My French colleague, French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, and I had extensive talks. Even though this is our first face-to-face meeting this year, we regularly compare notes on key issues of the bilateral agenda and international affairs during our telephone conversations.
Question (addressed to Jean-Yves Le Drian): Does France support US President Donald Trump’s idea of modifying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme so that it also covers Iran’s missile programme? If France supports this idea, what does Russia think about it?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Jean-Yves Le Drian): We fully agree with France that the JCPOA must be implemented in full and that it would be extremely dangerous to open it up. If there is a desire to discuss any other issues related to Iran in the format that coordinated the JCPOA, these discussions must involve Iran and should be held on the principles that were used to coordinate the JCPOA, that is, on the basis of consensus rather than ultimatums.
You have asked about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and Russia’s attitude to it. Russia is now often referred to as a “revisionist power,” including even in official US doctrines. It is claimed that we seek to revise the underlying principles of the world order. But if we look at Washington’s actions regarding the JCPOA and the Paris agreement on climate change, or at its views on the WTO as “a disaster”, we may well wonder about who is revising what, as well as about the fate of the agreements that have been achieved and approved at the global level.
Question: Does Russia want to hold specific talks on Iran’s ballistic missile programme, as the other Western countries want? Do you agree that Iran is destabilising the region? Do you think that the operation in Afrin targets terrorists and hence cannot be included in the ceasefire conditions, which you are trying to establish throughout the region?
Sergey Lavrov: You have asked about Russia’s views on changing the JCPOA. We view this negatively. Jean-Yves will probably tell you about what they are discussing at the US + the EU Three group. I planned to ask him about this during our business breakfast. But maybe he will tell us about this now, if it’s not a secret.
As for our attitude to Iran’s destabilising role in the region, the wording of your question is wrong. There are very many destabilising factors in the region. The destabilisation period began with the invasion and collapse of Iraq, which is still in the throes of a very difficult movement towards national unity. All of this is the result of a rash action undertaken primarily by Washington and London, which Moscow, Paris and Berlin denounced. They did not support it, and with good reason. The disintegration of the region continued with the aggression against Libya, which destroyed the Libyan state and turned it into a black hole through which terrorists and illegal weapons move southward, including to Sub-Saharan Africa, where France has vested interests, and through which illegal migrants enter Europe. We must not forget about the difficult situation in Yemen either. Much more is going on in the region. There is also the unsettled Palestinian problem. There are forces, many forces that are destabilising the region.
I don’t think it is fair that the blame for all of this is laid on Iran, with demands being made that it must keep within its borders and not try to project its legitimate interests beyond its territory. Iran, just as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and many other regional countries, cannot be denied the legitimate right to develop relations with the outside world. It is another matter that these relations, no matter what country we are talking about, must be transparent. This is what Russia has been urging for years when it proposed launching a dialogue on confidence and security measures in the Persian Gulf between the six Gulf countries, Iran, the five permanent UNSC members, the EU, the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). This proposal is still on the table. Recent statements indicate the rising interest of many parties in this proposal. We are ready to actively promote it. The regional problems can only be settled through an inclusive and constructive dialogue in individual countries, such as Syria, Libya, Iraq or any other country, or at the interstate level, between states.
I believe that the main condition for prodding the region towards this is reconciliation between the Sunnis and Shiites within the Islamic world, so that nobody would use the religious factor, including the factor of strife in Islam, for advancing their geopolitical interests.
As for Iran and the fact that a number of countries blame everything on it, I would like to remind you about the open letter CIA, FBI and US military intelligence veterans wrote to the US President last December regarding Iran’s role in the region and the fairness of the US policy regarding Iran. They cited US documents, primarily the State Department list of the terrorist attacks that targeted US citizens. Nearly all terrorist attacks staged around the world in the past few years, including those that involved US citizens, were initiated by ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram or Jabhat al-Nusra. The policy documents of these groups declare Iran their enemy, a feeling reciprocated by Iran.
The US Department of Homeland Security has compiled a Global Terrorism Index, which mentions 14 Islamist groups that directly threaten US interests. Of these 14 groups, all but one are anti-Iranian. Draw your own conclusions from these statistics. As I said, this is not my invention. This is what US intelligence veterans write in their open letter to the US President.
Judging by your question, this letter has escaped the attention of such a respected news agency as Reuters, which tends to give much more attention to less newsworthy events. I hope that your will read this letter now and will provide a professional journalistic assessment of its significance.