Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's Remarks and Answers to Media Questions

July 21, 2020

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Military

Ladies and gentlemen,

Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif and I have held talks. We appreciate the fact that this is his second visit to Moscow this month amid the known problems that the coronavirus infection is creating for diplomacy.

Prior to our talks, the minister conveyed a message from President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, to President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. The message was transmitted during a telephone conversation, and then we held talks at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Mansion.

We noted with satisfaction the rich bilateral political dialogue, including at the highest level. As you are aware, the two presidents had a telephone conversation on July 16.

Direct interdepartmental ties are expanding progressively, including contact between our respective healthcare ministries, which have been exchanging experience on countering the spread of COVID-19. We also share an understanding with our Iranian friends that overcoming the virus will be easier and more effective if we join our efforts. 

We noted successes in promoting cooperation in trade and investment, which were made possible by the consistent implementation of the agreements reached by our respective leaders. We pointed out the unacceptability and the illegitimate nature of the unilateral restrictive measures that are designed to block Iran’s foreign economic relations. We confirmed our plans for the further implementation of promising bilateral projects in energy, transport and agriculture. We praised the activities of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation. Given the coronavirus infection, we will try to hold the next meeting in Russia in the autumn.

We welcomed the interest of the regions in Russia and Iran to expand cooperation, which we will continue to encourage.

We coordinated our approaches towards key global and regional issues. We have overlapping or very similar positions. We discussed in detail various aspects of efforts under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On July 14, this important agreement was five years old. Indeed, the agreement has contributed to ensuring global stability and security. We are united in our understanding that we need to make every effort to preserve it. We are convinced that only equal and constructive interaction between the participants and within the IAEA will help preserve the compromise agreements enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

We exchanged views on the state of affairs in Syria, including the outcome of the trilateral video conference of the heads of state, the guarantors of the Astana process - Russia, Iran and Turkey - organised at the initiative of Iran on July 1. We agreed to further coordinate our actions in order to achieve lasting peace and improve the humanitarian situation in this long-suffering country.

We also exchanged views on the situation in Afghanistan and related developments as they relate to the crisis in Yemen and the Middle East settlement, and overcoming the problems associated with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

We believe the talks were quite satisfactory. We agreed to maintain close contact on all these matters.

Question (retranslated from Farsi): You mentioned in your remarks the Treaty on the Fundamental Principles of Relations and Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran. We will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in eight months. Does Russia intend to extend it, or maybe you want to expand and make it more broad-based?

Sergey Lavrov: We talked about this today. Of course, this treaty is a vital document underlying our bilateral relations, as you can see from its name: the Treaty on the Fundamental Principles of Relations and Cooperation between Russia and Iran. It covers the main spheres of our cooperation. It also includes a provision on its automatic extension next year for the next five years. We can do this without any doubt. But today we have agreed that 20 years is a rather long period of time, especially the past 20 years, when serious and even fundamental changes took place on the international stage with regard to the economic and political aspects of the international order and the threats humankind is facing such as terrorism, other kinds of organised crime, climate change and the current buzzword – viruses. We have an identical stand on these topics, which we will report to our leaders, that is, that we should coordinate a new document, which will reflect the deep-going changes in the world and our common positions in these circumstances.

Question: What role can Russia play in the settlement process in the Gulf and in the dialogue between Iran and Arab countries? Do you think that Russia’s collective security initiative is still valid, considering the attempts by the Americans and Europeans to bury it?

Sergey Lavrov: Our firm position is that problems in any part of the world, and the Middle East and North Africa is one of the most important regions, should be settled through dialogue aimed at balancing the interests of the concerned states. Every country has its own legitimate interests in their home regions and these must be respected. Of course, it is our profound belief that the external players should help to create the conditions for such an inclusive dialogue instead of trying to sour relations between the concerned states and incite confrontation so as to gain unilateral geopolitical advantages. Regrettably, this is exactly what is taking place right now. It is even more regrettable that this policy of some of our Western colleagues has spread to the Muslim world, where contradictions, most of them contrived, unwanted and counterproductive, are being incited.

Our fundamental belief is that the principles proclaimed within the framework of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) must be respected and implemented. This calls for formulating common approaches of the Islamic countries to the main current problems and to cooperation between all Islamic countries in accordance with the OIC name. Russia as an observer country of the OIC has been doing its utmost to promote the development of such a positive and unifying atmosphere.

