Question: It appears that the “Iranian Marathon”, also known as the talks over the Iranian nuclear programme, is nearing completion. Much of the credit for this goes to Russia, which, among other states, has been actively working to lift all sanctions and is against sanctions, in general. However, many remain interested in maintaining the sanctions. Today, we heard the Iranian side saying that it would be nice if the signing ceremony was attended by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. How likely is it that this historic event – the signing of an agreement, with you in attendance – will take place tomorrow?
Sergey Lavrov: Moscow's position at the Iranian nuclear talks is that we made a significant effort to revive them and make them steady and goal-oriented. For years, they were deadlocked, but a couple of years ago, Russia proposed finding a basis to resume them, and follow the principles of gradualism and reciprocity, that is, to proceed from the assumption that things can’t be fixed in one stroke. The parties needed to start with simple things, and make sure that every positive step by Iran aimed at addressing the IAEA’s and the international community’s concerns is met by positive responses in the form of easing the sanctions.
This was used as the basis for the interim agreement in November 2013, which all six participating nations and the Islamic Republic of Iran have fully complied with. Now, based on a combination of the same principles of gradualism and reciprocity, we are close to signing the final and comprehensive agreement, which is in reach and is based on a formula approved by President Putin as part of Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept, namely, ensuring Iran's right to peaceful development of nuclear energy, including the right to enrich uranium, while clarifying all the issues concerning the content of the Iranian nuclear programme and lifting all sanctions. Clearly, this will not be a one-time act, but rather an agreement that will include several stages. This is being finalised at the Vienna talks.
With regard to the next meeting of foreign ministers of the group of six and Iran – this time to finally approve this agreement, hopefully – it could happen any moment. I believe that as soon as my participation in the Ufa summits is finished, I will be ready to join my colleagues. I hope that it will really be the final meeting, where we will finalise individual points, and no one will try to reopen previous agreements. Unfortunately, our recent contacts were not free from such attempts, which don’t promote our cause, but only set us back, thus postponing a final agreement.
Question: Could you reassure the business community as a Russian authority? Many entrepreneurs fear they will have big problems on the Iranian market with the lifting of sanctions on Iran. They are also concerned that oil prices may fall, aggravating the economic difficulties of the Russian economy. It is perfectly obvious that these apprehensions are a myth and I’d like to ask you to dispel it.
Sergey Lavrov: As for the economic consequences of lifting the sanctions against Iran, I don’t think that business people are efficient if they take advantage of some abnormal situations linked with the imposition of sanctions on a particular country, as a result of which their competitors do not operate in that country. Our companies continue working in Iran. They have steady contacts there. Russian energy companies and those dealing with infrastructure and high-tech projects are competitive and experienced enough not to be concerned about the lifting of all the restrictions on Iran’s foreign economic contacts. I am convinced of this. Russia, including its Foreign Ministry – and this is written in all of our conceptual documents – will do everything to prevent any discrimination of our economic operators. Moreover, considering Russia’s consistent position in all of the stages of the talks on the Iranian nuclear programme, I’m convinced that we’ll even have certain advantages on the Iranian market.
Question: Speaking at the meeting of the SCO Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs a month ago, you said that the SCO Summit will upgrade the status of Iran. Experts were not sure what you had in mind. There are permanent SCO members and partners, but we are not clear what is meant under the upgraded status.
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t remember using such terms. We proceed from the premise that Iran, like India and Pakistan, applied for fully-fledged SCO membership and we want tomorrow’s summit to endorse its application. We stand for its implementation on the basis of SCO membership criteria. To become a SCO member, an applicant should not be exposed to UN Security Council sanctions. Therefore, the Vienna talks that are about to be completed, paving the way to the lifting of the sanctions, are very important for this reason. We discussed this in detail with my colleague and friend, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, literally three days ago when we met in Vienna last Monday.
Question: What insurmountable problems remain at the Vienna talks on Iran’s nuclear programme? Some sources say the deadline for a final solution could be extended to July 13. What is your timeframe here?
Sergey Lavrov: There are no insurmountable problems unless a participant in the process (this will definitely not be the Russian Federation) at the very last moment attempts to take advantage of the negotiation process under the pressure of a deadline.
Regarding deadlines, if everyone follows the framework agreements that were reached back in April in Lausanne, they can easily be met. During the time that has passed since the start of the current round, positive shifts have occurred and some new wording has been agreed upon on a daily basis. So, I hope that no one will call into question the work that has already been accomplished and assume responsibility for disrupting a virtually ready agreement.
As for the timeframe, we have never set contrived dates. We have proposed timelines. One was June 30 and then July 7. Now, as we left Vienna, all of our colleagues agreed that what is paramount is the quality of the agreement, which should ensure a balance of interests, guarantee the nuclear nonproliferation regime and ensure the legitimate rights of the Iranian side. Of course, it should ensure the security of all countries in the region.
I believe the important thing is that this agreement will help lay the groundwork for a conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. This decision was made a long time ago, five years ago. Unfortunately, this happened neither in 2012, when it was supposed to have taken place, nor this year, when yet another attempt was made. This is not the fault of Iran but of our Western partners, who for some reason failed to support a draft plan that was absolutely acceptable to all of the others. However, those who cite Iran’s nuclear programme as a pretext for dragging their feet on calling this conference have certainly lost this argument.
Question: I’d like to go back to Iran's nuclear programme. Lifting the arms embargo remains an unresolved issue. In particular, the media reported that gradual lifting of the embargo is being discussed. First, it will be "frozen," and then completely lifted. This process may take from two to eight years. Can you confirm this information? What does Moscow think about this?
Sergey Lavrov: I’m not going to confirm anything, because I don’t want to violate the spirit of the negotiations. The outcome will be announced. Speculating on it is pointless. I have already mentioned the principles of gradualism and reciprocity today. They are the key that opened up many "dead ends" over the past many months of negotiations.
We are for lifting the arms embargo first. We are now talking about the sanctions introduced by the UN Security Council, because we don’t believe that the unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union, which are much tougher than the UN restrictions, are legitimate. All the more so, since the Americans have tried and continue to try to use them extraterritorially, by spreading its jurisdiction to other nations. The UN Security Council sanctions were introduced for two primary reasons: first, when there were major doubts about the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme and the existence of a major military dimension. Sanctions were imposed, which pinpointed the organisations, companies and individuals involved in the Iranian nuclear programme, in order to affect the processes limiting the progress of the programme. The second set of sanctions was adopted when Iran refused to negotiate. The UN Security Council used these sanctions to politically and economically persuade Iran to sit down at the negotiating table. These sanctions included the arms embargo. However, Iran has been sitting at the negotiating table for a while now.
Therefore, we are for lifting the arms embargo as soon as possible. All the more so, as you and I have just found out, because Iran is a consistent proponent of fighting ISIS and eradicating this threat in the region and in all other parts of the world. Lifting the arms embargo will help Iran increase its combat capability in the fight against terrorism.
Of course, Tehran has the final say in the shape of the compromise, and what decision will be incorporated in the final settlement of the Iranian nuclear programme. I reiterate, this is a package of agreements. What time frame on the arms embargo our Iranian colleagues agree to is up to them.
We are for lifting of the embargo expeditiously. We will support the choice the Iranian negotiators make.