Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Remarks and Answers to Questions During the Valdai International Discussion Club’s Panel on Russia’s Policy in the Middle East, Sochi (Excerpts)

October 2, 2019

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Military

Related Country: 

  • China
  • France
  • Germany
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Kingdom
  • Yemen

Mr Kortunov, colleagues,

Thank you for inviting me to the Valdai Forum and this discussion panel.


Of course, the withdrawal of the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran nuclear deal, was a typical example of a total disregard for international law and UN Security Council decisions. Not only did the United States refuse to deliver on these decisions, it forbids other countries from observing the Iran nuclear deal and the relevant UN Security Council resolution, threatening to impose sanctions on them [should they fail to obey].    

Other initiatives by our American colleagues in this region, including the so-called Arab NATO and the international coalition to protect navigation in the Persian Gulf are about drawing delimitation lines against the Islamic Republic of Iran. No doubt, it is important to ensure security in the Persian Gulf but Iran also has proposals which differ from others in that they are not targeting anyone, or excluding everything else, rather, Iran suggests that all countries join forces and patrol the world’s major waterway, ensuring safe navigation there. We suggest starting talks about drafting a collective security concept for the Persian Gulf and the area around it. In mid-September, this idea was discussed by experts at the Institute of Oriental Studies, the Russian Academy of Sciences. It attendance were over 30 experts from Russia, the Arab countries, Britain, France, India and China. I believe this discussion is very useful.

The hard situation in Yemen, which, according to the UN, is facing a major humanitarian catastrophe, can only be resolved through all-inclusive talks. We have been encouraged by the proposal put forward recently by the Houthi movement for a ceasefire and the beginning of talks. Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman responded positively to it. I believe UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, who is sincerely seeking to secure progress in the negotiating process, can rely on these latest moves, which are cause for cautious optimism.

Question: [...] You have mentioned the JCPOA and US President Donald Trump’s unilateral negative decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal. There was much talk about Europe’s special position. We see that it is changing and shaping up. Speaking about prospects, we know what the United States wants, and we see a conflict between irreconcilable positions on the US-Iranian dialogue. Is there any chance that the problem of Iran’s nuclear programme and the return to the JCPOA will be settled? How might Russia help in this respect, given its experience when it comes to conflict mediation?

Sergey Lavrov: [...] While in New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sharply criticised the European partners who took about a year to create INSTEX, a mechanism for circumventing US sanctions and for replacing SWIFT. And then they could not start using it for about a year after they created it. It was announced the other day that eight more EU countries, in addition to the initial three (Britain, France and Germany), have expressed readiness to use this channel for trade with Iran. However, not a single transaction has been implemented yet, if I am not mistaken. Even transactions involving purely humanitarian products, which do not fall under any US sanctions, have not succeeded. These are dirt-cheap deals compared to what Iran has been promised and what Iran-EU trade can offer.

Mohammad Javad Zarif quoted one of his European partners from a state party to the JCPOA, who had told him very emotionally that the Europeans cannot do anything without the Americans’ permission. He said this during a news conference. I can understand Iran’s disappointmentI can understand Tehran, which is responding to its European colleagues’ impotence by gradually suspending its voluntary commitments under the JCPOA. We are not happy about this. We have pointed out that Iran has not violated any of its obligations under the legally binding Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA Safeguards Agreement, or its voluntary commitments under the Additional Protocol to the Safeguards Agreement. Everything Iran is doing it is doing under IAEA supervision. This is a crucial factor.

We have also noted that Iran can resume its voluntary commitments under the JCPOA any day as soon as the other countries act likewise. We are doing our best. We maintain dialogue with Iran, China and the three European countries. To tell you the truth, I do not rule out the possibility of a US-Iranian meeting, including a summit meeting, at some point. US President Donald Trump mentioned this possibility. President of Iran Hassan Rouhani said he was ready for this but only after the sanctions are lifted. Anything is possible in this world. The style of the current US administration allows for any solutions and contacts. We will welcome this. We will be glad if the problems with the JCPOA are addressed honestly and openly.

Anything else in addition to the JCPOA can be discussed, of course, provided this is not interpreted as a condition for the concerned countries’ compliance with their obligations under the JCPOA and is not an attempt to change the JCPOA in any way. The JCPOA must be preserved and implemented in full. Anything else can be discussed at the talks held concurrently, but only if all the parties involved agree to this.


Question: There are many initiatives for Gulf security. Now with this new initiative coming from Russia, what is new that this initiative is bringing to Gulf security? What makes it unique, comparing to other initiatives?

Sergey Lavrov: As regards our Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf, well, there is nothing new in it. It was proposed in 2004; we specifically introduced this concept at ministerial meetings with the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf and said that if our Arab colleagues were interested in it, we could also talk with Iran to finally begin to move towards a constructive dialogue, transparency and confidence-building. Three of the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council showed a positive attitude towards that proposal, but the other half remained neutrally negative. They asked us to wait, and literally said they might come back to it sometime, but not at that point. The situation around the Iranian nuclear program was quite tense then, and the negotiations had not yet begun in the format that eventually led to the signing of the JCPOA. We regularly brought it up at our meetings with our Arab colleagues from the Gulf, but got the same response. After we saw a dangerous aggravation of the situation this summer, also following the Strait of Hormuz incident and the accusations against Iran for being responsible for everything that happens in the region – in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria or elsewhere, we decided it’s time to refresh this concept, to draw attention to it. And then an expert dialogue opened, which showed us that there is interest in it, and that everyone has realised that they have no other choice but to coexist, not constantly fight each other.

Question: How high, in your view, is the risk of a military conflict with Iran in the Persian Gulf [...]?

Sergey LavrovYou can never vouch for anything. But I think that neither the US, nor Iran, nor the majority of countries in the region want to go to war. Someone would like perhaps to situationally play on the current differences, aggravate the situation to a certain extent, and stoke tension in the information space to get some immediate advantages, but strategically, I am confident, no one wants war.

There is an initiative that I have already mentioned: the US is creating an international navigation safety coalition that currently includes Australia, Bahrain, the UK, and another couple of countries. There is an Iranian initiative that calls on all countries in the region, countries that are willing and ready, to waive divides and unite in order to jointly ensure security there, while engaging in confidence-building. The Russian initiative follows the same pattern. I am referring to the Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf. It may well embrace joint patrolling of the maritime spaces that are causing so much contention.

Russia, Iran and China are preparing for naval antiterrorist and anti-pirate exercises in this part of the Indian Ocean. Incidentally, our US colleagues are promoting a term different from the Asia Pacific Region: they prefer to call it the Indo-Pacific Region (IPR). Asked about the difference between the two, they say their aim is just to highlight the role of India. If “Indo” stands for the Indian Ocean, then this conceptual vision should include all of East Africa and the whole of the Persian Gulf. This sufficiently dubious concept is fraught with a divisionary charge attempting to base relations in that region on the bloc principle. As for us, we are used to and will always support ASEAN’s central role. We speak a lot about this.