Ladies and gentlemen,
Foreign Minister of the Republic of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif and I had substantive talks and reviewed the state of bilateral relations. We maintain regular contacts at the political level, including the highest level. The presidents of the two countries met four times last year. Preparations for another trilateral Russia-Iran-Azerbaijan meeting, which will be held in Russia this time, are underway.
Our respective parliaments exchange delegations frequently. Relations between the regions of the two countries are getting stronger, and contacts between the corresponding ministries and departments, including the foreign ministries, are expanding. We are interested in building on our relations in all areas. One of our priorities in foreign policy is to continue to coordinate efforts to combat the terrorist threat, including between our respective law enforcement agencies. We also cooperate to protect the interests of the citizens of Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran residing in the other country, respectively.
Our countries enjoy good trade and investment cooperation. Of course, it is hampered by illegitimate sanctions which the United States imposes unilaterally in circumvention of the UN Security Council and seeks to apply extraterritorially. We reiterated our commitment to promoting bilateral economic cooperation and identifying effective ways that would be impervious to these unacceptable and illegitimate US restrictions.
We are implementing quite a number of promising Russian-Iranian projects. We greatly appreciated the activities of the bilateral Russian-Iranian Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, which will meet again in Iran next month. We agreed to put together a major package of agreements on important issues for this meeting.
We have just signed a protocol that will simplify travel regulations for certain groups of people in Russia and Iran, primarily business people, who will now be issued fast-track visas based on direct invitations by interested organisations. This will promote people-to-people contacts.
We discussed in detail various aspects of international problems, including the situation in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela and related developments. We are on the same page on these issues. We spent much time discussing the Syrian settlement process where, thanks to the Astana troika’s efforts, there has been real progress on the political track over the past 18 months. We agreed on steps which will allow us to create a Constitutional Committee in the near future and to begin talks, the idea of which was supported by the participants of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress that was convened last year on the initiative of Russia, Iran and Turkey.
We focused on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action which was unanimously approved by a UN Security Council resolution four years ago in the summer of 2015. A year ago, the United States announced its withdrawal from this agreement, which was a gross violation of the JCPOA and the UN Security Council resolution, which is binding not only for the UNSC members, but also all UN members. The current state of affairs created by the United States is causing great difficulties, both in terms of meeting the obligations assumed by the parties to this deal with regard to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the overall situation regarding the non-proliferation regime. This is particularly unpleasant in the run-up to the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which will be held next year.
Today, we were informed about the steps that the Iranian leadership made public yesterday. These steps were taken on the basis of the provisions contained in the JCPOA as approved by the UN Security Council. We reiterated our commitment to this plan and this resolution, and agreed to work with all the other JCPOA participants, except the United States (which had withdrawn from this agreement), so that they strictly fulfill their commitments as they pledged to do during two meetings between the foreign ministers of the European troika, Russia and China in September and July last year. To reiterate, concrete commitments have been made there. Russia is committed to honoring them in full. We hope that our colleagues, primarily the Europeans, who volunteered to find a solution to the problem created by the Americans, will deliver on their promises.
I think the meeting was quite constructive. We discussed serious matters. The situation is not simple. It is all the more necessary to meet and exchange views as often as possible and to be guided by international law, including the UN Security Council resolution that approved the JCPOA.
Question (for both ministers, retranslated from Farsi): My question concerns the decision of the Republic of Iran to suspend some voluntary measures under the JCPOA. What practical steps do Russia and Iran plan to take? Do you think it is possible to save the JCPOA in these difficult circumstances?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Mohammad Javad Zarif): I think the only practical step that should be taken to resolve the situation around the JCPOA is to convince all the remaining participants in this plan of the need to fulfil their commitments.
The JCPOA has a very complex design. It took more than a year to create it. All of its elements are extremely carefully balanced. And so it became very fragile once the Americans left it. This was clear to everyone. As I said, the foreign ministers of the countries that remained loyal to the JCPOA met at least twice last year and made a solemn commitment to do everything to implement the JCPOA despite the US withdrawal from it.
We will try to convince our European partners of the need to abide by their commitments. You know, they volunteered to create a mechanism that will allow them not to depend on the US financial system in bank transactions. This mechanism has been established but as I see it, it is much less effective and sweeping than planned. It is important for Iran to use this mechanism for exporting its oil. We support this. This is an absolutely lawful requirement that is enshrined in the JCPOA.
However, for the time being, even this limited European mechanism is not yet being used. We urge the Europeans to draw conclusions from the current situation and start meeting their obligations in full. We will do everything to facilitate this. Regrettably, in talking about the situation around Iran, some of our European colleagues try to suggest ideas that have nothing to do with the JCPOA and look like an attempt to distract attention from their inability to abide by the JCPOA in full. We will call on them (as we have already done so repeatedly) to nevertheless concentrate on implementing everything enshrined in the JCPOA and approved by the UN Security Council.
Question (retranslated from Farsi): What practical steps will Russia take and what message will be sent to the remaining JCPOA member states so that the document remains a political achievement?