The experience of collaboration between Russia, Iran and Turkey in the settlement of the Syrian crisis has shown that it is a correct and positive policy. I would like to add that Arab countries, in particular Jordan and Iraq, are working together with Russia, Iran and Turkey within the Astana process. This shows that Muslims, be they Arab or any other ethnic groups, can join their efforts in the interests of a common cause. This combination of efforts by all Muslims and the concerned foreign players will benefit the settlement process not only in Syria but also in Yemen, Iraq and Libya, as well as can help defuse the Middle Eastern, that is, Palestinian-Israeli deadlock, which is having an extremely negative effect on the region as a whole.

As for the Gulf developments, we have been acting from the very positions I have mentioned. The only correct path is not to create any coalitions, such as “a Middle Eastern NATO,” which is being advocated by our American colleagues. It is yet another confrontation-prone approach based on a desire to isolate some country and to continue promoting confrontational policies in this crucial part of the world.

Our initiative on security, peace and cooperation in the Persian Gulf is based on an approach that can unite all the coastal states, which can contribute to this process. We have also proposed to involve external players, including permanent members of the UN Security Council, the EU, the Arab League and the OIC. I believe that this approach will ultimately take the upper hand, because it is the only method to ensure the region’s stable and sustainable development in the interests of all nations in that part of the world. This principle is also incorporated in Iran’s Hormuz Peace Endeavour (HOPE), which my colleague and friend mentioned.

Frankly speaking, it cannot be said that the proposal for a collective security system in the Gulf region has encountered any opposition on the part of the regional countries. Of course, the coordination of common approaches is complicated by the chronic phobias, old wounds and long-time problems, which have found a way into the present-day world. But I have no doubt at all that it is the correct path and that we will do our very best to promote a consensus regarding it.

Question (retranslated from Farsi): The Americans are talking about the maximum and minimum steps involved in extending the arms embargo against Iran. In other words, they want to extend indefinitely the sanctions, which were scheduled to be lifted several months from now under the JCPOA. What is Russia’s position as one of the positive participants in the nuclear deal?

Sergey Lavrov: The UN Security Council did not impose an arms embargo in the full sense of this word on the Islamic Republic of Iran. The UN Security Council has introduced a permissive regime for supplying certain types of weapons to Iran. This regime will remain valid until October. Any attempts to take advantage of the current situation in order to extend it, let alone introduce an indefinite arms embargo, have no legal, political or moral grounds.

Notably, the corresponding provision in Resolution 2231 was not only introduced on a temporary basis, but was included as a gesture of goodwill on the part of Iran as part of the deal that has nothing to do with the Iranian nuclear programme per se.  Our position is straightforward: we are against such attempts. We don’t see any grounds for these attempts to be successful. We have circulated our position in New York as part of a corresponding document. It contains the grounds on which we are building it.

Question: Iran applied for SCO membership in 2008. India and Pakistan became full members of this organisation in 2017, but Iran is still an observer. What is preventing it from becoming a full member? When can we expect it to become a full SCO member?

Sergey Lavrov: We don’t see any obstacles to Iran becoming a full SCO member. We believe Iran meets the requirements for this status. Russia supported Iran’s application from day one. A consensus is needed for approval, which we are working on now.

Question: Did former National Security Adviser to the US President, John Bolton, really have a good reason to quote in his memoirs the alleged remark by President Putin that “Russians do not need Iranians in Syria?”

Sergey Lavrov: I think Mr Bolton had no reason whatsoever, as you said, to quote President Putin, if only because the President had never said anything like that. It is not in our rules, traditions, and even less so in President Putin’s personal rules to try to manipulate such scenarios behind our partners’ backs.

We are actively cooperating with Iran and Turkey in Syria. As you may be aware, this troika as guarantors of the Astana format made it possible to get the stalled Geneva process going. Only after Iran, Turkey and Russia decided to help the Syrians move towards a settlement and address problems in the military-political, humanitarian and political areas, the UN started doing something in this regard as well. Now, our troika is acting as a catalyst in all the processes that the international community seeks to promote under UNSC Resolution 2254.

I will not comment on retired US officials’ desire, now habit, to write memoirs in a form that invites litigation and mutual complaints. Perhaps, this is part of what might be referred to as specific political culture, if it were not something completely different from what we usually mean when we say the word “culture.”