforts within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union that is gaining traction and beginning to produce results, as evidenced in particular by increasing trade between its member countries.
Interregional ties play an important role in our partnership. As Mr Abdrakhmanov said, the 14th Interregional Cooperation Forum will take place in Chelyabinsk soon, to be attended by President Putin and President Nazarbayev.
We are pleased with the cooperation between our foreign ministries. We agreed to continue coordinating and harmonising our approaches within the framework of the CSTO, the CIS, the SCO, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), the OSCE and naturally, the UN. Kazakhstan is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and it efficiently performs the functions of chairing important counterterrorism committees designed to ensure adherence to the sanctions regime with regard to Al Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist organisations.
On October 4, a conference of directors of intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies of the Federal Security Service’s foreign partner states took place in Krasnodar, attended by delegations from 75 countries. Kazakhstan’s representative at the UN that heads these anti-terrorism committees made a very interesting report. Kazakhstan’s important role in fighting terrorism and extremism was widely recognised.
We reaffirmed the relevance of the SCO Convention on Countering Extremism that was signed this past summer in Astana. It is a landmark document that should be of major importance in future discussions on combating extremism and terrorist ideology.
We attach great importance to the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. For us, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is the cornerstone of these regimes. We will do all we can to follow the agreements reached by signatories to this treaty at their regular review conferences.
We also addressed our cooperation within the framework of the UN General Assembly. We traditionally hold identical positions on the main resolutions that are discussed at that forum. Today we noted our close cooperation on such traditional topics as the unacceptability of glorifying Nazism, non-deployment of weapons in outer space and international information security, among others.
Needless to say, we talked about the ongoing tensions in the Middle East and Afghanistan. These are our neighbouring regions. We see eye to eye on the need to check this unprecedented rise in terrorism and at the same time pool our efforts to ensure stable and durable peace in these regions. Of course, in this context, Kazakhstan and its leadership play a much needed role in hosting international meetings on a political settlement in Syria. We discussed preparations for the next such meeting in Astana.
Kazakhstan will host the next, 5th Caspian Summit. We hope that it will take place next year, as the heads of state agreed. Today we reviewed progress in drafting a convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. We hope that preparatory work will soon move into the home stretch.
I would once again like to thank my colleague and friend Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Kairat Abdrakhmanov and all our friends from Kazakhstan for their hospitality. I would also like to mention the wonderful organisation of the 4th International Forum of MGIMO University Alumni.
Question: Could you comment on the possible enlargement in the number of participants in the Astana process on Syria? What is Russia’s take on the idea of expanding it?
Sergey Lavrov: Interest in the format of the Astana process has remained high since the outset, when the troika of guarantor countries was formed. Kazakhstan has acted as host country for the parties to the Syria conflict (representatives of the Syrian Government and the Syrian opposition). Interest was also shown by observers from the United States and then also from Jordan. We believe that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to enlarge the number of observer countries. We are open to discussion on this. Naturally, this requires a coordinated decision by all countries that initiated this process.
Even without formalising their participation in this process, many [countries] are already making a valuable contribution to the success of this initiative. The fact that representatives of the armed opposition began to work directly with the Syrian government in Astana gave a boost to the Geneva process. Until recently, members of the unarmed political opposition who live mainly abroad and who were represented there refused to hold direct talks with Damascus representatives. With its direct dialogue format, Astana jumpstarted the Geneva process.
At present, we are receiving significant assistance from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has committed to bringing together separate opposition groups, including the so-called Riyadh, Moscow and Cairo groups. It may be recalled that there is also the Astana group. Several opposition meetings took place in the capital of Kazakhstan. Our colleagues from Egypt are working along the same lines. They have been instrumental in bringing about agreements on two of the four de-escalation zones. Contacts that made it possible to coordinate all the parameters of the two zones took place in Cairo.
Even without formal participation in the Astana process, several states are effectively contributing to its success. We will welcome such a constructive approach on the part of all those willing to make their contribution.
Question (addressed to both ministers): Do you expect any concrete results or a breakthrough at the upcoming round of talks on a Syria settlement in Astana?
Sergey Lavrov: This depends on how you define a breakthrough.
The latest meeting was as concrete as could be. The parameters of de-escalation zones were specified. This applies primarily to Idlib. This zone is perhaps the most complicated. In addition, five purely practical documents were adopted, aimed at concrete steps “on the ground” between the guarantor countries with the participation of representatives of the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition. They regulate the de-escalation zones operational regime, humanitarian aid deliveries and fostering dialogue in the context of the nascent national reconciliation. Can this be regarded as a breakthrough? In my personal opinion, this can’t be described in lofty terms but it is a good tangible result.
I am sure that the next meeting in Astana, like all previous ones – thanks to our Kazakhstani hosts – will also be fruitful.
Question: You mentioned the need to unify Syria’s fragmented opposition groups. Can we expect to see a truly representative Syrian opposition delegation in Astana, given the recent talks between Moscow and Riyadh?
Sergey Lavrov: As I said, Riyadh is seeking to bring together the opposition delegations participating in the Geneva process. We support it in this respect. The opposition’s participation in the Astana talks has already been ensured. Several very important armed groups are represented here; they have established direct dialogue with the Syrian government. They are ready to fight against the terrorist threat together with the Syrian government.
The consolidation that Saudi Arabia is working on is geared more toward the Geneva talks that so far are going nowhere, among other things because a number of opposition groups are trying to make preconditions such as Syrian President Bashar Assad’s departure from the political arena. This is blatantly at odds with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 that has set the main parameters of the Geneva process.
Question: Kazakhstan is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. How do you assess our country’s activity in this context?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe I touched on this matter in my opening remarks. Kazakhstan is a very active member of the UN Security Council, a constructive participant in all discussions and it is always willing to search for common approaches toward reaching consensus-based implementable decisions, because decisions on which member states at the UN Security Council or the General Assembly are pided are short-lived and make it impossible to effectively regulate specific processes.
As I noted earlier, at the UN Security Council, Kazakhstan chairs committees on fighting Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban, related to terrorist activity, and it performs its functions very efficiently and expertly. This was confirmed by the international community at the recent meeting of 75 countries on issues of fighting terrorism and extremism that took place in Krasnodar.
Kazakhstan is making proactive and very constructive efforts to find mutually acceptable solutions on issues such as Afghanistan, the Middle East settlement in a broader sense than just the Syria crisis and the Palestinian-Israeli issue.
We are looking forward to Kazakhstan’s presidency at the UN Security Council that will start next January. Our Kazakhstani friends already have an outline of their programme for January. We will actively facilitate its complete implementation.
Question: Next week, US President Donald Trump is expected to announce his decision regarding the deal with Iran. According to US media reports, he is going to abandon the deal as it stands. Could you comment?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t like commenting on rumours. I respect media opinion but so far this is only speculation.
We are hearing signals from the White House regarding President Trump’s intention to make a final decision on whether the US will continue to participate in the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. We believe that this agreement has in fact been a major achievement by the international community and that its implementation makes a tangible contribution to consolidating the nuclear non-proliferation regime. It would be very important to preserve it to the full extent, in full measure. In this context, the United States’ participation will be a significant factor. We hope that this issue will be addressed during the ongoing contacts between European states and other members of the international community and Washington. We hope that these contacts will not be in vain and that the final decision that President Trump makes will be well balanced and proceed from present-day realities. These realities are such that this is a much needed agreement.
Building of the Russian Embassy in Kingston