Sergey Lavrov: We will make every effort to ensure that all remaining JCPOA member states fulfill their obligations in full as regards the Plan and UN Security Council Resolution 2231, as well as the obligations undertaken at the meeting of foreign ministers of European countries, China and Russia last July and September.
Question: Is it necessary for the foreign ministers of the five countries and Iran to meet and discuss current developments, or is an emergency session of the UN Security Council required?
US National Security Advisor John Bolton has stated that the United States will send a carrier group to the Persian Gulf. Could this lead to further escalation? How does Moscow assess such intentions?
Sergey Lavrov: As regards the meeting of foreign ministers as part of the Joint Commission established in accordance with the JCPOA and the UNSC resolution, we will definitely hold consultations in this format. I am not sure that this will require anything at the ministerial level at the beginning, but such consultations are needed.
I see no reason to convene a UN Security Council session. It adopted Resolution 2231, which no one has rescinded. The United States is blatantly violating it. Demands could be made for the US to return to the JCPOA, but this would be nothing more than a publicity statement. We understand this is not going to happen: the administration in Washington was very specific regarding their intentions.
As for escalating tensions in the region, the US intentions to send aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf and boosting its overall military presence there to imply a willingness to use force – sadly, this all has already become typical behaviour of our US colleagues, be it in the Middle East, Persian Gulf or regarding Venezuela. It’s all lamentable. On Monday, during my meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Finland, I urged him to use diplomatic means rather than threats when addressing problematic issues, in strict compliance with international law and the provisions of the UN Charter, which demand the peaceful resolution of disputes. But this requires a taste for diplomacy, which not everyone has now. We will continue to make efforts to establish a dialogue aimed at seeking compromise and a balance of interests. This is the only way. Imposing one's approaches on everyone and everything is a counterproductive and dead-end position.
Question: How will the latest escalation of tensions between the US and Iran influence the situation in Syria? On the one hand, Washington supports some local Kurdish separatist forces there, but on the other, demands the withdrawal of Iranian troops from Syria and wants to limit Iran’s influence in the region in general.
Sergey Lavrov: As for the influence of the current tensions on the situation in Syria, everything in this world is interconnected. We hear regular statements by the United States about the need to curb Iran’s influence not only in Syria but also in the region as a whole.
It is obvious to everyone that this is unrealistic and cannot be viewed as serious policy by any stretch of the imagination. Every large country, such as Iran or Saudi Arabia or any other that has any weight in the region, is interested in exerting influence on the processes taking place around it. The main thing is for this influence to be legitimate and transparent and conform to international law.
The presence of Iran and the Russian Federation in Syria is based on precisely these principles. We received an invitation from the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR). In cooperation with our Iranian colleagues, we are helping the SAR to overcome the terrorist threat. We have achieved major successes but not everything has been completed. You know what the situation is in Idlib where Jabhat al-Nusra has entrenched itself under the new name of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. It not only controls the situation there but also shells the positions of the Syrian army and residential areas from that territory. Russia’s Khmeimim airbase was recently shelled. Of course, they have received and will receive a response but this seat of terrorists must be eliminated.
We signed a relevant memorandum with our Turkish colleagues, and our military are actively carrying it out. I would like to draw the attention of those who periodically raise alarm regarding what is happening in Idlib, the actions of the Syrian army and its supporters, to the fact that this memorandum does not contain a word on the need to protect the terrorists. Quite the contrary, it confirms the resolve of its signatories to fight them.
The situation on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River is bound to cause concern as well. Foreign troops and special forces that have occupied part of the SAR are located there. Nobody has invited them to come, but they are staying there illegally and are trying to also play the Kurdish card, the same as it happens on the territories controlled by the Americans and their allies from among the units that are fighting on the ground.
We are convinced of the need to resolve the Kurdish issue in full conformity with respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states where the Kurds live. We strongly believe that the Kurds in Syria should have their rights as a nation with a long history, which has lived in Syria for many centuries. It is necessary to make sure that the areas they inhabit should remain their national asset.
Now we are seeing the Americans attempt to settle Kurds on territory that has always been inhabited by Arab tribes. This is a bad decision and a direct road to separatism and the division of Syria. We hope that the deeds of the US and those who help it on the ground, including our French colleagues, will not diverge from their regular statements about their respect for Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
The situation is not simple. As we have said more than once, we have managed to launch the Astana process with the participation of Russia, Iran and Turkey. More has been done in this format than in any other as regards de-escalation, reducing the terrorist threat, expanding humanitarian relief and, which is most important at the current stage, preparing for a political process.
I would advise the countries that sometimes criticise the Astana format for excessively close relations with the SAR government and demand that the Geneva talks start as soon as possible, not to create obstacles to the completion of work to form the Constitutional Committee. This committee could have started working last December but a number of Western countries came out against this and tried to drag out this process. Now, in cooperation with our UN colleagues, we are overcoming this obstruction created by several Western countries. I hope we will succeed, primarily through the Astana format and contacts with UN leaders.