Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Statement and Answers to Media Questions at a Joint News Conference Following Talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif, Moscow, December 30, 2019

December 30, 2019

The meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was very well-timed. We talked in a friendly manner and had a detailed discussion on a number of important current issues.

We thoroughly reviewed our multifaceted bilateral relations in the context of the agreements reached as part of our top-level political dialogue and discussed the guidelines set for our relations during the four meetings between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Iran Hassan Rouhani that took place this year. There are ongoing intense contacts between the parliaments, security councils, foreign ministries, defence ministries, as well as industry, economy and other ministries that deal with practical issues.

We are vigorously developing our trade and economic cooperation. The scope of interaction is growing, despite the illegitimate unilateral sanctions and the wider US-led anti-Iran campaign. We can clearly see the goal Washington is pursuing – it is trying to intimidate and blackmail other countries into abandoning their mutually beneficial cooperation with Iran. We have a shared position that this policy is contrary to international law and the principles of free trade, and is a blatant manifestation of dishonest and unfair competition.

And yet, even in these circumstances, we have seen and welcomed steady growth in mutual trade – 25 per cent over the first nine months of 2019. According to all estimates, the end-of-year figure will exceed $2 billion. We have achieved substantial progress of the projects agreed on or scheduled to be implemented at last summer’s meeting of the bilateral Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation held in Iran. We have also made good progress on the EAEU-Iran cooperation track.

The ties between Russian regions and Iranian provinces are also expanding. We agreed to continue to use the significant potential of interregional exchanges as much as possible.

Humanitarian cooperation is also on the rise. In particular, I would like to note that St Petersburg State University is the first university in the world now certified by the Iranian authorities to hold the Persian language qualification exams. We agreed to continue to promote the deepening of our dialogue in the field of culture, in education and scientific exchange. This meets the interests of both our peoples, as there is clear interest in expanding humanitarian contact.

We discussed a number of issues on the global and regional agendas. We have shared concerns about the alarming trends in the international arena, primarily about a number of countries deviating from the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, and other norms of international law, and attempting to intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign states. We have a common interest in rallying the world community to uphold the fundamental principles and values ​​that were cemented in the UN Charter following the Second World War.

We reviewed the developments surrounding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for the Iranian Nuclear Programme (JCPOA). Russia is making painstaking efforts to preserve this important international agreement that the United States is trying to undermine in pursuing the destructive policy Washington adheres to. This important achievement of international diplomacy – I mean the JCPOA – is in danger of collapse. Unfortunately, we note inconsistencies in the actions of our colleagues from the European Union who are not entirely fulfilling their obligations under the JCPOA. We are confident that, if this policy of sabotaging UN Security Council decisions, which Washington is imposing on all countries without exception, continues, it could lead to serious negative consequences for the entire region and for international relations.

We also talked about the Syrian peace process. We discussed ways to stabilise the situation on the ground, further antiterrorism efforts, post-conflict restoration, and the creation of conditions for the return of Syrian refugees and IDPs. We talked about the situation in Idlib and on the eastern bank of the Euphrates where our American colleagues continue to fuel separatist tendencies in violation of the UN Security Council’s requirements to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We highlighted the launch of the Constitutional Committee as an important step in the political process, a UN-supported body aimed at facilitating an agreement between the Syrians on how they want to address the constitutional problems in their country. We are in agreement that the launch of the Constitutional Committee is one of the most important achievements of the Astana format. We agreed to continue working in the trilateral Astana format – Russia, Iran and Turkey – and discussed the schedule of further meetings in this format.

We discussed the developments in the Persian Gulf. Both Russia and Iran support combining the efforts of all interested states to ensure security and stability in that region. As you know, we have proposed the collective security concept in the Persian Gulf. Iran has introduced the Hormuz Peace Endeavor. Both proposals definitely have correlations. Today we considered how they could be promoted relying on the two initiatives being complementary and aimed at the same constructive, peaceful goals.

Overall, we are very pleased with the outcome of the talks. My friend and colleague Mohammad Javad Zarif invited me to visit Tehran next year, and I accepted the invitation with pleasure.

Question (for both ministers): Which joint efforts can Russia and Iran make to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), considering a US position that runs counter to the norms of international law?

Sergey Lavrov: You have correctly noted that the US actions run counter to all conceivable standards of international law. The concerned parties reached the consensus agreement as a result of negotiations, and it was approved by the mandatory UN Security Council Resolution 2231. So a decision to withdraw from the agreement flagrantly violates every conceivable and inconceivable standard, principle and rule. And, as you know, the United States is forcing everyone else to avoid fulfilling what they pledged to do in response to Iran’s compliance with the agreements that have been reached. Meanwhile it demands that Iran completely fulfill these agreements in violation of the specific terms under which the agreement was reached and formalised at the UN Security Council.

Therefore we will, frankly speaking, demand that our Western partners face the facts. The United States and the European Union need to start honouring their obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in full. Then Iran, as it has repeatedly said, would once again comply with the specific obligations that it had assumed voluntarily. This would be the ideal solution and the way out of the current situation. Or, if our Western partners are not ready to reaffirm their respect for international law in this manner, then it would be appropriate to declare the JCPOA dead. In that case, no one would be bound by the obligations formalised by the JCPOA. But it goes without saying that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Iran and IAEA’s safeguards agreement and the additional protocol, would remain in force.

Of course, we would like to preserve the JCPOA, praised by all countries without exception as the greatest recent diplomatic achievement and as a very important step in strengthening the plan for the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In any event, we have praised the initiatives of our French colleagues, the well-known proposal by President of France Emmanuel Macron, for saving the JCPOA. Our Japanese neighbours tried to promote an agreement for reinstating the JCPOA. Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe has offered ideas on this. To the best of my knowledge, they are facing difficulties, in the context of the position of the US that demands that dialogue resume on its terms alone. This is out of the question. We would prefer to help. If our efforts are of interest, we will be ready to consider ways out of this crisis (that would, first, suit our Iranian friends because this is their issue in the first place), and that would be seen as acceptable by all other parties to the JCPOA. Again, any conditions for saving the JCPOA are on the table. The JCPOA itself stipulates this. When we talk about attempts to find a way out of the situation, we mean nothing else but ways to resume compliance with the JCPOA through the obligations of the involved parties.

Question: Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte said recently that imposing a no-fly zone in Libya would help stop the hostilities there. What do you think about this proposal? Do you believe that the cessation of hostilities is the main condition for a political settlement in Libya?

Sergey Lavrov: I think cessation of hostilities is the main condition for the start of political dialogue. We are convinced that they should be stopped without any preconditions. The Libyans are interested in stopping the hostilities, announcing an indefinite ceasefire and negotiating agreements. Many agreements have been offered by various countries. They were either signed or reached verbally. There have been conferences in France and Italy and a meeting in the UAE. Now there is talk of a conference in Berlin. But all this will keep the situation suspended if the sides do not come to a very specific agreement on considering the interests of all political, clan and ethnic forces in Libya. Only the Libyans themselves can agree on overcoming the crisis into which they were plunged by a NATO aggression under the excuse of support for the Arab Spring.

As for a no-fly zone in Libya, I have a very disagreeable association with this. After all, NATO started bombing Syria after the UN Security Council made the decision to announce a no-fly zone over Libya. The only other step the UN made was to instruct the countries concerned to ensure the no-fly zone plan. Our NATO partners again discredited themselves as deal-making partners and used this resolution to start bombing the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, which was a crude violation of this document. So we have bad associations with any proposals on a no-fly zone. Instead of falling into the same trap, all international players without exception should persuade the Libyan sides to stop the hostilities without delay, announce an indefinite ceasefire and reach agreements that they will carry out. Naturally, the UN is playing an indispensable role in consolidating such eventual agreements.